Internet is virtual builders' skip

Architectural salvagers are now using the very latest technology
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The Independent Online
For pounds 55,000, plus value-added tax, you can buy a Tudor oak barn on the Internet. You can also buy 1920s lacquered mahogany panelling from the Savoy Hotel lifts, over a thousand yards of Roman oak beams from London Wall and any number of fireplaces, brass taps, old oak joists and reclaimed bricks and tiles, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

The Internet, the global computer network with an estimated 30 million users, now has its first builder's yard - a superior recycling service designed to stop farm barns crumbling to dust and much of Britain's architectural heritage ending up in rubbish dumps.

The service has been introduced by Thornton Kay, 44, a former architectural salvagerwho has launched a campaign to rescue the estimated 25,000 tonnes of reclaimable building materials dumped every day in landfill sites.

Mr Kay, who began his career saving Georgian interiors in Bath from demolition contractors, runs Salvo News, thought to be the UK's only newsletter devoted to the architectural salvage trade. An estimated 1,000 firms are involved in recycling materials ranging from farm tools and floorboards to fitted kitchens.

Salvo's Internet "wants" entry includes a request from a BBC employee seeking to extend her 1950s English Rose enamel fitted kitchen - a type most gentrifiers are still throwing out. Items for sale include jarrah wood timbers from the pier used to build the Forth Bridge over a century ago and a white marble church altar.

Much of the wood for sale can be used as flooring. Barns are recycled as car ports, swimming pool covers, studios, restaurants and museums.

The Tudor barn has been rescued from Church House Farm outside Hereford by Antique Buildings, a specialist restoration business based in a reclaimed cattle shed near Guildford.

Peter Barker, Antique Buildings' founder, has dated the barn at around 1600. He said : "It's massive - about 120ft long and 25ft wide - and absolutely magnificent. It's big enough to make a home for somebody."

According to Mr Kay, 100,000 tonnes of demolition waste is thrown away every day. About quarter may be reclaimable and half of this material is from before 1910. It represents an enormous waste of energy: 3.5 billion bricks are manufactured annually in the UK but 2.5 billion are destroyed. Ten bricks contain the energy equivalent of a gallon of petrol. "There is also an attitude among architects that once a building has ended its working life it is finished: there is no chance of it having a future. Yet throughout history the salvage trade has been enormous."

Mr Kay believes that the Internet could be used to alert the salvage trade to impending demolitions. He also wants to see a European protocol on recycling being adopted by the building trade.

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