Husband and wife team Louise and Sam Coster from Mongers Architectural Salvage are dedicated to restoring reclaimed items, with a particular passion for sanitaryware, helping to preserve our past and enviroment
Hingham is a beautiful Georgian town, about 13 miles south of Norwich. In the 18th century, the town was known as ‘little London’ because of the grand houses that were built around the marketplace by the upper classes. Many of them remain, but on the south side of the square, the houses are much older and date back to medieval times. In one of these timber-frame buildings you will find Mongers Architectural Salvage.
Established in 1997 by Sam Coster and his late wife Trudie, Mongers is now run by Sam and wife Louise. The company name is based on their surname, which derives from Costermongers, who were market traders in Victorian London – ‘coster’ is a modification of a type of apple and the term ‘monger’ means a trader or seller.
Over the past 21 years the business has expanded to include a yard, a garden and over 2,000 square feet of showroom space, but as with most business ventures the owners started out doing something entirely different. ‘Sam was originally a theatre designer,’ explains Louise.
‘He then went on to run an architectural salvage yard in west London. We met when we were neighbours in Camden 25 years ago, so I’ve known the business from the beginning. I worked as a fashion buyer and always loved renovating old properties. I moved to Hingham about four years ago when we got married.’
Louise and Sam believe that reclamation, reuse and upcyling are important elements in the fight ➤
to preserve our environment, and source a range of reclaimed items that can be renovated in order to give them a future purpose. ‘We are committed to promoting proper restoration so that pieces are suitable for modern living,’ says Louise. ‘Old radiators, bathrooms and brassware can be great assets to houses today. By reusing these items we are not only keeping them from landfill but also saving the resources required to make and transport new replicas. So many reclaimed goods were made to last and with a little restoration can be reused for generations to come. We owe it to our ancestors who invested their skills, passion and, in some cases, their lives to producing these attractive, interesting and functional pieces.’
The yard stocks a wide variety of reclaimed and salvaged items as well as antique and reclaimed bathrooms. ‘We’ve got baths of all sizes, a few hundred basins from the 1860s up to the 1950s, as well as radiators that we restore to order, many fireplaces, doors and a good selection of door furniture, both antique and reproduction. Outside we have a garden full of garden antiques and a yard with large and interesting architectural features, as well as floor tiles including Norfolk pamments. We also have a barn full of floorboards, of which samples are displayed in the shop.’
Although still a conventional architectural salvage yard at heart, Mongers, like many yards, has found an expertise and passion for one particular aspect of the business. ‘We have been lucky over the years to have a found some good restorers for our baths and sanitaryware and, where a lot of yards have found the restoration of sanitaryware challenging, we now have the experience and expertise to take on most projects from canopy baths to humble basin taps, and the results can be spectacular,’ explains Louise. ‘We travel the length and breadth of the country to source the very best stock. It could be a pair of baths from a castle in Scotland to a set of urinals from a Victorian cricket pavilion in Littlehampton. We also find exciting things on the continent, as well as locally – double-ended French baths and double basins are particularly popular.’
Over the years Mongers has built up a great deal of experience and the necessary parts to enable the team to renovate most items; however, the restoration process can be painstaking, as Louise explains: ‘First, we carefully remove all brassware, taps, waste fittings, etc. These are then stripped down and sent for re-plating or polishing, the chinaware is cleaned in a mild acid and any chips are repaired. Our baths are refinished in an epoxy high-build coating after being thoroughly cleaned, filled and etched. We have facilities to remake missing and broken parts, convert items to standard modern plumbing sizes and repair cracks in basins. In fact, there are not many items we cannot find a way to make usable again.’
‘It is important when trying to restore antique items that it is undertaken by a highly skilled person,’ adds Louise. ‘We have seen so many beautiful pieces ruined by heavy-handed workmen. There are, as with most things, times when items are not worth restoring, such as toilet pans that are heavily crazed so that they will not stay watertight, or cracked basins where the ➤
Above: The showroom and adjoining yard are situated in a part of Hingham that dates back to medieval timesRight: Blue and white transfer printed Vitrifyde washdown closet, from £1,250