A Key Stone Firm

Many readers will be familiar with the name Drew Pritchard from the television programme “Salvage Hunters”.  He has filmed at TW Gaze on occasion. He is a savvy business-man, a leading architectural salvage dealer and the owner of an extremely large architectural salvage yard. He has also made the concept of architectural salvage and the creativity associated with revitalising rescued building materials and unique architectural features accessible to everyone. This is to be applauded on many levels and for many reasons.

However, the concept of redeploying reclaimed or salvaged building elements is far from new.  Architectural salvage and reclamation has a long history, and it is common to find pieces of older fabric reused in historic buildings, such as components of the abbeys and monasteries destroyed in the Reformation.

Many salvage yard dynasties laid their foundations during the years of early 20th Century post-war depression. This was a time when landed families were forced by conditions in the “new world order” and/ or crippled  by taxation, to relinquish their country seats; the properties being raised to the ground and sold off as component parts, often at auction, the contents having been previously distributed by the gavel.

Old fashion “house sales” were very often just that… the chattels seamlessly followed by the bricks and mortar, or masonry and carvings in many a grand case. Reclaimed features enable correct repair to be taken out on other old or ancient buildings, replacing like-with-like at best, or like-with-similar at worst. However, some reuse of salvaged materials is, or has been,  less than sympathetic or well-thought out and such insensitivity is generally frowned upon.

William Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Bulidings (SPAB) in 1877. It was established in response to the work of Victorian architects whose enthusiasm for harmful restoration caused irreparable damage. Today the SPAB encourages excellence in new design to enrich and complement the built historic environment and the current approach is very much one of sympathetic conservation rather than brutal restoration. Allowing future architectural historians, conservators and others to ‘read’ the history of a building and identify its phases of evolution and cycles of repair, remains at the heart of current good practice in conservation. Confusing a building’s biography by adding alien components is something close to sacrilege for many conservators.

Legitimate demolition of historic fabric occurs legally, often for structural reasons. Much of the material that is salvaged from these buildings is no longer available from any other source, whether because production technology has changed, or because a quarry is no longer in production, or because the timber is now endangered. In some cases there will be no suitable modern alternative, and the argument for reusing these components in conservation is compelling. Often the materials and components will also have intrinsic value – for their historic significance, their beauty or their craftsmanship – and the components themselves are worthy of protection. Therefore, to breath new life into them, to redeploy them, to regenerate an adoptive setting by reallocating them, is valid, exciting and gratifying.

In terms of environmental impact too, there is a clear imperative to reclaim and reuse material wherever practical, which is becoming more strident by the day. The environmental impacts associated with new building materials will obviously be greater than those of reclaimed materials, provided the latter can readily be made fit for purpose, so it’s a win-win situation if old materials can be incorporated into a scheme.

The National Trust is responsible for one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the UK. The trust has made a commitment to use 20 per cent less energy, halve its fossil fuel use and generate 50 per cent of the energy it requires from renewable sources by 2020. It is also reducing its carbon footprint by making extensive use of reclaimed materials. IIn North Wales this policy has resulted in a highly successful strategy of recycling materials needed for the conservation and repair of buildings across several large estates.

Historic material belongs to a dwindling resource that we should be safeguarding for future generations. Where there are plans to use architectural salvage, the first step should be to source materials responsibly. If you have any doubts about the provenance of an item, check the theft alerts on Salvoweb (www.salvo.co.uk), where hundreds of stolen items are listed. Salvoweb also includes a list of dealers who have signed up to the Salvo Code. There is no legal regulation of the architectural salvage trade but the code, established in 1995, has encouraged many businesses to take up voluntary self-regulation. Signatory businesses undertake to make every effort to ensure that items which they buy have not been stolen or removed from protected historic buildings without permission.

TW Gaze is one of the UK’s largest architectural salvage auctioneers, as well as one of the oldest. They have been selling architectural salvage throughout most of their 162 year history, with some significant country estates having been distributed by them in the early years of the 20th Century. Their full and exciting auction calendar includes five specialist sales a year dedicated to architectural salvage and garden statuary, held on their coveted spacious site which can accommodate many large items (as well as the articulated and hiab vehicles needed to transport them!), and their catchment area now extends throughout the UK. The Diss Auction Rooms follows a long-practised due diligence policy whereby vendors are accountable for their entries and this is certainly relevant for architectural lots.

The next Architectural Salvage & Garden Statuary Sale will be held on Saturday 7 September, with viewing on Thursday 5 September 2pm – 8pm, Friday 6 September 10am – 6pm and on morning of the sale 8.30amm – 10am. The catalogue will be posted on twgaze.co.uk. Valuer and Auctioneer  Robert Kinsella is available to advise on future entries on 01379 650306.