The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Our iron-clad legacy

Michael Russell Wood examines the 'temporary' corrugated iron buildings peppered around Dorset that stayed around

Devan Haye, The Colonial House in Sherborne, is probably the best-preserved corrugated iron house in the British Isles. In 1889, it came by rail from London to Sherborne station, and then up the hill by horse and cart. It was supplied and erected for the sum of £350 on prepared foundations.

Although it does not have the widely appreciated appeal of materials such as Purbeck, Ham, Portland or other local stones, corrugated iron has proved itself to be a remarkable material, enabling buildings to be erected quickly and at low cost and now carries with it a charm all of its own.
Although denigrated by Victorian architects such as Pugin and Scott, it has now made a comeback in the architect’s catalogue of useful, practical and decorative materials. Architects such as Jesse Judd and Glen Murcutt in Australia, Foster and Rogers in Great Britain, Nicholas Grimshaw in Germany and many others all over the world are using corrugated iron in exciting and innovative ways.

St Saviour's church at Ashington, near Wimborne, was a place of worship until relatively recently, but has now been converted into a dwelling. The tin roof has been replaced with slates, and dormer windows have been added. The original building was probably selected in 1900 from the catalogue of, and supplied by, Messrs Humphreys of Knightsbridge, London.

In the year 2000, Lizzie Induni was so shocked to see an old corrugated iron building being demolished in her home town, Swanage, that she set about compiling a list of the important remaining iron buildings in Dorset. Since her millennium survey, several of these have been demolished, and their rate of disappearance means they may soon become an endangered species.

Ibberton and Belchalwell Village Hall is the oldest in Dorset, originally constructed in 1893 as a temporary church for the two parishes since the old church of Ibberton was in a very poor state. By 1909 the building became a church hall for meetings and local functions. In 1949 it became the Village Hall, with improvements gradually being carried out over the years until major repairs were needed in the year 2000.

Corrugated iron buildings were prefabricated, or of what we now call modular construction. A wooden framework supported the corrugated iron outer shell that was interlined with felt or horsehair for insulation and the whole was lined with matchboard. The floors were wooden with an airspace underneath to prevent any dampness coming up from the ground.

The main exhibit at the Ball Clay Mining Museum at Norden is this mine-head trans-shipment building. Originally sited at Norden No 7 mine, it was moved and re-erected with new corrugated sheeting.

Corrugated iron is still a popular material for roofing and cladding commercial buildings. Although today there are many profiles other than the original simple fluting, the principle is the same – converting a floppy sheet of iron into a rigid building material. Today the iron sheets are often coated with coloured plastic, for protection from corrosion while providing an alternative to the appearance of shiny galvanizing zinc.

Halfway between Wareham and Corfe Castle, just off Soldiers Road, Arne, stand the Isolation Hospital and Nurses' Bungalow. They were put up in the early 1900s. This hospital is the finest remaining example of the type and, together with the bungalow, is listed grade II. These are the only listed iron buildings in Dorset.

The heyday of domestic and religious iron building manufacture was the last third of the 19th century, with the trade virtually dead by the 1920s. There were two exceptions to this; one was military – including Nissen huts and aircraft hangars, the other was agricultural and commercial structures. The day of the prefabricated iron church and mission hall, however, was over.

Above This T2-type hangar at Windy Corner, Tarrant Rushton, is one of few that remain. It was designed and made by The Tees-Side Bridge and Engineering Company to an Air Ministry specification so that aircraft, such as the Lancaster, could be accommodated.

Pictured here are some of the remaining examples of Victorian, Edwardian and other corrugated iron buildings in Dorset. Since they were usually made to answer a temporary need – and could be easily moved or demolished, we are lucky that the few structures that do still exist are in such good order, despite their age.

Below The Reading Room at Alderholt sits on the main road to Fordingbridge and although Alderholt has a smart new hall, the Reading Room is still popular for functions.


This article was abridged from Dorset's Legacy in Corrugated Iron by Michael Russell Wood, which contains details of 28 corrugated iron buildings in Dorset. The book is published at £12 by John Aley, Bridport, ISBN 978-0-9526329-2-4 and is available from The Book Shop, 14 South Street, Bridport and other good bookshops, or direct, post-free, from: M R Wood, Matravers Farm, Uploders, Bridport DT6 4PH.

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