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Until it was demolished by the Church of England in 2013, St. Saviour’s the “tin church” in The Rookery, a former mining village near to Kidsgrove, was one of the oldest surviving iron buildings in the world. A miners’ church built by miners for miners, St. Saviour’s was one of the churches that helped to bring Christianity to the North Staffordshire Coalfield. At the request of local people living in Butt Lane, Kidsgrove and Mow Cop, we are reposting three posts about the church written by historical geographer Betty Cooper in 2011.
St Saviour’s (Part One)
The first iron buildings were lock-keepers’ cottages erected by canal companies towards the end of the 18th century. Their walls were built of cast iron or iron blocks. They had iron window frames and wrought iron sheet roofs.
Wrought iron corrugated roofing sheets were invented in 1829 by civil engineer Henry Robinson Palmer who used them to roof the large warehouses he was building in the Port of London. Durable and corrosion resistant, the sheets were light and easy to transport by road or canal. Enterprising entrepreneurs soon discovered that they could use them to produce “factory made” prefabricated buildings which were assembled on site by semi-skilled workers.
One of the first to realise their potential was London based civil engineering contractor Richard Walker who built a factory in Bermondsey where he made corrugated iron roofs.
In 1831, Richard published an advertisement with an illustration of an open-ended warehouse with a corrugated iron barrel-vaulted roof which he could erect for his customers. Galvanised iron was produced from 1836 onwards, and Richard started to manufacture prefabricated buildings with galvanised corrugated iron walls and roofs which were exported to Australia.
By the end of the 1840s corrugated wrought iron sheets had been used to roof Liverpool’s Lime Street Station and New Street Station in Birmingham.
When the Californian Gold Rush began in 1849, a Manchester firm E.T. Bellhouse and Co. produced prefabricated iron warehouses and miners’ cottages which were shipped to California and erected on the goldfield.
A two roomed miner’s cottage, with a day-room and a bedroom, cost £100. For more affluent customers, the firm manufactured two storey houses whose price ranged from £450 to £500. The corrugated iron used to construct these buildings was coated with tin alloy to prevent rust. Some of them had four rooms on each floor and were described as being “equal to that of the most comfortable house” of the same size in England. Barrel-vaulted roofs were replaced by pitched roofs in 1849, and in 1850 a twelve-room lodging house was sent to California.
At the beginning of the 1850s, there were several firms producing a wide range of prefabricated iron buildings that included houses, village halls, sports pavilions, warehouses, hospitals and churches which were exported to the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
E.T. Bellhouse produced a “special emigrant’s cottage” which the emigrant could take with him when he and his family left England to find fame and fortune in a new country.
The firm exhibited an emigrant’s cottage at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Prince Albert was impressed by the building and the technical skill shown by its designers.
He ordered a large wrought iron building, 60 feet long by 24 feet wide, which could be used as a ballroom, a dining room and a theatre at Balmoral Castle.
When the exhibition closed the demand for iron buildings increased and in 1855 the United Kingdom’s first “tin church” was erected in the grounds of the vicarage at Kensington.
A report in The Builder (27th October 1855) said it was constructed of galvanised corrugated iron and observed that: “It would not be too difficult on a future occasion to give a more ecclesiastical character to such a structure…” A large number of “tin churches” were built in the second half of the 19th century. One of them was St. Saviour’s which was erected in Butt Lane in 1868 and moved to The Rookery in 1879.
Copyright Betty Cooper 2011
Until it was demolished in 2013 St. Saviour’s the “tin church” in The Rookery was one of the oldest corrugated iron buildings in the world. In this post, first posted in 2011, historical geographer Betty Cooper, who was born in The Rookery, writes about the local miners who built the church.
St. Saviour’s (Part Two)
A mission church, St. Saviour’s was constructed from a self-assembly kit manufactured in London by Messrs Vavasour. The kit was bought by the Parish of Talke in 1867 and erected in Congleton Road, Butt Lane on a site called the Hollins, which had been given by Mrs Marsh Caldwell who lived at Linley Hall.
Local landowners, including Mrs Marsh Caldwell and her daughters, subscribed to the building fund.
“Tin Churches” which the Victorians called “Tin Tabernacles” were easy to erect by volunteers. When the “self-assembly kit” arrived at Butt Lane it contained an instruction booklet and everything needed to construct the church including numbered corrugated iron sheets, pre-cut wooden strips, doors and windows.
Working in the evenings and at weekends, colliers from Butt Lane and Talke cleared the site, laid the foundations, erected the timber frame and bolted the prefabricated corrugated iron sheets, the doors and the windows to it.
St. Saviour’s cost less than £350 although an additional £300 had to be raised to pay a local builder who was employed to construct a wall round the site.
A single storey building, the church could accommodate 120 worshippers. The interior was lined with stained wood. There was an inscription over the chancel arch and a stained glass window above the altar which depicted “Christ the Saviour of the World”.
St. Saviour’s was opened by George Selwyn, the Bishop of Lichfield, on April 1st, 1868.
At 2.00pm a procession, containing the bishop and local clergymen, was formed at a nearby farmhouse. Led by Chesterton Church choir, the procession made its way to St. Saviour’s.
The bishop entered the church, and the service began. Admission to the service was by ticket only. Tickets cost £3 – a price the colliers, who had built the church, could not afford to pay.
A large number of colliers and their families had gathered outside the building. While the hymn before the sermon was being sung, the Bishop surprised everyone. Instead of making his way to the pulpit, he walked down the aisle to the main entrance. After the hymn, he stood in the porch and preached to the crowd standing outside.
During the service a collection was held which raised £12 to support church missions in New Zealand where George had been a bishop for ten years before coming to Lichfield.
St. Saviour’s served Butt Lane until 1879 when it was replaced by a mock Tudor timber-framed building. The redundant “tin church” was acquired by Mow Cop parish. The building was dismantled and taken to The Rookery where it was reassembled.
Copyright Betty Cooper 2011
Opened by George Selwyn, the Bishop of Lichfield, on April 1st, 1868, St. Saviour’s was a tin mission church in Butt Lane. Manufactured as a “self-assembly kit” containing a wooden frame, corrugated iron sheets, doors and windows, the church was purchased from a London firm. Erected by volunteers, St. Saviour’s served the village until 1879 when it was replaced by a mock Tudor timber-framed building.
The redundant “tin church” was acquired by Mow Cop parish, dismantled and taken to The Rookery where it was reassembled.
Now called “St. Saviour’s Mission Church in the Rookery”, the church was self-supporting. All its income came from collections and fundraising activities organised by members of the congregation.
Although services were taken by the vicar of Mow Cop who appointed the Vicar’s Warden, other officials were elected by the congregation at the annual general meeting. As well as electing the People’s Warden, the treasurer and the sidesmen, the meeting appointed the Sunday School superintendent, the choirmaster, the organist and the cleaner.
In September 1932, the Rev. Charles Hood became Vicar of Mow Cop. A man with a forceful personality, he persuaded the annual general meeting to regenerate St. Saviour’s and the church was closed from August 18th to September 8th, 1935 while the work was carried out. Some of the money to finance the project was raised locally, but most had been given by retired marine engineer, Summers Hunter, who had helped re-erect the church when it came from Butt Lane.
One of John and Isabella Hunter’s six children, Summers was born at Inverness on July 12th, 1856 and educated at Inverness Academy. In 1870, when Summers was 14, his father became the agent for a colliery in the Kidsgrove area. The family left Scotland and came to live in The Rookery.
Summers obtained an apprenticeship with Barker & Cope, a Kidsgrove engineering firm which made boilers, winding gear and pumps. He attended classes at the Wedgwood Institute and won prizes for electrical engineering, technical drawing and machine construction. In 1880, Summers left The Rookery and went to Sunderland to work for the North Eastern Marine Engineering Company where he became one of the world’s leading marine engineers.
In 1900, the company made him its managing director. He modernised the firm’s Wallsend factory where cutting-edge research was undertaken to develop new and more powerful steam engines. Efficient and easy to maintain, these engines were used by shipbuilders in Europe and North America to power their ships. During the Second World War, a triple expansion engine, developed by Summers in the early years of the 20th century, was modified and installed in the British designed Liberty Ships which were built in Britain and America to carry supplies across the Atlantic.
When St. Saviour’s was regenerated, Summers gave two stained glass windows. A large window which depicted the figure of Christ was installed above the altar, and the other window was placed above the main entrance.
Summers visited St. Saviour’s on October 13th, 1935 and addressed the congregation. After giving a brief account of the church’s history, he bore “personal witness” of the way his life had been influenced by the services he attended there in his youth.
Copyright Betty Cooper 2011
St. Saviour’s was demolished in 2013. Regeneration consultants believe the church was an asset that could have been used to help create a heritage based tourist industry in the Kidsgrove area. Architectural historians say the demolition of this historic church was an act of bureaucratic vandalism which proves to the world that North Staffordshire does not care about its heritage.
St. Saviour’s the historic tin church in The Rookery, near Kidsgrove, was demolished by the Church of England in 2013. Spotlight on Stoke has been asked to re-post the articles that our historical geographer Betty Cooper wrote about the church before it was demolished.
Spotlight has agreed to re-post Betty’s articles which will be posted on this site in March.
Betty Cooper and David Martin agree with the comments made by the Phoenix Trust when it heard that St. Saviour’s was going to be demolished. The Phoenix Trust said it was:
“A miners’ church, built by miners for miners, which helped to bring Christianity to an industrial village on the North Staffordshire Coalfield.
“One of the oldest tin churches in the world, its unique character and atmosphere were destroyed when the interior, shown in the photograph, was gutted.
“When St. Saviour’s is demolished North Staffordshire will lose a major heritage asset.
“An asset that could have been used to help create a heritage based tourist industry which would bring millions of pounds into our region and help to regenerate it.”
Photograph Copyright David Martin