What is the Earliest Reference to Pews?
It is hard to say whether the passage in Piers Plowman’s Vision is the earliest. It occurs at p. 95 of the edition of 1813, and is as follows:–
“Among wyvcs and wodewes ich am ywoned sute
Yparroked in puwes. The person hit knoweth.”
[Passus VII. p. 95 Ed. 1813.]
The interpretation of the passage is:–
Among wives and widows I am wont to sit
Y-parked in pues. The person knows it.”
‘Yparroked’ is supposed to come from the A.S. parruc, a croft, or small field ‘twinned off,’ as we say in Lancashire. [The “Vision of Piers Plowman” was written by Robert Langland, a secular priest, probably about the year 1362.] It is not to be inferred that the pew system existed at this time. The sexes being then separated, special seats for wives and widows, as a class, were set apart in many churches.
— John Timbs, Notabilia, or Curious and Amusing Facts about Many Things, London: Griffith and Farran, 1872.