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Investigating the St Andrew’s, Hingham pews

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Did you know that there is a church in the South Norfolk countryside that contains many of the animals and plants to be found in the area? These are in the form of some very special carved pews in St Andrew’s, Hingham where a recent pew survey helped us gain permission to look at how we might  rearrange the pews and even remove a few without losing the very best of the craftsmanship which they represent. To create space and new toilet facilities we need to reorder the back of the church. This re-ordering will involve removing some damaged pews, and moving others. The removed pew ends will be preserved and displayed in some way, probably being incorporated into a screen in the new toilet and kitchen area.

The pews date from the Victorian redesign of the church between 1871 and 1872. The new bench-style, carved pews were installed by William Hubbard of Dereham. Each pew end is ornamented with carvings in the Arts and Crafts style by James Forsyth. Forsyth was a significant artist of the period; he worked with Bruce Talbert and Phillip Webb, producing carvings for Richard Norman Shaw and William Nesfield.

Webb had significant influence in the English Arts and Crafts movement, working extensively with William Morris; Webb’s connection with Forsyth reinforces the significant Arts and Crafts heritage of our pews.

The pews demonstrate skilful carving which draws from the natural world, reflecting the landscape of the English countryside. Animals featured include a snail,  a snake, a frog, a lizard, a fish, sea creatures and shells, and several moths/butterflies, insects and caterpillars. The range of carved plants include bulrushes, holly, mistletoe, ivy, oak, peas, wheat, and daisies. There are also some examples of exotic, Biblical fruits, such as pomegranates. Mythical creatures, especially dragons, green men, and stylised heraldic hunting dogs are also to be found, illustrating the Arts and Crafts interest in medieval themes.

The photos and information archive of the study are available on request. Revd Sally has also created postcards and a plant and animal trail to enable visitors to make the most of these unique and beautiful carvings. We look forward to the time when visitors will be able to return safely to the church to enjoy our unique nature trail.

All photos are (C) Hingham Parish Church