Pew, what a palaver! Family history fun with Dear Tom


25 January 2018
Pew-palaver-©-Ellie-Keeble-for-Family-Tree-35770.png Discover the intriguing story of the Edwards family pew dispute...
In every issue of Family Tree we share stories of genealogical wonderings collected from across the world by our very own columnist Tom Wood in 'Dear Tom'. Here is one of his recent gems...

Every issue in Family Tree we share stories of genealogical wonders, gems and funnies collected from all over the world by stalwart family historian Tom Wood in his hugely popular Dear Tom column.


Many readers share snippets gleaned from their genealogical searches in historical newspaper collections and in the February 2018 issue of Family Tree , Kathleen Hollingsbee shared a somewhat comical tale of fraught church-goers (surely shocking at the time) that she came across in the Kentish Gazette, dated 4 May 1847.


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The article reads: ‘RYE – In our church, on Sunday, an occurrence took place which was as painful as it was disgraceful, originating in a dispute as to the right of a pew. It appears from what we can learn that the pew in question has been occupied by a family by the name of Edwards for upwards of a century and was originally built by them.


‘On Sunday 11 ult, that part of the family who constantly occupy the pew, on coming to church found that a lock had been put on the door and they were prevented from entering. Before the commencement of the evening service, the lock was taken off quietly, and they occupied the pew without books or cushions, these having been taken away.


‘On the following Sunday they found the seats had been removed and nothing remained but the bare shell; and the family had consequently to stand. On Sunday morning, Mr Thomas Edwards went to the church with his wife, two sisters, and a female cousin. On arriving at the pew they found the churchwardens standing at the door to prevent them from entering. A scuffle took place between Mr Chatterton (one of the churchwardens) and Mr Edwards, and the latter effected an entrance into the pew. The police were sent for and they removed Mr Edwards out of the church just as the service commenced.


'The females then entered the pew, but they were immediately put out by Mr Chatterton, and they remained standing in the aisle at the door of the pew, the churchwardens placing themselves in an adjacent pew to prevent them again entering. Great and painful sensation was evidenced among the congregation, but the service proceeded.


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'In the communion service the Revd Mr Tatam became so agitated that he was scarcely audible and the Clerk and congregation ceased responding to him. At this time Mrs Edwards was seized with a fit and fell prostrate in the aisle. Mr Saxby of Lewes, who was sitting near, Mr Plomley and several others hastened to her, carried her out of the church and remained with her till she recovered.


'The greatest consternation prevailed and a great number of the congregation rose and left the church. At the afternoon and evening services the police were stationed at the church door and the churchwardens at the door of the pew; but the family did not attend.


'We understand the whole of the proceedings will be laid before the bishop, and we sincerely hope that his Lordship will interfere so as to prevent a repetition of such a scandalous and disgraceful scene in the House of God.’


Why was there a dispute and did the Edwards family ever get their pew back, we wonder? But what a talking point that must have been for the local parish gossips! Have any other readers come across similarly enticing tales?


Dear Tom is packed with reader-contributed snippets and stories from the family history universe every month! Never miss a copy, take out a subscription to Family Tree today or take advantage of our special offer code in the latest issue.


If you have any genealogical gems or funnies you'd like share for Dear Tom, email them to us at [email protected] and we’ll pass them to Tom Wood for his consideration.


Illustration © Ellie Keeble exclusively for Family Tree.