I have found some fascinating entries in the Assize of Nuisance 1301-1431 (16 Nov 1319 – 5 Aug 1328) online at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=35974.
Often, historians concentrate so much on the great events and people that they forget all about the lowlier sorts who made up the vast majority of the population. Granted, there are fewer records about who they were and what they did – but where they exist, they can provide a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of normal people.
The Assizes of Nuisance dealt mainly with neighbourly disputes about property and boundaries, proving that such things are most certainly not a modern phenomena. Below are three cases against different neighbours, all brought by the same man. Either he was the ‘smug self-righteous git’ of the area, or else he was a man imposed upon by neighbours from hell – you decide!
Fri. 14 June 1325.
Hugh de Waltham and Juliana his wife, pls.*, appear against Robert Mustrel of Tonebregg, def.**, who makes default. They complain that the cess-pit of his privy and a pit called ‘swelugh’ receiving the water from his cistern and from a well not walled in stone adjoin their land too closely. On viewing the premises the mayor and aldermen find that the cess-pit and the ‘swelugh’ receiving the water from the well and from a great vessel called a ‘Thityngtunne’, are not walled in stone, and are too near the pls.’ foundations. Judgment that within 40 days etc. the defs. remove them to a distance of 2½ ft. at least or 3½ ft. if they are not walled in stone.
The same Hugh complains that his paling of wattle and daub (palicium de ligno et daubicio) is on the verge of ruin, and broken down in divers places because of the earth thrown up against it by Thomas de la Marche, whose land it adjoins; and he asks that it be replaced by a suitable fence (claustura) in accordance with the custom of the City. The def. agrees to abide by the judgment of the mayor and aldermen and others sworn to the assize, who, after viewing the premises, adjudge that within 40 days either both parties provide 1½ ft. of land and share the cost of building thereon a stone wall, or the one provide 3 ft. of land and the other bear the whole cost of building: under a penalty of 40s. to be levied from the land and chattels of the defaulter by the sheriffs, who, in addition, are to cause the work to be done at his expense.
Fri. 19 July 1325.
The same Hugh complains that Katherine relict of Adam de Rothyng has likewise piled earth up against the wattle and daub paling (palicium de ligne et daubicio), 40 ft. long between their tenements so that it is on the verge of ruin, and it is further broken down in many places by the water falling from a worthless tree (arbore nugario)*** belonging to her. He declares his readiness to build a new wall of stone, earth or wattle and daub, in accordance with the assize. The def. says she holds her tenement jointly with Joan, daughter of Clement le Settere, without whom she cannot answer. Joan comes, and together they affirm that they cannot afford to build a wall. Asked whether they can show any cause why they should not be compelled to do so, they say no. Judgment that, in accordance with the custom of the City, they provide within 40 days etc. 3 ft. of land upon which the pl. can build.****
Mandate of the mayor and aldermen to the sheriffs ordering them to inspect the tenor of the above judgment, and cause it to be put in execution without delay, 18 Apr. 1326.
*** I wonder what was considered to be a worthless tree? A dead one perhaps? In which case I can’t see much water falling from it. Or else an ornamental one (perhaps Katherine liked to have a pretty garden!) with lots of leaves which collected the water and then dripped – a lot!
**** I hope Hugh liked building walls, because it seems that, after these cases, he had a lot to build!