A great Somerset discovery

PUBLISHED: 12:07 18 March 2015

The Wizard of Oz in Somerset

The Wizard of Oz in Somerset


Stepping through the gates of Somerset’s reclamation yards is like walking into a real-life fantasy film

From every angle of these places statues and faces stare back, gargoyles of Medusa and giant cast iron lions peering out from the organised chaos of curiosities.

For decades these yards have rescued relics of the past, collecting everything from tiny iron farming implements to enormous bronze horses (and everything in between), and given them a new chance at life.

Reclamation yards are often associated with architectural salvage, where piles of flagstone flooring, roofing materials and old fireplaces await industrious developers. Yet a closer look reveals weird and wonderful collections of antiques, eclectic pieces and out-of-the-ordinary curios.

They are like haphazard museums and their curators like savvy collectors who dedicate their lives to ferreting out forgotten remains from across Somerset, the United Kingdom and the world.

The Wizard of Oz in SomersetThe Wizard of Oz in Somerset

To inventory the vast volume of items is impossible as Haydn Davies, owner of Wells Reclamation, expressed with a shrug when asked how many pieces he thinks are crammed into his five acre yard.

“How could I possibly know that?” he exclaims, gesturing around him at the tens of thousands of artefacts that are gathered in the open-air yard and jumble of buildings.

While beautiful vintage furniture, antique enamel signs and period fittings have more obvious functions, the family-run business certainly delights in the quirky. Through a forest of stone statues – from mythical gryphons to posing pigs, and busts of Elvis, Beethoven and Einstein – the truly bizarre rear their heads; a life-sized cast iron bull guards the entrance, a one tonne statue of the Thinking Man hailed from France, and even a 9ft-tall cast iron cockerel that makes guest appearances at the Glastonbury Festival. Joan d’Arc and Cleopatra stand alongside mermaids and Romans and an ark’s worth of animals encircle sun dials, benches and stone pots. Even reclaimed doors are taken to a new level with an enormous pair of 18th century, ornate turquoise doors once belonging to an Indian fort on sale.

Perhaps the most unexpected sights to encounter in this fantastical corner of picturesque Somerset are the collection of military machines, amongst them a T34 Russian tank, a Cold War jeep and a World War Two anti-aircraft missile, which once protected the skies of London.

The Wizard of Oz in SomersetThe Wizard of Oz in Somerset

“I once found the body of a Spitfire on a farm in Wales” Haydn says of one of his many travelling forays (which have taken him to Russia, China and Eastern Europe). “The army never collected it after the war and it had chickens living in it”.

According to owners, those who frequent the county’s reclamation yards do so with open minds and creativity flowing. Antique commodes can become appealing chairs, church lecterns can make pious headboards and, according to Glastonbury Reclamation, an old pommel horse rescued from an abandoned local school makes a rather trendy addition to a dentist’s reception room.

Like Glastonbury Reclamation, some yards specialise in local items, gathering relics from across Somerset and salvaging everything from agricultural implements from barns, beams from houses and even doors from Shepton Mallet’s prison.

At Frome Reclamation a row of ornate columns, relics of the Weston-super-Mare Winter Gardens, stand amidst the charming jumble, while a rather macabre Roman sarcophagus from Bath is also available to buy.

The Wizard of Oz in SomersetThe Wizard of Oz in Somerset

The crucial function of the yards in the preservation of local and national history is evident, but perhaps under-appreciated. A gargoyle salvaged from Wells Cathedral is an invaluable historic Somerset relic, a coat of arms or Victorian post box part of our national heritage.

“Even old taxidermy is quite sought-after these days” explained Carl Horler of Frome Reclamation, gesturing towards a fierce-looking boar’s head. “As some wild animals get rarer it is a way of preserving them for the future”.

It is almost impossible to wander around the maze-like yards and not think of The Wizard of Oz or Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Like the centuries of history they represent, the antiques and curiosities, bygones and objets d’art are piled together, patiently awaiting the chance to work or adorn once again, and play their part in keeping British heritage alive.

Reclamation yards house huge collections of antique furniture and home décor pieces. And while some are in desperate need of tender loving care there is a wealth of items which are in immaculate condition or have been carefully restored. A

5ft-high 19th century Italian mirror on sale for £2,250 would add glamour to a hallway, a solid granite bath with a lion head spout (selling for £2,950) could be a true showpiece in an English country bathroom, and a shelving set made from reclaimed fruit crates would be a perfect addition to an arts and craft kitchen.

From Victorian bookcases to Edwardian chaise longues, and vintage lighting to retro dining chairs there are pieces to suit any design style.

The yards

Wells Reclamation:

A family-run yard and one of the biggest in the country where fantastical creatures, out-of-the-ordinary antiques and items of architectural salvage await at every turn.

Glastonbury Reclamation:

Reclaimed building materials and items of beautiful country furniture are gathered and ferreted from around Somerset and put on display at this yard in the heart of the county.

Frome Reclamation:

This Somerset institution has been collecting genuine reclaimed material for over 28 years and is one of the region’s largest stockists of architectural salvage and curiosities.

Castle Reclamation:

A treasure-trove of 16th and 17th century replica furniture, natural stone fireplaces and architectural salvage perfect for redesigning your very own castle. 

Latest from the Somerset Life