Friday, January 20, 2017

Button Oak, Shropshire

Changing times, changing materials

Shape and form are of the essence of architecture. They’re a huge part of what gives a building its character, and some forms can be instantly recognisable from a distance, or in a passing glance. Driving through Wyre Forest northwest of Bewdley, a building at the side of the road caught my eye and one of those recognitions took place. “A tin tabernacle,” I thought, stopping to take a look. But when I walked back and examined the building, I saw walls clad in wood, not corrugated iron. As a dedicated fancier of corrugated iron, I was rather disappointed, but, on reflection, it seemed that the proportions, pointed Gothic windows, little bell turret, and porch were exactly the kind normally seen on Victorian and early-20th century ’tin’ churches: surely this one had started as a corrugated iron building and had been reclad.

According to Ian Smith’s book Tin Tabernacles, this was indeed originally an iron church, erected in 1873 and supplied by S. Dyer, manufacturer of iron churches, of Euston Road, London. Like so many, it was produced in prefabricated form by a specialist firm, who would offer churches with different variations of windows and fittings, and sized to provide the required number of ‘sittings’. This church seats around 60, and was originally built as a mission church, attracting people who worked in Wyre Forest.

Having lasted just over a century, the tin church of St Andrew, Button Oak, was restored in 1975, when the corrugated iron was replaced with cedar boards, and this building, perhaps originally thought of as a temporary structure, has had a new lease of life. The vertical boards have a visual effect similar to the original corrugated iron, as does the later square-section metal sheeting on the roof – an effect close enough to catch my eye, make me stop, and subsequently think about those forest workers, coming to worship here over 140 years ago.


Jenny Woolf said...

Always very satisfying when you can figure out how an unusual building got to be the way it was. There are so few of these tin tabernacles around these days, I suppose because they simply weren't meant to last.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, Jenny. Tin tabernacles have gone for various reasons - some superseded by more permanent buildings, some taken down or repurposed because the congregation is too small, some poorly maintained. But they can last well if looked after properly.