St. Saviour’s Church erected on the Midland Railway Centre’s site at Swanwick Junction, Derbyshire.

Spurred on by the Industrial Revolution, the late 18th and early 19th C. saw decades of population expansion and movement. Towns and cities rapidly grew as the workforce moved into the new industrial areas one bi-product was the  building of more than 4,000 churches during the mid-19thC., and an upsurge of non-conformism led to a demand for even more buildings.

What was required were cost-effective, prefabricated structures that could be rapidly erected to meet the demand before more permanent buildings could be constructed. Churches, chapels and mission halls were all erected in new industrial areas, in pit villages, near railway works and in more isolated rural and coastal locations.

The Church of England, influenced by Pugin, the Cambridge Camden Society and John Ruskin, were initially sceptical about the use of corrugated iron buildings, however tin tabernacles, as they became known, made from corrugated galvanised iron, having been successfully erected across the world, were increasingly seen as one way to meet the burgeoning need.

The early tin churches were easily and rapidly erected, but at an average cost of between £2 and £4 ‘per seat’, were seen as an expensive temporary solution, St Mark’s Church in Birkenhead, built in 1867 for example cost more than £2,000 for 500 seats. Prices decreased to nearer £1 per sitting towards the end of the century. David Rowell & Co. 1901 catalogue advertised a church to seat 400 persons, delivered to the nearest railway station and erected on the purchaser’s foundation, at a cost of £360 and so the use of such buildings rapidly increased.

Over a century on and several tin tabernacles survive as places of worship; some have listed building status; some have been converted to other uses and a small number of redundant chapels have been moved to museums for preservation, one such example St. Saviour’s can be found at the Midland Railway Centre’s Swanwick Junction site.

The simplicity and purposefulness of a ‘tin tabernacle’.

The church was originally built in the late 1890’s in the railway village of Westhouses Derbyshire, by the Midland Railway Co. for the use of their employees and families at it’s rather remote depot.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the building, gorgeous ‘Gothic’ inspired late-Victorian detailing survives, around the windows, doors and eaves.

The church was originally consecrated in 1898, but became redundant and had fallen into disuse by the 1990’s when it was acquired for the museum site.

An unprepossessing, successful, functional building. Yet, despite being parred back to the essentials its main purpose remains undisputable.

Between 1994-96 the Trust recovered and rebuilt the church.

A fascinating glimpse of the building ‘undressed’ during the restoration in the mid-90’s.

It was re-erected with help of supervisors and trainees from the Community Task Force and South East Derbyshire College. It is envisaged that the church will eventually form part of a Victorian street scene planned by the Trust.

The spartan timbered interior proved popular, and chimed well with non-conformist tastes.
The building is beautifully restored, with an eye for exquisite detail, such as this simple notice board.


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