The most important way to raise funds at the church for many decades was the collection of pew rents, in which people paid for a particular seat or pew to be kept specifically for them when they were attending a service. This was in no way unique to St Paul’s in early colonial New Zealand. The evidence of it remains today, in the cardholders at the ends of pews in the church.

Pew rents were a source of tension before the church was even begun, with Bishop Abraham arguing that a certain number must be set aside as free. In 1866 it was stated that there were 480 seats, including 50 diocesan, 15 for hospital patients and 63 free. In 1868 there were only 305 sittings, of which 53 were free. In 1867 the diocesan seats were held for Members of the General Assembly, at the Bishop’s direction, and a notice placed on the door to that effect. The collection of these rents caused trouble for the vestry: in 1871, for example, the parish meeting recorded that the non-payment of rent caused ‘a great deal of trouble and annoyance to those whose duty it is to manage the funds of the parish’, and the names of all the defaulters were read aloud at the meeting.

From the 1870s, unoccupied seats were given free to those who wanted them, although the rules around this changed over the years. The rules were published in the annual report every year for many years – for example in 1905 the rules read ‘after the choir is seated in the morning, and in the evening after the bell ceases to ring, vacant sitting be considered open to all persons indiscriminately’. In 1879, despite the church having been recently altered to accommodate more seats, there was a waiting list of 76 for seats.

Even though pew rents were not unique to St Paul’s, they came to be give a stigma to the church As mentioned above, in 1892 Rev Still stated that there was too much ‘class distinction’ in New Zealand churches and that all the seats in the church should be free, that working class people were discouraged from attending and that St Paul’s was becoming a ‘West End’ Church. In 1927 Frederick de Jersey Clere suggested that the church be free, but the issue was not dealt with at the time.

During the Second World War, with an increased use of the church by servicemen and others, some seat holders were upset that ‘strangers’ were taking their seats. Pew rents were finally abolished in 1957 – although previous holders of pews were to be able to retain the use of ‘their’ pew.

Image: Interior of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral Church on Mulgrave Street, by unknown photographer, c1890-1900. Ref: PAColl-6208-38. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.