Years ago, when I was involved with what was then called the Main Committee of the Victorian Society, I recall overhearing a conversation in which someone was indignant that “…they want to punch a doorway through the east end of the church, and it’s a Grade II* listed building!”
Years later, preparing a Birmingham’s Heritage tour, I wandered into All Saints’ Church, Small Heath, and eventually realised that this was the church in question. In fact, it’s a model conversion that retains most if not all of the original features, radically reordered to suit modern worship needs.
The Victorian Society lost that particular case, but the building still stands, recognisably intact, and continues its Christian mission in what is now a predominantly Muslim area.
I took my Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour-group to Saltaire, for lunch at what was then the Vicars Café Bistro (now the Saltaire Canteen). One of our members was a retired Anglican canon, to whom I pointed out the Bradford Cathedral choir CDs on sale, and remarked that Vicars was run by vicars. He replied that it’s possible to do a great deal to further the Gospel without preaching.
More recently, I’ve taken my Humber Heritage tour group to Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull, shortly to be redesignated Hull Minster and the subject of a radical reordering scheme which aims to bring members of the public, whether or not they embrace the Christian faith, into the building for all sorts of purposes: http://www.holytrinityhull.com/amazing-development.
In the process, the church authorities wish to clear the nave of pews, returning it, as they say, to its medieval emptiness and flexibility.
The Victorian Society objects to the scheme, and I can see their point. The beautiful, highly individual pews, carved by George Peck in the 1840s, are a huge cultural asset and deserve to be kept, or at least kept together.
I haven’t the remotest clue how to resolve this conflict, because I support the conservationist principles of our major amenity societies at the same time that I’m concerned to see the Church of England find useful purposes for its stock of beautiful buildings and their contents.
And I hope Peck’s pews remain intact.
The cakes at Café Trinity in the south choir aisle are heavenly: http://www.holytrinityhull.com/cafe.
Update: The pews are coming out, to be truncated and returned in a state that makes them removable: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4233202/Britain-s-largest-parish-church-removes-pews-concerts.html and http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/houlton-starts-stripping-out-victorian-pews-in-hull-s-holy-trinity-church/story-30132370-detail/story.html.