Sunday 22 June 2014

Tin tabernacle, battleship

Intended to be temporary structures, tin tabernacles were cheap flat-pack churches or chapels, ordered from a catalogue and erected quickly to tide the congregation over until a permanent structure was built. The corrugated-iron stop-gap then disappeared; but even those which weren't replaced were vulnerable to issues such as rust. As a result, they are relatively rare today, and seeing one is always a pleasure. The tin tabernacle in Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn is especially exciting, as its more recent life has given it an extraordinary interior. 

The Congregationalist chapel was built as part of a housing development in 1863, and developer James Bailey intended it to be replaced later with a more conventional chapel. However, his bankruptcy in 1866 was probably one reason that this never happened, so the iron structure is still standing over 150 years later. 

Transformations over the years included the addition of a total-immersion font at the east end of the building. By the early twentieth century, however, the chapel was falling out of use. During the Second World War, it was used as an Air Raid Precaution store. 

Soon after the war, the building was transferred to the Sea Cadets - who continue to occupy it today. They showed great ingenuity in transforming the interior into a battleship - using two old buses to do so. Information boards on all aspects of ships and shipping, from sails and knots to ship identification, were crafted using painted wood. The total immersion font and crypt were filled with concrete, and a Bofers anti-aircraft gun now stands in pride of place.

That same ingenuity furnished the naval chapel. The fittings come not from another place of worship but from the set of Becket, filmed in 1964 at Shepperton Studios with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. 

The tin tabernacle can be visited on most Saturday afternoons (contact them via the website to double-check). Donations are very welcome, as this fragile and extraordinary building is in desperate need of restoration, and a fund-raising campaign is underway.

I visited with the Victorian Society - find out more about their excellent events programme here


Chris Partridge said...

I love tin tabernacles, and what the Sea Scouts have done here is remarkable too. There are a couple of tin tabernacles in Sussex including one that has been restored and re-erected at the Weald and Downland Museum - see

dakotaboo said...

I've seen this a few times and always wondered what it was. Thanks for enlightening me.

Stephen Barker said...

I had seen this building before in a blog on the site English Buildings. Fascinating to see the interior of the building. I used to work in Long Eaton where there are two tin tabs, one of which is used for commercial purposes and looked in quite good condition.

HughB said...

St George's church at West End, Esher is a tin church which is still in use - we watched a wedding take place there, though we've never been inside. Apparently it cost£300 when it was erected in 1887.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I cannot believe that I am seeing this tin tabernacle!! I grew up standing outside this church/sea cadet building from 1960 through 1968 as I waited for the 31 or 28 bus to transfer onto the 7 and cross west London to the North Pole, my high school stop!! There is a sweet shop right there, on the tin church street, a hole in the wall, was there when I was a kid, still there now, I think. (This church even was featured in a very vivid dream that I had a few years ago.) Apart from this, I love having found you, only just. I am a Londoner who has lived elsewhere (Berkeley Cal) for decades. I visit London every year and do what I always have done since I was a child, which is explore it with a fine tooth comb, often with my mother. I love history and I love London, with a passion. I take photos and notes and have many projects. I am always so happy to find other like-minded people. I found yout hrough London Remembers, which I also only just found.