Corrugated iron Buildings in Britain: cultural significance and conservation challenges
By the early part of the nineteenth century it had become possible to roll wrought iron into large flat sheets. At the same time, driven by the need for better trade facilities, the London docklands were being built. In 1829 the engineer at the docks, Henry Robinson Palmer, and collaborators created corrugated iron for use in building. Acclaimed by engineers and entrepreneurs alike, this exciting and innovative material was rapidly integrated into industrial, religious, migration and military uses. Since it was patented in 1829 this corrugated iron has been used around the world, particularly in frontier lands, where habitation would not be possible without it. But by the end of the nineteenth century, corrugated iron had become a victim of its own success – so common that it was anonymous. This thesis explores why corrugated iron’s cultural significance in Britain is no longer recognised. From the patenting in 1829 to the present day, perceptions and opinions about the material have varied considerably. By describing the origins of national architectural heritage, and the relationships between heritage values, I demonstrate how historical and current perceptions of corrugated iron’s cultural value came to be established. This thesis stresses the importance of corrugated iron as part of the narrative of Britain’s architectural, social and technological development. The invention and deployment of corrugated iron is a key indicator of how the Industrial Revolution changed British society. This research strongly indicates that Britain is in danger of ignoring the cultural significance of corrugated iron buildings, thus running the risk of distorting the nation’s architectural narrative. Corrugated iron is shown to be an important part of that story and deserves to be designated and promoted alongside the stately homes and thatched cottages of Britain.