Bennett, John Charles (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
This study indicates that several common assumptions about Anglican pew-renting are unrealistic. Although many critics writing in the nineteenth century, and some historians since, believe that rented sittings in Anglican churches were filled by the very rich and the upper-middle class, the evidence strongly indicates that the primary renters were from the middle-middle and lower-middle classes, particularly small business owners. Also contrary to popular belief, pew-letting continued in many churches well into the twentieth century, in some instances into the 1950s and 1960s, and one Anglican church in the British Isles has continued to rent sittings into the twenty-first century. This is qualified, though, by the finding that those churches that rented sittings persisted in the practice for longer than was expected, but the number of new churches which instituted seat-letting systems dwindled, particularly in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Pew-renting is also seen to have been most often practiced in large urban churches of low-church orientation. The findings further suggest that most churches abolished pew-rents in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, not for philosophical or charitable reasons, but because profits diminished to the point at which the cost and trouble of administering a system of pew-rents could not economically justify the revenue produced. Finally, this study has uncovered some evidence both of private pew-renting in addition to proprietary chapels, and of informal pew-renting in the form of tips paid to pew-openers and other officials for preferred seating for a single church service. Examples of dishonest behaviour by church officials are also given.
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