Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cambridge Avenue, London

Practical Gothic

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.


Anonymous said...

What, may I ask, is a "splay-footed spire"?
Thank you for your answer and your ever full of interest blog.
François-Marc Chaballier

Jack Kirby said...

Not quite so magnificent, but larger than the average corrugated iron church, is what is now the church hall of SS Mary & Ambrose, Edgbaston, Birmingham. Originally erected in nearly Moseley in 1879 as the initial temporary home of the new church of St Agnes. It was relocated in 1885. The scale compared to the neighbouring (and impressive) church can be seen in this photo.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Ah, tin churches! I have long entertained the idea of acquiring one to live in. The one at New Hedges near Tenby, Pembrokeshire, is a treat, and so are the former Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay and its double at the bottom of the hill in Swansea, though these are made of wood. They seem to be quite a speciality in Iceland and in the Nordic countries: even the one at the national shrine at Thingvellir looks as if it arrived in pack form last year! In fact, the oldest surviving building in Reykjavik, a house not a church, is in metal sheets, painted red (in 2001)and dated 1752. My photo of the "Old Town" in Reykjavik has the caption "Old Reykjavik - painted corrugated metal". There is a cafe in Cilfynydd in this town of Pontypridd which is very much in that style and which I have dubbed the Icelandic Cafe. A tin chapel in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, was until recently in use as a Community Centre, I believe. There is a tin house in the same town - probably at least 100 years old - which my wife and I both thought was just the thing, if we ever got rich enough to retire there. Thanks for one that can actually be dated - long may it thrive! Keep them coming!

Philip Wilkinson said...

François-Marc: I'm not sure how widely recognised the term "splay-footed spire" is, but what I mean is a particular way of designing the lower part of the spire, where it joins the upper part of the tower. If you look at my post here, in the illustration captioned "A Timber, Plaster, and Thatch Village", the church in the background has this kind of spire. Looking at the spire, you can see how four of its eight faces widen at the base, so that the spire can meet the four-sided tower neatly.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jack: Thank you. I'll look out for this Birmingham church.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Thanks for your informative comment. I've never been to Iceland, but was aware that there was quite a bit of corrugated iron there – as indeed there in is in Wales.

Anonymous said...

I see. Thank you.

Stephen Barker said...

Philip, I hope when the sea cadets restore the building they will give it a new coat of paint. Battleship grey looks a bit dull. Navy blue with the window surrounds painted white would look quite good.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Agreed. Corrugated iron can look very good when painted in strong colours.

Anonymous said...

There's an excellent small corrugated 'Mission Church' at the 'Chiltern Open Air Museum' - they have the full history and details of the original manufacturers catalogue from which it was purchased.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Yes, that's a lovely example at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, which I mean to go and see. The open air museum at Avoncroft and the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex also have good tin churches.

I recently bought a copy of a Victorian catalogue of prefabricated buildings that includes several corrugated iron churches made by Boulton & Paul of Norwich. There were other manufacturers too.