Pew (anciently pue; Old Fr. puy; Dutch, puye; Lat. podium, "anything on which to lean;" s'appuyer), an enclosed seat in churches. The old French word puie meant a balcony, a gallery built on bulks or posts of timber; and it has been unnecessarily suggested that pew may only be a form of podium, a book-desk, or the crutch used by monks before sitting was permitted. In the early days of the Anglo-Saxon and some of the Norman churches, a stone bench afforded the only sitting accommodation for members or visitors. In the year 1319 the people are spoken of as sitting on the ground or standing. At a later period the people introduced low, three-legged stools, and they were placed in no order in the church. Directly after the Norman conquest seats came in fashion. Church-seats were in use in England some time before the Reformation, as is proved by numerous examples still extant, the carving on some of which is as early as the Decorated Period, i.e., before A.D. 1400, and records as old as 1450 speak of such seats by the name of pues. They were originally plain fixed benches, all facing east, with partitions of wainscoting about three feet high.
After the Reformation seats were more appropriated, a crowbar guarded the entrance, bearing the initial of the owner. It was in 1508 that galleries were thought of. As early as 1614 pews were arranged to afford comfort by being baized or cushioned, while the sides around were so high as to hide the occupants; probably under the influence of the Puritans, who, objecting to some parts of the service which they were compelled to attend, sought means to conceal their nonconformity. An early specimen of a pew of this kind exists in Cuxton Church, Kent. Up to a period some time after the Reformation the naves of churches, which were occupied by the congregation, were usually fitted with fixed seats, as they had been from the 14th century downwards, at the least: these seats varied in height from about two feet and a half to three feet, and were partially enclosed at the ends next the passages, sometimes with what are called bench-ends: sometimes these rose considerably above the wainscoting, and were terminated with carved finials or poppies, but they are more frequently ranged with the rest of the work, and were often straight at the top and finished with the same capping-moulding: these end enclosures occupied about the width of the seat, and the remainder of the space was left entirely open. The partitions sometimes reached down to the floor, and sometimes only to a little below the seats' they were usually perfectly plain, but the wainscoting next the cross passages was generally ornamented with panellings, tracery, small buttresses, etc.: opposite to the seat at the back of each division or pew a board was frequently fixed, considerably narrower, intended to support the arms when kneeling. This mode of fitting the naves of churches was certainly very general, but it is difficult to ascertain when it was first introduced, the great majority of specimens that exist being of the Perpendicular style. SEE STANDARD.
In England pews were assigned at first only to the patrons of churches. A canon made at Exeter, in 1287, rebukes quarrelling for a seat in church, and decrees that none shall claim a seat as his own except noblemen and the patrons. Gradually, however, the system of appropriation was extended to other inhabitants of the parish, to the injury of the poor, and the multiplication of disputes. The law of pews in England is briefly this: All church-seats are at the disposal of the bishop, and may be assigned by him either (1) directly by faculty to the holders of any property in the parish; or (2) through the churchwardens, whose duty it is, as officers under the bishop, to "seat the parishioners according to their degree." In the former case the right descends with the property, if the faculty can be shown, or immemorial occupation proved. In the latter, the right canl at any time be recalled, and lapses on the party ceasing to be a regular occupant of the seat. It appears that by common law every parishioner has a right to a seat in the church, and the churchwardens are bound to place each one as best they can. The practice of letting pews, except under the church-building acts, or special local acts of Parliament, and, much more, of selling them, has been declared illegal, except for the chapels of the Dissenters, who need the income of the pews for the payment of the pastor's salary. In Scotland pews in the parish churches are assigned by the heritors to the parishioners, who have accordingly the preferable claim on them; but when not so occupied they are legally open to all. As is well known, pews in dissenting churches are rented as a means of revenue to sustain general charges. In some parts of the United States pews in churches are a matter of annual competition, and bring large sums. Latterly in England there has been some discussion as to the injuriously exclusive character of the "pew system," and a disposition has been manifested to abolish pews altogether, and substitute movable seats available by all indiscriminately. Several pamphlets have appeared on the subject. The Times remarks that in dealing with this subject the first question is not the letting of pews, but the appropriation of seats. In most country churches the seats are more or less appropriated, but the pews are seldom rented. When we consider the matter from this point of view, does it not seem reasonable, as a matter of mere order and decency, that those who regularly attend a church should have their appropriated places within it? If the churches are thrown completely open, they are thrown open not only to the parish, but to the whole world. In one of the best known of the London churches the incumbent lately complained from the pulpit that his parishioners could not obtain seats in the church which had been expressly built for them, and he announced his intention of altering the system. Another church, in Wells Street, which was especially built for the accommodation of a poor district, and in which all the seats are free, is usurped every Sunday by an aesthetic congregation of welldressed people, who come to enjoy the excellent performance of the choir. Such a result would always take place where the preacher was popular or the service attractive. Again, the existing churches would not hold more than a certain number of persons, and they are filled as it is. If more were invited to come, it would be only driving out the rich to make way for the poor, and then we should want another national association for preaching the Gospel to the rich, or, rather, we should see the rich building proprietary chapels for themselves, in which the seats would be appropriated as before. But does any one suppose that the poor would thus force their way into the churches, and dispossess their present occupants? Whether the seats are free or not, the result would be much the same. When the question of the appropriation of seats is decided. that of pew rents is comparatively simple. If the rich are to have a certain number of seats appropriated to them, what can be more natural and convenient than that they should pay a certain sum in respect of them? In the Roman Catholic churches on the Continent pews are seldom to be seen.
The reading-pue, first mentioned in the rubric of 1662, was the reader's stall in the chancel. It had two desks-one on the west for the Holy Bible, and the other for the Prayer-book facing eastwards, as in Hooker's Church at Drayton Beauchamp. In 1571 Grindel called it "the pulpit, where prayers are said." Calamy applies the word to designate an open-air pulpit. George Herbert made his pulpit and reading pue of equal height, so as to be of equal honor and estimation, and agree like brethren. See Walcott, Sacred Archaeol. s.v.; Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.; Parker, Glossary of Architecture, s.v.