(Article 4 in the St Mary's Church Loop)
In St. Mary's Church there is a fine array of old seats with backs of open tracery and poppy-head bench ends; they are of splendid workmanship though anything but comfortable to sit in. Originally the Nave and Aisles of a Church had no seats; people came to worship God "meekly kneeling upon their knees," and it was not until late in the 15th century that wooden seats were introduced for the congregation to sit in. The Prayer Book makes no provision whatsoever for sitting; the directions given in the Rubrics being either for standing or for kneeling. In a print in Sparrow's Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1662, no seats are shewn though the Church is full of worshippers, all being on their knees. Dr. Sparrow was Bishop of Norwich and it is possible that this print is a sketch of the interior of a Norfolk Church. The only seats in the body of the Church, before the introduction of pews, were stone benches against the wall for the use of the aged and infirm during Divine Service; hence the well-known saving, "the weak to the wall." Church Porches as a rule were provided with a stone bench on either side, as at St. Nicholas, for people to rest themselves after walking to Church, before Service began.
In his book on the Parish Church Lamborne tells us that early pews, such as there are at St. Mary's, belong to the great age of English woodwork and are magnificent examples of the carpenters art, which excelled in East Anglia. He also gives the interesting information that "the height and depth of the seats prove that Tudor folk were considerably smaller than their descendants"; this perhaps accounts for the discomfort of the old pews at Feltwell St. Mary's Church.
Continue on the St. Mary's Loop or go to Written Records