Rare historic building

The cottage not only houses the Museum’s collection but is itself the major exhibit.

It is constructed of corrugated iron laid on a timber frame. At one time the use of corrugated iron in this way was quite common for houses and other types of buildings such as churches, chapels and schools.

Sales brochure

The sales brochure for the building (which is retained in the archives) describes a similar dwelling erected for a Mrs Petre of Norfolk as follows:

“This convenient cottage is constructed of strong deal framing, covered on the outside with Galvanised Corrugated Iron, lined inside with varnished match-boarding, sheet felted between the wood and the iron, strong wood floor, eaves, gutters, down pipes, locks and window fasteners included. Outside woodwork painted three coats. Windows glazed with 21 oz glass. Carriage paid to nearest railway station. Erected by our men on purchaser’s own light brick-work foundation, he providing assistant labour. Cash price about £246”.

The bungalow was extended sometime about the year 1890 to provide more living space.



A Brief History of Corrugated Iron Buildings

Iron sheets have been used to cover roofs since the late 18th Century. Corrugated iron was developed by 1829 and the process of coating the iron with zinc (galvanizing) was patented in 1837. The process increased the life of corrugated iron sheets significantly and, by the 1840s several manufacturers were producing it. In 1843 John Porter of Southwark was the first to use galvanised corrugated iron sheeting on a roof.

Corrugating an iron sheet made it stiffer and more rigid and allowed the use of light weight framing and larger sheets as the corrugated sheets were able to span greater lengths unsupported. By the end of the 1850s corrugated iron was being used for the walls and roofs of many buildings. Prince Albert ordered a corrugated iron ballroom from Bellhouse’s Eagle Foundry, Manchester, for the Balmoral Estate in 1851.

The new construction method was ideally suited to the development of prefabricated buildings since the material was light, strong and easy to cut into sheets. And so by the late 19th century there were a number of manufacturers offering ‘kit’ corrugated iron buildings including Boulton and Paul of Norwich.

During the industrial revolution there was a rapid growth in urban populations and there was a need to provide cheap, portable buildings that could be quickly erected. Corrugated iron buildings were mass-produced and offered for sale. Corrugated iron churches, chapels and school houses could be bought from a catalogue and large numbers of portable buildings were sent to Australia and California for the gold rush prospectors and newly set up farmers.

Corrugated iron buildings were generally constructed in the same way. There was a prefabricated timber framework usually built on a brick foundation. The walls were clad on the outside with corrugated sheets and on the inside with good quality tongue and groove boarding. There was usually a sheet of felt between the wood and iron.

Although steel was available from 1865 wrought iron was preferred because of its greater corrosion resistance and ease of alloying with zinc. However, wrought iron was expensive to produce and its use reached its peak in 1889 in the construction of the Eiffel Tower.