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The documents quoted below give good evidence of the style in which the better class of houses was built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The greater part of the city was built of wood, the houses being roofed with straw, reeds, and similar materials. The frequent fires which took place owing to this manner of building, especially the great fire of 1135 which destroyed a great part of the City, compelled the citizens to take some precautions against the recurrence of such a calamity. Stone was used to a larger extent, and various privileges were conceded to those who used stone in the construction of their houses. This material was made compulsory in the party-walls, but the rest of the buildings might be made of anything, and was usually constructed of wood. The regulations of 1189 did not produce any great or immediate effect on the style of building, and a further ordinance was issued in 1212, after a disastrous fire had destroyed London Bridge and a large number of houses.
(a) In the year of our Lord 1189, in the first year of the reign of the illustrious King Richard, in the mayoralty of Henry Fitz-Aylwin, who was the first Mayor of London, these provisions and ordinances were made by the wise men of the City, for appeasing the contentions which sometimes arise among neighbours touching boundaries made or to be made between their lands, so that such disputes might be settled according to that which was then provided and ordained. And the said provision and ordinance was called an Assize.
When two neighbours shall have agreed to build between themselves a wall of stone, each shall give a foot and a half of land, and so they shall construct, at their joint cost, a stone 20 wall three feet thick and sixteen feet in height. And, if they agree, they shall made a gutter between them to carry off the water from their houses, as they may deem most convenient. But if they should not agree, either of them may make a gutter to carry the water dripping from his house on to his own land, except he can convey it into the high street.
They may also, if they agree, raise the said wall as high as they please, at their joint expense; and if it shall happen that one shall wish to raise the wall, and the other not, it shall be lawful for him who is willing, to raise his own part as much as he please, and build upon it, without damage of the other, at his own cost.
And if any one shall build his own stone wall, upon his own land, of the height of sixteen feet, his neighbour ought to make a gutter under the eaves of the house which is placed on that wall, and receive in it the water falling from that house, and lead it on his own land, unless he can lead it into the high street.
Also, no one of two parties having a common wall built between them, can, or ought, to pull down any portion of his part of the said wall, or lessen its thickness, or make arches in it, without the assent and will of the other.
And if any one shall have windows looking towards the land of a neighbour, and although he and his predecessors have long been possessed of the view of the aforesaid windows, nevertheless his neighbour may lawfully obstruct the view of those windows, by building opposite to them, on his own ground, as he shall consider most expedient; except he who hath the windows can shew any writing whereby his neighbour may not obstruct the view of those windows.
Let it be borne in mind that in former times a great part of the city was built of wood, and the houses were roofed with straw, reeds and such things; so that when any house caught fire, a great part of the city was destroyed by that fire; as happened in the first year of the reign of King Stephen. For it is written in the chronicles that in a fire which began at London Bridge, St. Paul’s Church was burnt down, and the 21 fire proceeded thence, burning all the houses and buildings as far as St. Clement Danes. Therefore many citizens, to avoid such danger, built according to their means, on their ground, a stone house covered and protected by thick tiles against the fury of fire, whereby it often happened that when a fire arose in the city and burnt many edifices, and had reached such a house, not being able to injure it, it became there extinguished, so that many neighbours’ houses were wholly saved from fire by that house.
1 The Building Ordinance of 1212 is HERE.