As Barney grew across the centuries, a Georgian innovation arrived in 1719 to take over nearly three-fifths of the nave: a West gallery with pews for dozens more parishioners (and the pew rents they paid!) By the end of the century St Mary’s was in a dire state, “wretchedly stalled…slovenly and offensive”, and the Bishop of Durham refused to visit until it was set right!
A new North gallery was set up with ten pews, extending over the north transept, and enabling St Mary’s to seat a possible 900 people. Parishioners could gain access to the ‘upstairs’ via a stone staircase outside the north transept: ancient medieval windows had to make way for this extra addition.
By 1822 St Mary’s was urgently looking to install its new barrel organ and so yet another gallery was proposed for it, in the South transept, but this time sanity and the powers of local aristocracy prevailed when the Countess of Strathmore from nearby Streatlam Castle refused permission for her south-transept pew to be overshadowed by yet another gallery.
One contributor to the local newspaper wrote of St Mary’s in 1868 – “The galleries quite spoil the look of the fine old edifice. Whenever I am under them, especially on a night, when the gas is lighted, I have a kind of ‘hot-house’ feeling, which is very uncomfortable and makes me quite dizzy sometimes….”
In the 1869 restoration it was decided that both galleries should be removed, restoring light and space to St Mary’s.
(Upper photo: West gallery, St Michael’s Church, Gittisham, Devon)