A Bloxham vicar is relieved an ordeal over the removal of a number of hazardous pews from St Mary’s Church 12 years ago is finally over.
A Diocese of Oxford consistory court gave retrospective permission for seven pews to be removed from the 14th century church and disposed of at a hearing on May 22.
The seats were taken out in 2006, according to Rev Dale Gingrich but the court document says it was in 2011, to make space for a display and children’s play area in the Grade 1-listed building.
Diocese deputy chancellor Christopher Rogers described the decision as ‘highly unfortunate, to put it mildly’ but deemed it to be justified.
Rev Dale Gingrich told the Banbury Guardian: “We were sort of pulling our hair out as they wanted to see a statement of purposes and plans for the church.
“We have future plans for reorganising the church which may include removing other pews.
“But this is something which happened 12 years ago in 2006 which should have been adequate evidence that we needed to move on from that.”
The pews have been stored in a barn in South Newington since they were removed because they were falling apart, riddled with woodworm and gave people splinters, Mr Gingrich said.
Recently the farmer has had to put the benches outside because he needed the barn, so they are beyond repair had the diocese wanted to restore them, which the Victorian Society described as ‘regrettable’.
Mr Gingrich said the diocese ‘made quite a fuss’ over the pews but apparently the archdeacon gave permission for them to be removed at the time, but it was never written down.
So they needed permission for the benches to be cleared from the court, which decided ‘the harm caused to the church’s architectural and historical significance is outweighed by the resulting public benefit’, a position supported by Historic England.
Mr Rogers added in his report: “I realise that none of this is the fault of the current petitioners, with whom I have the greatest sympathy in having to deal with the mess left by their predecessors.”
Mr Gingrich, who has to pay more than £400 in costs but it could have been more had the court found a breach, said: “It seemed like a no-brainer to us but they came to the same conclusion eventually.”