Did you ever wonder how we managed before ‘The Act’ or how it may have helped to ease neighbourly relations if it had been available when some historical structures were built? There must have been a bit of trouble with the neighbours from time to time. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and you can’t build a wall the breadth of Scotland without risking a ‘Glasgow handshake’.
In what follows, we explore some examples from antiquity of grumpy adjoining owners, builders from hell unrestrained by the wise and conciliatory determinations of a brace of party wall surveyors and rampaging building owners.
Before the Party Wall Act………
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The leaning tower of Pisa is surely one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the world. It is the campanile or bell tower of Pisa cathedral. Its construction spanned hundreds of years and was supervised by legions of architects. Generations of adjoining owners suffered and no doubt fumed. Here we imagine how just one of the neighbours may have grumbled about the usual things.
A letter from a Concerned Neighbour
The Villa Cassandra
Via Pandora 13
1st April 1198
Re: The Bell Tower
It is with mounting irritation that I find it necessary (yet again) to write to you with a complaint about your building work at the cathedral site which adjoins my property.
As if it were not enough having to put up with the blood-curdling screams of the English stonemasons every time they whack a finger with a mallet – I know they are cheap but do you not see their monumental incompetence – it is now clear that your building is not straight by which expression, as if it needed explanation, I mean vertical. It leans, Sir; it leans. If it leans any further, the bells, if the English don’t steal them first, will be entirely in my airspace.
The reason for the tower being, forgive my directness, ‘p****d’ is that the masons are short-changing your client by using smaller stones on the side out of view. My poor great-great grandfather would turn in his grave, knowing that he had allowed this monstrosity to be built on what the Holy Father was pleased at the time, to call “the line of junction”. The floors slope so much now that I regularly throw back articles that have fallen off into my garden. I have a fine collection of mallets, chisels, a lump hammer that brained my wife’s favourite cat and what I take to be a mason’s ceremonial codpiece.
We were told that “projecting footings” might be placed on our land. Blow the footings, the whole darned thing is on our land.
Another thing; when will it be finished? The work started at least four Popes ago. You are the umpteenth architect, your predecessors having died of old age or boredom. At the present rate of progress, the chiming pocket watch will have been invented well before ‘topping out’ and the whole exercise will have been futile.
Your engineer, Snr. Da Vinci is beyond a joke (is he really an engineer? He spends his time drawing naked boys and girls – I see him from my window). When he last visited me to check the inclination as he puts it, he said “This tower”; his actual words, mind, ”is good for a thousand years”. Well, really! One puff of wind and the whole thing will be a pile of rubble in my vineyard – and who’s going to pay for it to be cleared up?
I will and have, put up with most things; the overpowering stench of fish and chips from the stonemasons’ mobile canteen, impenetrable clouds of dust from their stone cutting (which has wrecked my rhododendrons) and their vile shrieking penny whistle music; but the endless procession of artisans’ donkey carts with their unwashed drivers trundling up and down Via Pandora day after day, is the giddy limit. This is a superior residential locale, not the fishermen’s quarter of Naples’. You know very well how much we pay in Council Tax to live here!
They are not supposed to work on Sundays but they do. They collect up the dung shed by their incontinent beasts and on Sundays hawk it around as garden manure; as if I would let English donkey doo-doo anywhere near my roses.
I urge you to abandon this ill-starred adventure. There should be a law protecting the interests of those unfortunate enough to share a boundary with the criminally insane.
Your troubled and long-suffering neighbour,