Meet the salvation army

Victorian basins, cast-iron staircases, ancient eco-toilets and stained-glass chapels are just some of the architectural gems being recycled at Salvo 2003
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The Independent Online

A distinctive architectural feature can make your property or garden stand out from all the rest, but tracking down that ideal fireplace, stained-glass window or intricate staircase can be difficult. That is especially true if you live in London or the south-east. Unless you are lucky enough to spot what you want in a local antique shop and affluent enough to pay what is likely to be an inflated price, it can mean slogging across the UK and visiting specialist dealers. But next Bank Holiday Monday, 26 May, the sellers are coming to town to exhibit the best of their wares.

A distinctive architectural feature can make your property or garden stand out from all the rest, but tracking down that ideal fireplace, stained-glass window or intricate staircase can be difficult. That is especially true if you live in London or the south-east. Unless you are lucky enough to spot what you want in a local antique shop and affluent enough to pay what is likely to be an inflated price, it can mean slogging across the UK and visiting specialist dealers. But next Bank Holiday Monday, 26 May, the sellers are coming to town to exhibit the best of their wares.

For the first time in its seven-year history, Salvo 2003 will be held in the capital. Dealers from across the country will converge on Duke's Meadows beside the Thames in Chiswick with every home improvement fan's wish-list of period features. Everything from fireplaces, bathtubs and flooring, to urns and sundials will be on sale at reasonable prices. In addition to the pieces they bring with them, stallholders will have catalogues of their stock - so if you don't see the item you want, you should still be able to discover who has one for sale. As well as rare examples of architectural glory, those looking for skilled craftspeople to help restore their property will be able to see practitioners demonstrating their skill at working in stone, marble, slate and plaster.

The first Salvo fair took place in Sussex in 1997. Since then, they have grown larger year by year. The event grew out of the Salvo network, a venture started by Thornton Kay and his late partner, Hazel Matravers, in 1990. Now mainly web-based, Salvo is like an architectural-salvage version of Loot magazine. Essentially it puts members of the trade who have particular pieces in touch with those who want to purchase them. The Salvo network also passes on theft alerts. All respectable dealers will subscribe to the Salvo code.

One of the most eye-catching features at this year's fair will be a small but perfectly formed "stained glass chapel" constructed from reclaimed glass saved from a church in Glasgow. It is being built by Drew Pritchard of Pritchard's Stained Glass. "We are going to be taking about a quarter of a million pounds worth of glass down with us," says Drew, who has just moved premises to a Gothic revival church in north Wales. "We have all the windows from an art nouveau hotel and two Arts and Crafts windows which are each 2.5m tall. But we also have smaller pieces for around £150 that people will be able to put into the back of their car and just drive away with. All are period pieces, cleaned, repaired and with provenance."

There will even be something for anyone after a slice of contemporary fashion-world glamour. Nadine Sweetland-Ford of the Architectural Forum of Islington will be displaying a spiral staircase they acquired when Stella McCartney renovated her Notting Hill home. "It's Victorian cast iron," says Nadine. "We'll be taking it with us, along with old school-radiators, fireplaces and a beautiful pulpit that came out of a defunct church in east London."

The Architectural Forum will be sharing a pitch with Derek Davies of Great Northern Architectural. Based in Cheshire, he is a specialist in fine stonework and masonry. Some of the pieces he has have been saved from noble Georgian to Edwardian buildings that have been demolished. With Portland stone, Italian marble columns and red granite hard to come by at an affordable price, it represents a rare opportunity to wow the Joneses by topping your front door with an original decorative portico. On the other hand, if you feel that your garden could do with a graceful bench or classical stone urn, Drummonds will have a selection of fine examples.

While the TV exploits of Lovejoy and the real-life defrauding of vulnerable pensioners by so-called Brighton Knockers have given antique dealers a reputation that would make a shark blush, their counterparts in architectural salvage are a milder breed. A brief conversation with one will usually end up revealing a deep passion for old fabrics and respect for the artisans who made them.

"You normally find that those in the trade have a genuine love of buildings and salvage," confirms Kay of Salvo. "We originally started the Salvo Fair as a means of networking for the trade. But they proved so popular with members of the public that they now outnumber the trade, ninefold. His own passion is ensuring that old wood floors and fittings are put back into service, and not turned into MDF chipboard.

Other dealers' specialisations can seem unusual. Though she also sells fireplaces, Trudy Coster of Mongers Architectural Salvage yard outside of Norwich has a bit of thing for old loos. "We're going to pack as much as we can into our van," she says "We'll be bringing sanitary ware, including a beautiful blue-and-white patterned corner basin that dates from the 1860s."

In fact, ancient toilets have become quite fashionable in recent years. Among the more eccentric examples that will be for sale at Salvo 2003 is the Reverend Henry Moule's 1860s earth closet. This works by sprinkling fresh dry earth into the bowl before and after use. Unlikely to cause a rush amongst Chelsea housewives, perhaps, but this was the world's first eco-friendly toilet. According to Simon Kirby, the managing director of Thomas Crapper Ltd, which owns it, the Rev Moule turned inventor because he believed the conventional water closets was "an abomination in God's sight... it wasted God's fresh water, polluted God's rivers and streams and in the faeces, it wasted God's nutrients that should be returned to the soil," explains Simon. His company has found that demand for Victorian lavatories of all kinds exceeds the available supply of originals. "We started in salvage and still have a small stock of interesting Crapper toilets, but most of our business these days is in making exact replicas of Mr Crapper's products of 150 years ago." Visitors to Duke's Meadows will be pleased to learn that more contemporary conveniences will be available for their use on the day.

Salvo 2003, Duke's Meadows, Chiswick, London. Bank Holiday Monday, 26 May, 8am-1pm. Admission free. Nearest over ground: Barnes Bridge. Nearest Tube: Turnham Green. By boat, ask to be dropped at Chiswick Steps. For more information call 020-8761 2316 or go to www.salvoweb.com

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