Thursday, January 2, 2014
Cambridge Avenue, London
What, has this thing appeared again tonight? (1)
To kick off the New Year, I'm reprising my four most popular posts from 2013. They are an odd group in a way, but embody several of my interests that have clearly struck chords with readers. The first is about a building in one of my favourite materials, corrugated iron. Perhaps the post reflects my interest in what is sometimes called the quirky – I'd prefer the terms surprising (the building certainly is a surprise in this bit of northwest London, and it is a surprise that it has lasted so long) and lateral thinking (corrugated iron does not need to be restricted to low-status buildings like barns and sheds; churches need not be built in high-status materials like stone). Here's what I wrote about it in April last year:
Corrugated iron churches are usually quite small. Often serving small isolated communities or providing temporary accommodation before a more permanent building was erected, they are usually simple and modest – straight walls, rectangular windows, no tower or spire. In the 19th century, you could buy them in kit form from several manufacturers, who would quote a price based on the size of the congregation and deliver all the parts to your local railway station. Refinements, such as pointed Gothic windows and bell turrets, were available at extra cost.
The large corrugated iron church in Kilburn, northwest London, is different. It's elaborate and unusually large for a "tin church". It has a big footprint, Gothic windows and doorway, and a substantial tower. Inside, iron columns hold up the roof. That tower even has what looks like the base of a splay-footed spire. This is not your off-the-shelf mission hall or tin chapel, but, I'd guess, a building specially created for the location. Boulton and Paul of Norwich, one of the largest manufacturers of corrugated iron buildings, advertised "Special Designs prepared to suit any situation or requirements". This was no doubt the sort of thing they had in mind.
So what were the situation and requirements? When this church was built in 1863, J L Pearson's magnificent St Augustine's, Kilburn, was being planned nearby, a town church on a grand scale that would be one of the landmarks of the Gothic revival. Like so many corrugated iron churches, the one in Cambridge Avenue was a temporary building, put up, according to my online reading, as a stop-gap building until St Augustine's was ready.
Remarkably, the building has lasted not ten years but 150. Its survival into the 21st century is due at least in part to the Sea Cadets, as it has been a Sea Cadet base – a training ship, indeed – for several decades. Because the church is currently in need of repair, the cadets are occupying another building now while money is raised to do the necessary work. One hopes they succeed, so that this hardworking, practical bit of corrugated iron Gothic can have a new lease of life.
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With thanks to Joe Treasure for telling me about this church and providing the photograph.