Pew rents

In early Methodism there were no regular weekly collections at Sunday services. To meet the cost of chapels the custom arose of regular worshippers, whether members of society or not, paying a 'rent' for their seats. This was paid annually, sometimes quarterly, and was always a modest amount, according to the position of the seat, varying from 1/- to half a crown a quarter. Sometimes a ticket was issued as a receipt, often bearing a print of the chapel. A few of these have survived, the oldest being from Wesley's Chapel and dated 1780, which suggests that pew rents were introduced at the time of its opening. In older chapels small brass frames may sometimes be seen at the end of seats, on the hymn-book ledge, to hold the cards giving the pewholder's name.

The Religious Census showed the widespread use of this source of income in 1851 by differentiating between 'appropriated' and 'free' sittings. It was gradually superseded by the weekly offertory, though it was still in use in some chapels as late as the 1960s. H.H. Fowler was strongly opposed to the system on the grounds that it discriminated against the poor and hindered the evangelization of the working classes. H.P. Hughes recorded how, when a new mission hall was opened in William Street, Oxford, c.1883, the local decision was not to introduce pew rents, but to take a Sunday collection, although this was contrary to the policy of the Chapel Committee in Manchester.

  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1898, p.18
  • Edith Henrietta Fowler, The Life of Henry Hartley Fowler, First Viscount Wolverhampton (1912) pp.580-81
  • WHS Proceedings, 35 ((December 1966) p.196; 36 (June 1967) p.64