A VILLAGE community is pulling together to raise cash to help restore one of the last remaining ‘tin tabernacles’ still being used as a place of worship.
Known affectionately as the ‘tin church’ St Augustine’s in Draycott-in-the-Clay may not be one of the grandest places to hold Sunday services but it has been at heart of village life since the community first banded together to pay for it nearly 100 years ago.
With money being in short supply after the First World War a tin tabernacle was all the East Staffordshire village could afford and even then the rumours are that the church was acquired second hand.
But with its white-painted corrugated iron exterior and wood panelled interior the church has become a ‘special place’ and, despite the village always being linked with Hanbury and its much grander St Werburgh’s Church, it has remained as a place of worship and can host weddings and baptisms. It’s also well used by the village primary school.
However, the church needs thousands of pounds spent on it after the windows started rotting and the bell tower had to be taken down after it became a danger.
Now parishioners are raising cash to give St Augustine’s some attention.
School children raised £50 for the bell tower repair and the Draycott Show committee donated £400 in 2013 and are giving further help this year. There has been a further private donation of £150 and a murder mystery evening has been held at the village hall to boost funds.
The rotting windows have been tackled but the bell tower remains in pieces and a new noticeboard is high on the list of priorities.
Church warden Judy Ireland says: “The tower was removed at a cost of £1,320. The roof is so fragile that it cannot bear any weight, so all work had to be done off scaffolding – which actually cost more than the removal. The same will apply when we put it back again. That’s what makes the work so expensive.
“The repairs to the window frames and replacement front door were done in November at a cost of £1,700. But we need to raise a lot more money.”
The hope is that skilled craftsman may be willing to donate time or materials to cut the costs.
The Rev Les Rees, who is helped by Frances Sheppard and John Harrison with services and church duties at St Augustine’s, says many people believe that the Lichfield diocese will pay for the repairs.
“It’s a common misunderstanding but we don’t get money from them. On the contrary, we fund the diocese and its administrative system. So we have to raise all the money ourselves.
“People have responded very, very well as they would be loathed to lose their little church. There’s a great affection for it.
“It’s licensed for weddings and it’s quaint to have your ceremony somewhere like this. We also have a service every other Sunday.
“One of our priorities is to get a new noticeboard as that says a lot about a church and shows that its vibrant.
“Then we will concentrate on the bell tower. But it’s not just about raising money but also reaching out to the community and speaking to people we might not otherwise engage with. I would like to think a church is a focal point for the village, and Francis and John work very hard and are closely connected with the school and the wider community.
“We have a lot of goodwill and warmth in the community.”
Jane Bean looks after the church for the village on a day-to-day basis.
She says: “I clean it, do the flowers and set it up for the vicar before the service. My husband David makes sure the grass is cut and the churchyard is kept tidy.
“It’s a shame we have lost the bell tower. We also had another tower in the middle which blew down and has never been replaced. It doesn’t help that we need a new sign board for the church. David has also replaced a lot of rivets in the corrugated iron but there’s more that needs doing now. There is always maintenance to be done.
“It is a worry and concern that if something can’t be done we will lose the church. Which would be such a shame.”
Judy says that once churches like this are lost to the community they never get them back.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s not like any other church I have been in. Even when it’s cold, it’s stll cosy. It’s a really friendly little church. It just needs a bit of TLC.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation, an offer of help or who has a fund-raising idea, can contact Rev Les Rees on 01283 810615.
A ‘tin tabernacle’ is the name given to a kind of prefabricated ecclesiastical building made from corrugated galvanised iron. They were developed in the mid-19th century after the Industrial Revolution resulted in an explosion in the UK population and created new towns and villages so there was a need to quickly build new places of worship to serve new communities.
Over the years most tin tabernacles have fallen into disrepair, been taken down or have been converted for other uses. Some redundant tabernacles have been moved to museums for preservation. One was moved to an Ironbridge Museum site in Shropshire, while St Saviour’s Church in Derbyshire was moved to the Midlands Railway Centre.
Very few tin tabernacles are still being used as a place of worship and St Augustine’s maybe the only one in our area.
It was built in 1923 and is largely in its original condition but it’s history is sketchy.
Rev Les Rees says: “It has a charm about it. It reminds me of those churches in the Wild West where people come down the hills in their wellies.
Churchwarden Judy Ireland adds; “Back in the late 19th century, the people of Draycott felt they needed their own church, so an appeal was made for money. But the First World War got in the way and they didn’t raise as much money as they had hoped and this was all they could afford. We believe it was possibly second hand and may have come from an Army camp. We guess it came flat packed.”
A report from the ‘Building Committee for Funds Towards The Erection of a Mission Church in Draycott’ dated 1913 says: “Draycott is a parish with a population of 528, mostly agricultural labourers and plaster miners. The parish church is at Hanbury. The approach, however, from Draycott is very inconvenient. It’s 1.5 miles by fields and the path goes up a very steep hill and in wet weather in the dark an during most of winter is very bad travelling indeed.”
In 1913 the cost of the church was estimated at £1,300 but the fund was still £800 short.
Jane Bean says: “Originally it should have been brick built and the funds were possibly raised for that but were moved elsewhere. But it’s a beautiful little church. You walk in there and you immediately feel at home.”