In Britain, a decision to remove the pews inside a 700-year-old church in case obese couples struggle to walk down the narrow aisle has been met with outrage among parishioners.

The 32 Victorian pews have been put up for sale for $390 (£200) each as part of alterations to the inside of Grade II listed St Andrew's Church in the Dorset village of Okeford Fitzpaine.

The wooden seats, which are fastened to the floor, will be replaced with modern chairs that can be easily moved to create space when necessary.

The church authorities state this will make it easier for disabled people and wheelchair users to access the nave as well as allow the congregation to socially distance.


But they also say that getting rid of the 16 rows of pews would remove a potential "embarrassment" involving overweight brides and grooms squeezing down the aisle.

A report by the Parochial Church Council (PCC) states: "We have also had occasions at weddings where the couple have been too large to be able to walk side by side down the aisle. With chairs we would be able to widen the aisle."

But an ugly row in the picturesque village has ensued, leading to claims and counterclaims between the rector, Reverend Lydia Cook, and her parishioners.

They claim she has locked them out of the church as a result of their protests, which have included a demonstration with banners reading "Save the pews from the devil within".

Rev Cook has reported a perceived threat of criminal damage to the building to the police.

Helen Sherwood Clinkard, a spokeswoman for the Save St Andrew's Pews group, said: "We were totally unaware about the gutting of the church and the removal of the pews until they were recently listed for sale.

"The pews are part of the history and heritage of the church. If you strip out the pews then the soul of the church is gone ... I was gobsmacked when I read some of the reasons for wanting rid of the pews.

"There have been weddings in that church for generations and to my knowledge there has never been an issue before about large people not being able to fit down the aisle.


"I am 68 and I have been to that church most of my life. I have never seen or heard of anyone trip over one of the pews before."

The decision to strip out the pews was made after a four-year legal process and consultation with villagers that was undertaken by the PCC.

Leaflets were delivered to every household in the village and a public meeting was held.

The changes were for underfloor heating to be installed and a toilet added but the objectors claim they were not aware the re-ordering meant getting rid of the pews until they read an article in the parish magazine about the "replacement of the Victorian pews with new chairs" last autumn.

In a statement the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, said he fully supported the changes to St Andrew's Church.

"Churches are community buildings which have to adapt to the needs of the community as those needs change.


"The changes have come after a very wide consultation and ample opportunity over a long period to comment on the proposals.

"The removal of the pews will make it easier to achieve social distancing at public worship."