Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tin tabernacles

click photo to enlarge
The name "tin tabernacle" is used to describe the prefabricated, corrugated iron churches that can still be found in out of the way corners of Britain. The style will be recognisable to people in some other countries, particularly Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where such buildings were also erected.

In Britain the rapid expansion of population in the nineteenth century led to the need for buildings that could be quickly erected in areas of new housing, and near expanding mining areas. Churches of many denominations, between about 1860 and 1914, seized on the offerings of manufacturers, and put together buildings from the kits of parts that they advertised. Churches could be large or small, with bell towers and spires, or with simple bell-cotes. Transepts and aisles could be added, as could pointed windows with elementary tracery, porches and prominent crosses. Those who erected these churches saw them as temporary buildings that would be superseded by brick or stone structures in the fullness of time. And in most cases they were. But, temporary buildings are sometimes suprisingly durable and frequently garner affection from their users. Furthermore, the envisaged money for something more substantial isn't always forthcoming. That seems to have happened with the surviving "tin tabernacles" in Britain. They can be found in towns, Welsh valleys, in small rural communities, or in mining areas that have long since ceased production. I have come across a couple of dozen in my travels over the years, often strikingly and brightly painted, and usually exhibiting through their cared-for appearance, the love and devotion of their congregation.

Today's photograph shows one such church that dates from 1893, a modest example, in the small village of Pointon on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens. It is painted black and white, is severely symmetrical, and on the exterior shows its age. All the details are pretty much as you expect to see in such a building, with the exception of the bargeboards on the main roof and aisles. These have decorative cut-outs on the edge of a sort that look like the bite marks of a hungry Tyrannosaurus rex! They are surely not original. However, peering through the window, I found the inside looks wonderful. It is clean, polished, beautifully cared for, and has details picked out in blue that give it a pleasing brightness. The notices pinned to the door reveal that it is well-used by the village, and doubtless the building has many more years of life left in it. The best shot the church offers the passing photographer is, I think, this symmetrical shot from the west end.

More information about these fascinating relics can be found here, here and here. The largest example of a tin tabernacle church in Britain is at Deepcut.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 7.9mm (37mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.4
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On