As every party wall surveyor knows, the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 has its origins in legislation passed shortly after the Great Fire of London.
The first piece of legislation was the The Fire of London Disputes Act 1666, which established a the famous “Fire Courts” to settle all differences arising between landlords and tenants of burnt buildings, overseen by three or more judges of the Court of King’s Bench, Court of Common Pleas and/or the Court of Exchequer. It is from this ad-hoc Court system that the quasi-judicial role of the party wall surveyor evolved.
The second Act, The Rebuilding of London Act 1666, was passed shortly after. It regulated the rebuilding of London after the Fire, and authorised the City of London Corporation to undertake the compulsory purchase of land adjoining the principal streets of London in order to widen the roads.
The Act also authorised the building of a Monument to commemorate the fire, as well as providing for
“a day of Public Fasting and Humiliation within the said City and Liberties thereof“
on the 2nd of September each year.
The rebuilding of London was taken very seriously; if anyone moved the stakes or stones marking the new layout of the City, they were to be either jailed and fined £10 (around £750 today) or, if they could not afford the fine, to be
“openly whipped near unto the place where the Offence shall be committed, till his body be bloody“.
It is doubtful that modern party wall surveyors could impose this punishment on difficult appointing owners.
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