Church of St Mary and Sunday School


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Moor Court, Lyonshall, Kington, Herefordshire, HR5 3LA


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Statutory Address:
Moor Court, Lyonshall, Kington, Herefordshire, HR5 3LA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


A prefabricated corrugated iron church of 1860, built for Revd James Davies of Moorcourt as a chapel of ease by Hemming and Co. to their design.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St Mary, erected in 1860, and the adjacent late-C19 Sunday school are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest * as a Gothic Revival tin tabernacle that displays good detailing for a church of this typically modest type; * it is an increasingly uncommon building type not intended for longevity, its survival since the mid-C19 is testament to the quality of the product and its fitness for purpose; * the church survives remarkably complete with quality fittings and decoration, comparing favourably with other listed examples; * the adjacent late-C19 Sunday school is built using high quality materials and craftsmanship, has good detailing and survives well.

Historic interest * as a mid-C19 prefabricated iron church, it is an early example and demonstrates the innovation used to find alternative and cheaper building methods that would serve their function well. The international trade in such buildings was a feature of note in British building design and engineering from the mid-C19; * the church and Sunday school buildings represent important survivals of the former Moorcourt Estate, the house having been demolished in the mid-C20; * it is particularly unusual to find a church of this type and date in its original location as many have been replaced and moved elsewhere for re-use, or destroyed.


Pre-fabricated churches, often called 'tin tabernacles' or ‘iron chapels’ were developed in the mid-C19 as a relatively low cost means to serve fast growing urban and rural areas, particularly in response to the upsurge in Non-Conformism, as well as for use in the overseas colonies. Quickly assembled places of worship, these structures were designed to serve a temporary purpose before more permanent stone or brick structures could be built, and a limited number survive in England.

Corrugated iron was invented and patented in Britain in 1829, and was the first mass-produced cladding material of the modern building industry. It was a technological breakthrough, the corrugations giving strength and considerable structural advantages over flat sheeting. A further significant development came in 1837 when the process of galvanizing the iron with zinc to prevent rusting was patented. Manufacturers quickly recognised its potential for use in prefabricated structures, in iron or other materials, and several firms such as William Cooper Ltd of London and Francis Morton in Liverpool, produced a range of prefabricated iron buildings that were made available for sale in catalogues.

By 1850 the technology was being exported all over the world by enterprising manufacturers such as Samuel Herring of Bristol (and later of London), notably to the colonies. During the 1850s Hemming supplied houses and churches to Australia from his Patent Portable House Manufactory in Bristol, at one point making enough buildings to create a village each week. By 1860 Hemming had supplied a church and palace to the ‘New Bishop of Columbia’ (Canada). The first iron church is believed to have been constructed in 1855 in London and they eventually came into their own during the period from the late C19 up to the start of the First World War. They were still being built in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Church of St Mary was erected in 1860 for Reverend James Davies of Moorcourt on his own grounds as a chapel of ease to replace a room at Boxford that had been used for worship by the outlying communities in the Parish of Pembridge for some years. Davies commissioned Samuel Hemming’s company, Messrs. Hemming and Co. of 23 Moorgate Street, London, to construct the prefabricated chapel at the beginning of the year. It was to be a variation on Hemming’s advertised ‘Iron Church’ design with nave, chancel and porch. The church was opened at a ceremony on Easter Monday 1860, which was attended by around a 100 people with more remaining outside due to lack of space (the church was designed for 80 worshippers). The contemporary report in the Hereford Journal makes the recommendation that the church be inspected by “any clergymen, or landed proprietors, who are inclined to adopt expeditious, elegant and yet substantial structures, at a moderate cost, in areas where materials are scanty, and where the carriage or brick or stone becomes a serious consideration.” The pulpit and some fixed seating may date from 1860 and the altar rails and decorative painted panels and reredos to the chancel appear to be of later C19 date.

The church is shown on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1886 along with the adjacent Sunday school building. The Sunday school was constructed close to the Church of St Mary in the late C19 for the use of the congregation and appears to have been little altered since that time although the roof covering is of late C20 tiles.

The corrugated iron roof of the church was apparently replaced with thatch in the later C19, and then wooden shingle in the early C20. The church was given to the Parish of Pembridge by Hugh and Gladys Spencely, then owners of the estate, at a church service on Sunday Sept 27th 1914 when a new font was dedicated to the memory of their daughter Gladys Mary-Le-Despenser, who died in June 1913 aged seven-and-a-half years (font inscription). The timber porch is a mid-late C20 replacement. The house of Moorcourt was demolished in the 1950s.

In 2003/4 the wooden shingle roof was replaced with slates. In 2020 the church remains in use; the Sunday school is not in use.


Church, of 1860, erected for Revd James Davies of Moorcourt by Hemming and Co. of London; and Sunday school of late C19 date.


MATERIALS: built on a brick plinth the chapel is of prefabricated framed construction (probably wrought-iron) and clad in galvanised corrugated iron, under a replacement roof covering of slate. The bellcote is of timber, iron and copper. The walls are plastered and the windows have leaded panes.

PLAN: a small chapel (30 feet by 16 feet nave and 10 feet by 10 feet chancel, as built) on north-east/south-west axis, comprising a nave and chancel under the same roof. It has a north porch.

EXTERIOR: the corrugated iron elevations have regularly-space timber lancets under a deep pitched roof. The windows each have leaded panes with a diamond-shaped section that opens on hinges. The gabled north porch is of simple plank construction and has bench seating. The plank church door has a two-centred arch and elaborate decorative strap hinges. There is a single window opening to the nave on the right of the porch and two to the left. The chancel has a window to each elevation; the window to the east end is tripartite with timber mullions. There are four windows to the south elevation of the nave and to the west end is a tripartite window with timber mullions. On the west end of the roof is a square, iron-clad, timber bellcote with a pyramidal copper roof surmounted by a cross. Towards the centre of the roof ridge is a metal roof vent.

INTERIOR: the walls are lined with plaster, and the roof with tongue and grooved panelling, ridge-piece and two rows of purlins. There are three metal trusses with slender bracing and decorative spandrels to the nave. The floor has plain boards throughout and the chancel end is raised beyond a pointed chancel arch. There are simple fittings including an altar rail with decorative wrought-iron piers supporting the rails to the chancel. In front left of the chancel arch is a timber pulpit and to the west end is a stone font of 1914. There are two bench seats attached to the west wall and chairs provide the congregational seating.


MATERIALS: oak timber frame on a stone cill with tile roofs.

DESCRIPTION: constructed on a north-west/ south-east orientation as a single-storey schoolroom with a projecting porch at the south end under cusped timber bargeboards. The deep, steeply-pitched roof has bracketed eaves oversailing the framed flank elevations, and there are two timber windows with chamfering to the east side. The north end has a six pane window under a cambered head and decorative bargeboards to the roof. The front entrance at the south end has a stone step and tiling in front of the braced plank door. To the interior are two pegged, arch-braced trusses with iron straps and bolts and stop chamfers to the posts. The roof is ceiled with two small openings. The walls have tall matchboard wainscoting and to the north-west corner is a fitted timber cupboard. The floor is covered in plain boards.


Books and journals
Brooks, A, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, (2012), 547
Davies, Colin, The Prefabricated Home, (2007), 49
Antipodean Catalogue: Proposed to be erected for the Arch-Bishop of Sydney. Hemming's Patent Improved Portable Houses. Sole Manufactory, Clift House, Bedminster, Bristol., accessed 13/03/2020 from
Bristol Museum, Galleries and Archives: A Portable Town for Australia, accessed 13/03/2020 from
Building Conservation: Tin Tabernacles, Liz Induni, accessed 13/03/2020 from
Vicotrian Professions: Samuel Hemming, accessed 13/03/2020 from
Hereford Journal, Gratifying Example of Private Liberality, Wednesday 18 April 1860


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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