Rummaging is undoubtedly a great British tradition and many of us are never happier than when we're up to our neck in bric-a-brac at the local car boot sale. Generations have been reared on the historic jumble sale tradition. It's all part of the something for nothing, could- be-worth-a-few-million-in-a-couple-of-thousand-years, Antiques Roadshow mentality.

My sister, Amelia, has even been known to scavenge for discarded remnants among the boxes outside her local Habitat, on a Sunday afternoon. That is, until she got into a spat with an elderly gentleman over a three- legged chair.

The DIY frenzy over the past few years has taken this obsession to even dizzier heights. Which all goes some way to explain the burgeoning success enjoyed by architectural salvage specialists.

Yet the interior boom has also been a double-edged sword for those who specialise in everything from 1930s cast-iron radiators (from pounds 65 approx), to roll-top baths (from pounds 180), fireplaces (from pounds 120) and old doorknobs. As Anthony Reeve, general manager of Lassco's, one of the capital's best- known salvage companies, explains: "Gone are the days when we were pulling valuable items out of skips - these days we face stiff competition for the best jobs."

However, having been in the business for almost 20 years, Lassco's salvage detectives are invariably first on the scene.

"We never cease to be amazed by what London is unearthing," Reeve says. "The most extraordinary things come our way."

And the most unlikely locations can often conceal hidden gems. "Recently we acquired an absolutely enormous bookcase from Dorchester House, a palace built in 1851 on the site of the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane," Reeve reveals. "When the house was demolished in 1928, a young lady who was driving past bought the bookcase off the demolition men.

"She's now probably in her 80s or 90s, and when she moved out of her house, stored the bookcase. She called us, and when we went up there, it was stored in a pigsty, together with some fantastic Georgian doorways."

Lassco's are now preparing to spend tens of thousands restoring it, with a view to realising a cool six-figure sum when it's finally marketed.

If this is just a tad beyond your reach, then why not spruce up your cupboards with a pair of brass door-knobs. A snip at just pounds 30!


Lassco's Antique Salvage

St Michael's Church, Mark St, London EC2 (0171-739 0448) Architectural Salvage Centre

Stamford Rd, N1 (0171-923 0783)

The House Hospital

68 Battersea High St, London, SW11 (0171-223 3179)