Kilburn Tin Tabernacle Church

When I first saw a picture of the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn I assumed it was a temporary church built after World War Two to replace one that had been bombed out and, somehow, it had survived development of the local area.

It is older than that – much older; it was built in 1863. Yes, that’s right, it is well over 150 years old.

The church was built by workers living in London who were building the railways and was initially called St James’ Church before later becoming known as Cambridge Hall.

It’s no surprise the building is Grade II listed.

TS Bicester

The age of the church is not the only surprise.

Conversion to a Royal Navy Warship

After World War Two, the church was taken over by a Royal Navy Sea Cadet unit who made the church their own by converting the interior to look like a Royal Navy Ton class minesweeper.

The “ship” is complete with bridge, engine telegraphs, binnacle compass and voice pipes to be able to talk to the different area of the ship.

The Tabernacle became TS Bicester, TS standing for “Training Ship”, named for HMS Bicester which was scrapped in 1956.

The Ship’s Bridge
The Ward Room

The ward room (complete with bar for the Officers) is located under the ship’s bridge and is usually home to the ship’s cat, although she is not an original fitting!

Watertight Doors

Being a (pseudo) ship, some of the doors need to be “watertight”, so the doors to some of the rooms don’t come all the way down to floor level, leaving a coaming (step) to step over – just in case TS Bicester runs into an unexpected Force 9 gale and mountainous seas. The doors look like they’re made of metal, but are just normal wood. The exterior of the rooms are panels from the sides of scrapped busses giving the illusion of a really substantial structure.

The Union Flag is not upside down, it is part of a Royal Navy White Ensign, the top half of which is hanging this side of the rail.

A Cathedral in a Chapel

One of the rooms is the Ship’s Chapel, a chapel within a chapel. Somehow, for reasons not lost in the mists of time, the chapel is fitted out with the windows and altar film props from the studio set of the Oscar winning 1964 film “Becket” which was filmed at Shepperton Studios in South West London.

So the ship’s chapel is a partial reconstruction of Canterbury Cathedral – surely the only Cathedral in a Chapel, which must make the Kilburn Tin Tabernacle a bit of a Dr Who TARDIS

Film still from “Becket” from the Saint Bede Studio blog.

Lines, pulleys and blocks

The surprises keep coming. The stores are a treasure trove of nautical items.

A Royal Navy Treasure Trove

Then there is the museum room with an astounding number of uncatalogued artefacts.

Oerlikon 20 mm cannon

Did I mention the large gun?

Bofors 40 mm gun

Oh, and there is a Bofors gun that is dominates the floor.


Apart from all that, there’s not much to see ….

Every so often, you visit somewhere and what you see is so unexpected that you can’t help but smile.

Tin Tabernacles Surviving in London

It turns out the Kilburn Tin Tabernacle is not the only surviving building in London.

  1. Kilburn, Cambridge Avenue
  2. Haggerston, Shrubland Road. Historic England website.
  3. Bowes Park, Herbert Road
  4. Wood Green, Braemar Avenue
  5. Hayes, Willow Tree Lane


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