Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tin Tabernacle, Woodmancote

The Church of England expanded rapidly in Victorian times, partly out of a new religious fervour but also to serve a rising population that might otherwise go to chapel or even the liberated Catholic church.
In many cases an urgent need would be filled by a typically Victorian invention - the corrugated iron building.
Corrugated iron was invented in 1820 to provide a light but strong and durable building material that could be assembled by semi-skilled labourers. It was originally made of wrought iron passed between wavy rollers and galvanised to protect it from rust. By the 1890s the iron had been replaced by mild steel but the name stuck.
Many companies produced whole buildings of corrugated iron, from simple sheds to barns, bungalows, meeting rooms and churches, which became affectionately known as 'tin tabernacles'. They would be shipped by railway in flat-pack form and nailed onto simple wooden frames made by local carpenters. Prefabricated buildings of corrugated iron were sent all over the Empire.
The church at Woodmancote was built in 1892 by the rector of Westbourne, and it is still part of Westbourne parish. It is a simple room with a porch at the west end and a little bellcote above. The whole building is painted green, even the bell.
Few tin tabernacles survive. Many were soon replaced by more substantial buildings when the congregation became large enough to raise the money. Others were converted into village halls or scout huts before decay eventually swept them away.
The latest addition to the Weald and Downland Museum is the tin tabernacle from Wonston, near Winchester, complete with little 'churchy' touches like pointed windows and a cusped light behind the bell, but also painted green.
Tin tabernacles may lack the architectural presence of medieval stone carving and stained glass, but they have a humble charm all their own.