The Baltic Exchange's 100-foot trading hall
Blown apart by the IRA and its ruins painstakingly dismantled piece by piece to make way for the Gherkin, this historic building ends an epic journey to Estonia on Friday - and starts another.
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine
It's the ultimate flat-pack. Fifty numbered crates with arches, staircases, marble columns, panelled telephone booths, plaster sea monsters and even Britannia in all her glory.
All of which can be pieced together to restore the Baltic Exchange, one of the finest examples of Edwardian architecture until it was rocked by the IRA bomb in London that killed three in April 1992.
Awaiting shipment to Estonia
The Portland stone and granite facade was taken down and stored in the hope the building might be rebuilt.
But it was too badly damaged. Its Grade II* listed status - one down from St Paul's - was removed and the grandiose trading hall painstakingly dismantled, numbered and photographed at a cost of £4m.
After years on the market, the remains were bought last summer by two Estonian businessmen for £800,000 (1,183,000 euros). Last month they began transporting it to the Baltic state - in 15 40-foot shipping containers - with the last due to arrive on 6 July.
Heiti Haal and Eerik-Niiles Kross plan to resurrect the Baltic Exchange in central Tallinn. Much will be built from scratch, with the original facade and trading hall slotted in. Construction will begin in late 2008 and will take about two years, with offices, a restaurant, ballroom and exhibition space planned.
New home is the port of Tallinn
Project manager Sander Pullerits says it ties in with Estonia's strong maritime background. "And the building itself is unique and will add a magnificent piece of architecture to Tallinn."
Marcus Binney, of Save Britain's Heritage, is delighted. "It was such a wonderful building, so full of atmosphere. It's really wonderful that it'll be reincarnated in a Baltic port, by people who are passionate about it. Otherwise it would just end up as bits of fireplace."
Which is the usual fate of the materials salvaged from demolished buildings.
Built in 1903, and epitomising Britain's commercial might, shipping contracts were brokered in the teak and marble trading hall at 30 St Mary Axe until the bombing.
Two years later, the Baltic Exchange abandoned plans to rebuild on the site, blaming complex restoration regulations. In 1998 John Prescott gave approval for the protected trading hall to be taken apart. Those campaigning to save it were horrified.
After a rival dealer failed to find a buyer, salvage expert Dennis Buggins of Extreme Architecture took on the task in 2003. He initially gave himself 12 months to sell it.
It took that long just to catalogue and sort the 1,000 ton kitset. "There was a huge amount of boxes. You're talking 40 lorry-loads, all jumbled up. To get it all back in order so you could say to clients 'there's that part and here's that part' took quite a while."
While rebuilding takes no longer than constructing a replica from scratch, what takes time and money is the disassembly and recording of what goes where, says Rosemary Allan, of Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham. It has relocated a railway station, chapel, Masonic hall and bank, among others.
"Detailed plans need to be made and you have to carefully lift out, photograph and number important pieces such as cornerstones and lintels."
Dismantling the masonic hall is like construction in reverse
Then there is planning permission for the new site and building regulations - such as new requirements for access - to comply with.
"It's an expensive and time-consuming business," she says. "Our first concern is to see a heritage building preserved on its site, but too many are just bulldozed."
It's thanks to relocations and restorations that traditional construction and decorative skills have not simply died out.
As with all property, location is an important consideration when deciding whether to relocate an at-risk building. It may have been designed to fit its landscape, or cityscape, or built from local materials, says Ann Morgan of the Victorian Society.
"In general we are opposed to dismantling buildings and moving them either within this country or abroad. To divorce a building from its context is to sever a link which is often vital to understanding and fully appreciating its worth.
The Baltic Exchange in earlier days
"There is also the question of cultural heritage. People often feel sad when works of art are sold abroad. Buildings are that much more anchored in the places they were made."
While moving buildings is fairly rare, it's likely to happen more often as digital photography and computer modelling simplify the job.
"With several listed buildings on the north Norfolk coast threatened with falling into the sea through coastal erosion over the next 50 years, [relocation] may well be something that we have more involvement with in the future," she says.
Among notable relocations is London Bridge - falling down in the 1960s, it now stands in an Arizona theme park. It was offered to Portmeirion, the "home for fallen buildings", but was too big, says Robin Llywelyn, grandson of Portmeirion's creator, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.
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A jewel in the crown of the village - where cult series The Prisoner was filmed - is a Jacobean banqueting hall which was sawn into bits, packed into straw-lined boxes and stored on the docks for a year before being reassembled in 1938.
"My grandfather bought Emral Hall's panelled ceiling at auction, then bought the rest of the building to have somewhere to put it," says Mr Llywelyn. "The lights, covings and panelling were left in place as it was cut. That it was successfully reassembled is down to the craftsmen."
With the Baltic Exchange sold, next on Mr Buggins' list is the lodge at Temple Bar - Christopher Wren's 18th Century London gateway - and the former Royal Box from Ascot, removed in the recent refurb.
While reclaimed floorboards and worktops are highly sought after, an entire building is another matter.
1. Stained glass WWI memorial: Damaged in the blast, it was taken on by the National Maritime Museum and restoration completed in 2005
2. Nymph fountain: said to be modelled on a chairman's daughter. Now stands in lobby of Baltic Exchange's new premises next door to bombed site
3. Marble columns: Stood sentry around lavish trading hall. As an important feature - and made from expensive stone - these were put in storage and will feature in reassembled hall
4. Traders' pews: For decades, deals were concluded in these cubicles dotted around hall. Became bar seating in Baltic Exchange's new premises after bombing, then given or sold to member companies after recent refurb