London’s building Posted on August 28, 2014

I’ll spare you all the noisy and dusty details, but our next-door neighbours’ house is being demolished, or most of it. Its Victorian elegance (if that’s not too strong word for the plasterwork and joinery of the 1840s), is going on the skip, to be replaced by the stark spaces of today’s fashion. Only the front and side walls are staying – and while they’ve got the roof off, why not dig a basement as well?

Noise and dust we can live with; worse is the worry that we’ll all fall into the hole, or if not actually fall, see scary cracks in our wall. Just over the road another end-of- terrace house like our neighbours’ moved enough to split its neighbour down the middle. Admittedly they had dug a two-storey basement to fit in a 14-metre swimming pool. (Will the whole house smell of chlorine?)

All this is, of course, ‘permitted development’. The government’s Party Wall Act doesn’t take account of the flimsiness of 19th century spec building. Builders use the cheapest materials they can get away with. Our previous London house, in Islington, was dated to October or November 1838; the evidence being that Baltic deal was used for the internal walls, then plastered over. Apparently there was a glut of deal in London docks that autumn.

If it weren’t for the walnut tree that shades our back garden there might be a basement under the next door garden as well. The law, though, is more protective of trees than of neighbours’ sensibilities. Wisteria is not a tree, says the law, so the massive one on the back wall – about to be demolished – has already gone on the skip. Developers have some mad ideas. Having rebuilt a house opposite (my goodness, what a Media Room they built) they hired a crane to lift five 25-foot cypresses over the roof into the back garden. Unfortunately the crane hit three parked cars, and they forgot to water the cypresses. Another crane, maybe, to lift the brown carcasses out again? And what will the Council say about removing big trees?

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