Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Reordering

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This was an appeal by the Victorian Society against the judgment of the Chancellor of Winchester Diocese of 12 March 2015, granting a faculty to replace the existing, Victorian font in the church with a new font made of Purbeck stone. The new font would be smaller than the Victorian font and would be installed on the south eastern, as opposed to south western, side of the nave. The Court decided that the Chancellor had erred and acted unfairly in his purported application of the written representations procedure, and that his judgment on the merits was flawed by several errors of law. Accordingly, the Court ordered that both his judgment and the resulting faculty be set aside.

The Petitioners wished to replace the Victorian pews with 64 solid chairs and 48 folding chairs (the folding chairs to be housed in three purpose-built wooden cabinets). The written representations of 25 objectors were taken into account. Amongst the evidence it was contended that the pews were of historical significance as they were thought to have been  designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The Deputy Chancellor concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify such contention. The Deputy Chancellor granted a faculty, subject (inter alia) to the retention of eight short pews.

The petition related to the proposed construction of a new extension to the north of the west end of the church, to provide a meeting room, an accessible toilet, a store, and a kitchen. These facilities would replace those provided by a temporary portacabin in the churchyard. The decision turned on the impact of the proposed extension on a yew tree thought to be 700-750 years old. The Chancellor was unwilling to grant a faculty: "It seems to me that the total loss of an ancient or veteran yew ... is equivalent to serious harm to a grade I or II* building, and should only be exceptionally allowed.  In the present case, I accept that it is by no means certain that the new building will cause the loss of the yew, but I consider that the risk of its loss, and the harm that would result if it were to be lost, are sufficiently great that they are not justified by the benefit that would undoubtedly arise from the new building".

The petition proposed a major reordering, the controversial items of which were the removal of the pews and their replacement with upholstered chairs on a carpeted floor, and the removal of the choir stalls. The Chancellor was satisfied that a sufficient case had been made for the proposed works and granted a faculty.

The unlisted church had been built in 1966. A font constructed from brick, and clad in marble, had been removed from the church and broken up without the authority of a faculty. The stainless steel bowl, which had been part of the font, had been incorporated into a wooden, moveable font. The Chancellor granted a confirmatory faculty for the disposal of the old font and the incorporation of the stainless steel bowl in the new font. The judgment contains a discussion of the law relating to the disposal of redundant fonts.

The church of St Richard, Crowborough, within the parish of All Saints Crowborough, dates from 1956 and is unlisted. It is a utilitarian building serving as both a chapel and a community hall. The petitioners sought a faculty to carry out the following work, in order to make the church more suitable for furthering mission to the local community, particularly to young children: removal of timber stage to create more storage space; replacement of exterior sign and notice board; replacement of chairs; fitting of new suspended ceiling; replacement of windows with UPVC double glazed units. Two people gave notice of objection, but did not wish to be parties to the proceedings. In granting the faculty, the Chancellor said: "I am satisfied that the works proposed to this unremarkable and utilitarian building are unobjectionable. The petitioners have discharged the burden of demonstrating that the proposals, including the removal of the stage, are desirable, if the effective ministry of this small but vibrant church community is to realise its potential."

Faculty granted for extensive re-ordering including, the provision of toilet facilities, the removal of the choir stalls on both the north and south sides of the church, repositioning of the font, and the use of chairs in the new baptistry area, the removal of three rows of pews at the rear of the church, the installation of a balcony with stair access at the west end of the church, the provision of a separate meeting area under the balcony and a refreshment bar, a wooden and glass screen to divide the worship area from the meeting area, the replacement of the wooden main entrance door with glass doors.

Faculty granted for re-ordering, including new central heating system and replacement of pews with chairs.

In 2005, pews had been removed from the side aisles of the church and had been replaced with chairs upholstered with a blue fabric. Also, carpet tiles in two contrasting blue colours had been laid in a chequerboard pattern in the aisles. The petitioners now wished to lay similar carpet tiles and introduce more upholstered chairs into the nave, to create 'a more flexible space'. (There was also a proposal to update the heating.) The Victorian Society objected to the removal of the pews and further carpet tiles, but was not a party opponent. In spite of slight reservations about the blue colour of the carpet tiles, the Chancellor concluded that the scheme would "give a more unified appearance and will serve the aims that the petitioners seek to achieve." He accordingly granted a faculty.

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A more comprehensive collection of Consistory Court judgments is held at the Middle Temple Library.