Shaftesbury Hall in Bowes Park


Situated in Herbert Road N11, Shaftesbury Hall was registered in 1885 and became an Infants School in the early 1900s. It was still used by the Baptists in the late 1930s but closed in 1954. It is owned by the Samaritans and Hornsey Housing Trust who want to sell it and redevelop the site and put up a block of three one-bed flats.

Shaftesbury Hall, September 2008
Shaftesbury Hall, September 2008

The hall is what was known as a ‘tin tabernacle’. Large numbers of these were erected from the 1870s on to provide places of worship and schools for rapidly growing communities at low cost. They were prefabricated and could be bought from builders’ merchants; they could be put up, taken down or moved to another site quite easily. Basically, they consisted of an asbestos roof and a timber frame with external cladding of corrugated iron or galvanised zinc sheets. Within, they were often lined with tongue and groove boarding.

There are not many of these left now. Some were replaced quite early on by permanent buildings as funds became available. The Victoria County History for Middlesex Volume VI records that a tin tabernacle was opened in Mattison Road in 1891 and was replaced by a permanent church ten years later; Campsbourne Baptist Church also began as an iron chapel in 1876. When a brick building was erected in 1907, along with two smaller halls, it was used for adult education and then as a Scouts’ HQ. There was an iron Trinity church (Methodist) on Hornsey High Street, built in 1873 which was demolished after the building of a large brick church in Middle Lane in 1886.

Currently (2008), planning permission has been refused for the redevelopment of Shaftesbury Hall. Bowes Park Community Association (BPCA) has asked English Heritage to consider listing it – some tin tabernacles are already listed.  BPCA feels it would be a pity to lose this little piece of local history. Tin tabernacles do have their problems. They are vulnerable to corrosion which causes water ingress and damage. However, cladding can be replaced quite easily. If listed and repaired this building could serve as a useful facility for the community, as well as a base for the Samaritans.

Margaret Mitchell

Shaftesbury Hall, March 2020
Shaftesbury Hall, March 2020

Editor’s Note: In the next few years several applications went to Haringey Planning Department to redevelop the building as residential property; these were turned down. Attempts to have the building listed were unsuccessful. By 2011 Shaftesbury Hall was a shell of its former self and local organisations, including HHS, became concerned. In 2013 North London Samaritans decided to renovate the hall as a community centre to make it fit for purpose. This involved raising a considerable sum of money. The timber structure of the building was declared reasonably sound and a dedicated team of volunteers, with professional help, worked on a restoration project. In 2014, £10,000 had to be spent on evicting squatters. Success came at last in 2017 in the form of a £545,000 grant to North London Samaritans. Through considerable local effort more money was raised and on 5th November 2018 the first Samaritan shift took place in the rebuilt Shaftesbury Hall. Community spirit had won through…eventually!

Also see Shaftesbury Hall – Nineteenth Anniversary.