On 30th March 2019, The Revd. Andrew Doye, Rector of Westbourne with Woodmancote, gave thanksgiving for the restoration of Woodmancote Church and dedicated its new cross.
Editor’s note: We reported in our last edition that the cross was created by the HAMESH Men’s Shed in Havant, to replace the rotten original.
HAMESH used good parts of the origional to make candlesticks sold at the church raising over £400 towards the restoration costs.
A Tin Tabernacle
The church at Woodmancote is unusual, looking a bit like a scout hut, perched on rising ground near the Woodmancote Arms.
In fact this is a rare building, over 120 years old, and its survival is a testament to its constructors and to the care given over the years.
The Church of England expanded rapidly in Victorian times, partly out of a new religious fervour but also to serve a rising population. In many cases an urgent need would be filled by a typically Victorian invention – the corrugated iron building.
Corrugated iron was developed in Britain in the mid 19th Century and refined by galvanising the sheets for durability, which led to more practical applications including many types of prefabricated buildings from 1850 onwards.
Many of these were intended to be temporary structures, and so the churches built using this material became nicknamed 'tin tabernacles' after the reference in Exodus to the portable dwelling of Yahweh used by the wandering tribes of Israel.
Many such buildings were also exported to developing countries in support of missionary work, and were used by different denominations.
In October 1892 an 'iron room' was erected for divine service in Woodmancote by the Reverend J H Mee and was called ‘The Mission Room’. It is said that it arrived from Southbourne Station on a horse-drawn vehicle in a flat pack (did IKEA get their ideas from the Victorians?). It remained in the ownership of Reverend Mee up until 7th January 1919 when it was conveyed to the Trustees of Westbourne Church. Since then, Woodmancote Church has been an ecclesiastical charity under the sole management and control of the Rector of Westbourne,
The chapel was licensed in 1928.
Woodmancote is one of only two active Anglican ‘tin tabernacles’ still being used for divine service, the oldest in Sussex and the fourth oldest in the UK. A similar building is housed in the Weald and Downland museum at Singleton.
In 2012, a service was held to celebrate the church's 120th anniversary, (not bad for a 'temporary building') but it was beginning to show signs of its age
In 2018 it was decided that the church needed refurbishment, The interior has been cleaned, repainted and varnished, while the ceiling has been repaired. In addition the old windows were replaced by modern Windows in a similar style of wooden frames.
Externally, the corrugated iron has been completely repainted but the wooden cross outside had been exposed to the elements for many years and would require very specialist work to restore.
The church asked local Mens Sheds if they could undertake this project and HAMESH, the Havant Town Centre mens shed, agreed that they could. George Palmer is a skilled carver and woodworker who sourced some seasoned oak for the cross, and over several months carefully carved the text, and constructed and erected the new cross at Woodmancote which is now readily visible behind the recently reduced hedging.
Revd. Doye made reference in his address to the hymn 'The old Rugged Cross' with the hope that the new cross would stand for many years until it, too, became Rugged.