Pettaugh: On a Mission

PUBLISHED: 11:53 03 July 2013 | UPDATED: 12:29 03 July 2013

Tin Tabernacle, Pettaugh

Tin Tabernacle, Pettaugh


Lurking unlisted and unloved by the roadside, on the A1120 tourist route from Stowmarket to Yoxford, Pettaugh’s Victorian Mission Room had, ironically enough, become its very own lost cause.

Bob page, who restored the Tin tabernacle at PettaughBob page, who restored the Tin tabernacle at Pettaugh

Its concrete base was crumbled, its dark green paint had flaked away amidst encroaching undergrowth. Even a sycamore tree was left to do its utmost to undermine it. Made of corrugated iron on a timber frame, neglect had seen its very soul stolen away.

Simply a prefab from the past

In some ways, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. Not the prettiest of structures, the old Mission Room was fundamentally an aging iron shed, not quite in keeping with Old Bull Cottage on the corner or the thatched properties opposite. It was an 1880s quick fix – a do-it-yourself flat-pack and a snip at £41 10s. Purpose-built, portable and, herein lies the twist, intended to be temporary.

From the mid 1900s, corrugated iron churches, non conformist chapels, hospital wards, mission and reading rooms became a popular way of providing expanding, migrating and rural populations with additional facilities and delivering spiritual focus. Like many parts of the UK and thanks perhaps in part to the Norwich-based Victorian Ikea equivalent, Boulton and Paul, Suffolk ended up with many town and country ‘Tin Tabernacles’, an affectionate, if bemusing name, given that they were always made out of iron.

Interior of new Tin TabernacleInterior of new Tin Tabernacle

Cutting edge stuff

Little wonder that the people of Pettaugh have felt protective about this part of their past. The community saw the Mission Room erected in 1888 for ‘the spiritual and mental improvement of the people’, an initiative of local evangelically minded landowners, the Cutting family. Popular enough to be extended further in 1893, and always taking care to never conflict with time-honoured St Catherine’s up the road, Pettaugh’s very own tin tabernacle served its community well.

Pettaugh Tin tabernacle after, rearPettaugh Tin tabernacle after, rear

A chapter and verse transformation

The place where kids once skipped off to Sunday School is still there in all its glory, now in a new refined blue livery and joined by a smart glass vestibule to a weather-boarded building, with tin tabernacle type dormers in a slate roof and a gothic echo or two in the styling of its window frames. Renamed The Old Mission Hall, it looks a little bit New England, but is still recognisable.

Bob Page can’t wait to relate how the building has risen to the occasion, though as a director of Framlingham firm, Robert Norman Construction, his business often sees him dealing with historic Suffolk timber-framed buildings of a more substantial kind. “The building needed an all new wall at plate level, so just like a medieval barn, we had to get scaffolding all round the perimeter and literally pick the place up to do the groundworks. The most surprising thing was probably the lack of vertical timber studs. We’d really expected there to be more of a timber frame to it, for the structure to be more robust given its ripe old age.”

Recycled winow at Tin Tabernacle, PettaughRecycled winow at Tin Tabernacle, Pettaugh

Surviving on a wing and a prayer

Many of the timbers the tin tabernacle did have were rotten and needed careful replacement. The decaying concrete plinth had probably replaced the brick original. With piling undertaken and concrete, steel-reinforced floors finally in place, new brickwork could be built up to meet the refurbished and now fully insulated frame.

Seeing the light

The original tin tabernacle section of The Old Mission Hall retains its rectangular windows with just one exception.

“The project’s all about holding on to the past and giving it a viable future,” muses Bob. “There’s a fantastic feeling of space here thanks to the vaulted ceiling, but modern living spaces demand so much more light than the little windows would offer. With a bit of nifty recycling, we’ve incorporated a wonderful large window in the rear wall – saved appropriately enough from an old chapel building in Ipswich.”

Bright, open and inviting, it’s warm too, thanks to underfloor heating fuelled by an eco-friendly air source heat pump located in the old porch/new utility room.

Beautifully re-born

Inside the reborn building is a bathroom and two bedrooms, with Victorian-inspired patio doors drawing the freshness of the lawned garden in and extending the living space out. The successful combination lifts the spirits – from the inside, the gothic triangular arches, the pointed slopes of the glass vestibule roof, the vaulted ceiling of the historic Mission Room have a rewarding synergy, creating a magical whole.

“It has taken nine months of 21st century dedication to detail to breathe the life back in to a 19th century ‘temporary’ building which was originally agreed, planned and erected in just 10 weeks,” smiles Bob. “Mission accomplished.”

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