In New Street, Birchmoor stands a green corrugated building which is Saint John’s Mission Church. Today it is no longer used for services of the Church of England although it is still owned by them and part of Polesworth ecclesiastical parish.
In the middle of the 1800s a new type of building material was developed, corrugated iron. This was relatively cheap and many designs of ‘build yourself’ houses, chapels, schools, even toilets were available. Coopers who were the main distributors of these had a catalogue of over 600 pages with numerous designs on each page. The average three bedroom bungalow cost approximately £100 in1890, so they were much in demand. The usual form was a wooden frame with corrugated iron on the outside and boarding on the inside.
There were many ‘bolt on’ extras such as bell towers, extra rooms, porches, so as the needs of the owners of the building grew, so could the building. Most of these buildings were painted municipal green, a good long lasting paint which did not fade as much as other colours in the range, such as blue or red. There are many of these buildings still in existence across the country and also in places like Australia and New Zealand, the latter usually of the ‘colonial’ design with a veranda along most of the outside walls. They were also easily moved to a new location. Some have been moved to open air museums such as Avoncroft and some have lost their corrugated outside and have been covered in wood cladding, which is warmer and easier to heat.
Those buildings that were used as chapels gained the name ‘Tin Tabernacles’ but although they were relatively cheap they were not just built in poorer areas of the country. Often they were seen as temporary buildings which were erected until money could be collected to replace them with a more permanent stone or brick building. Their popularity was waning by the early years of the twentieth century and ceased to be produced in large numbers before the First World War.
But why was one built in Birchmoor? Birchmoor was an area of moor land with a few scattered houses and farms and a coaching inn until the sinking of the coal shaft on land between the current village and the Hermitage Farm. This brought an influx of mine workers and houses needed to be built to accommodate them. Around the same time the Methodists were attempting to purchase land at Birchmoor for a small chapel and were in negotiations with a builder Henry Mottram of Tamworth who owned land along what is now New Street and around that area. However the Rev. Madden of Polesworth was determined that they would not be successful; he already had non-conformist chapels in Polesworth village, Warton village and Dordon village and was set on having no more in his ecclesiastical parish.
In 1869 he signed an agreement with Henry Mottram relating to some land at Birchmoor, whereby Mottram agreed not to sell the land for the erection of a place of worship contrary to the Church of England doctrines, in consideration of £105 from Rev. Madden for a portion of land. This document is in the Warwickshire County Record Office at Warwick. In 1888 a ‘Tin Tabernacle’ was purchased and erected on the present site. The building was consecrated as St. John’s Mission Church. The building was extended in 1898 when the body of the church was extended and again in 1931 when the chancel and kitchen area was built.
In the early 1950s land to the side of the church was purchased by Colonel Chaytor of Pooley Hall and donated to the church as a possible burial ground, but this land was never consecrated for that purpose and now serves as allotments.
The building continued to be used by the parishioners of Birchmoor as a church and also a parish room which was used for many events over the years. The congregation dwindled however in more recent years and was closed for Church of England worship, however it was still maintained as a parish room and Polesworth Parochial Church Council still met there once a year. In 2000 the Polesworth Christian Fellowship – now the Fellowship Church at St. John’s – started evening services there and then moved all their services in 2016.
The building is also used for a craft club every fortnight on a Tuesday and a weekly coffee morning between 10 and 12 on Tuesdays also. An Aikido group meets there and during the pandemic it has been used as a food hub. National and local elections are held there and soon the Boys and Girls Brigade will be using it for their meetings. So it is still a well used and much loved building. Recently a new kitchen has been installed and the toilets refurbished and the entrances expanded for full disabled compliance, together with some new windows and redecoration. And more work is planned for the future
So what started out with a move by the minister for Polesworth to stop the Methodists getting a foothold in the village, and then continued with the erection of what was seen as possibly a temporary Mission Church, has survived to today and still serves a useful purpose within the small village community.
By Margaret Henley
Chair of Polesworth History Project Group
Additional information provided by David Harris, Pastor, Fellowship Church at St. John’s.