‘Faulty’ church pews spark unholy row

Worth Abbey Church after its refurbishment ENGSNL00120111107115706
Worth Abbey Church after its refurbishment ENGSNL00120111107115706

An unholy row has broken out over some church pews designed by a man hailed as the modern day Leonardo da Vinci.

Thomas Heatherwick - designer of the Olympic Cauldron which stunned crowds at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics - was appointed by Worth Abbey in 2009 to redesign its church interior.

A modern version of traditional monastic furniture was installed including pews for 700, choir stalls, monastery seats, desks and confession rooms, all of which were fabricated from solid hardwood.

But faults appeared in the pews within months. Church officials put signs on them saying: “Caution: Pew awaiting repair. Please do not sit here.”

Initially, Worth Abbey hailed the new interior and said: “The result of all these works is a stunning interior which unites and enfolds all who use the church in a spirit of prayer and peace.”

But now, after noting cracks in the pews, a wrangle has ensued between the church and the internationally acclaimed designer - who maintains that contracted workmen are at fault for the problems, not the design itself.

A spokesperson for London-based Heatherwick Studio said: “It is a great shame that this wonderful project was let down by the workmanship of the Abbey’s wood contractors who were responsible for detailed design and fabrication from our concept.

“It is our independent experts’ opinion that it could and should have been completed properly by the contractor.

“Even though we are not in any way responsible, we have offered to work with the Abbey to help them resolve their issues.

“We believe the fact the contractors have since gone out of business is the only reason we are involved at all.”

Thomas Heatherwick is also the designer behind plans for the new ‘garden bridge’ across the Thames in London, among a number of other acclaimed projects.

The dome-roofed Worth Abbey Church was originally designed by the noted Catholic architect Francis Pollen.

The foundation stone was laid in 1968 and the church was consecrated in 1975, the exterior construction was completed in 2001. Until 2005 the interior furnishing and decoration remained incomplete.

The church is used by the Abbey’s Benedictine monks, staff, and pupils from Worth School, along with the wider community.

Monks from the Abbey were featured in a BBC reality programme called The Monastery in 2005 when five men spent time staying with the monks and following their rules.

Worth Abbey declined to comment.

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