But this is no ordinary house...
April 18, 2008 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Mole Man to pay £300,000 for burrowing under home. A retired engineer nicknamed “Mole Man”, because of his fondness for burrowing tunnels under his home (video), has been ordered to pay almost £300,000 to the local council (he lives in London) after his hobby nearly caused his house to collapse (article with a few photos). William Lyttle, 77, spent 40 years excavating a maze of tunnels beneath his 20-room Victorian property in Hackney, East London, before the council intervened. "I often used to joke that I expect him to come tunnelling up through the kitchen floor," said Marc Beishon, who lives a few yards from William Lyttle's house, in 2006, when the Mole Man was first ordered to stop.

After digging an underground cavern, Lyttle eventually hollowed his own house, causing the roof to cave in. Inspectors discovered that parts of the house were supported by nothing more than household appliances and that ceilings had fallen in as a result of his extensive “home improvements”.
posted by KokuRyu (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Great links, KokuRyu. I read a short blurb in the news about the "Mole Man" earlier this week, but your links really bring the story to life. Very interesting!
posted by amyms at 10:39 PM on April 18, 2008

I always wanted a secret underground bunker with a swimming pool, shooting range, and bowling alley.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:16 PM on April 18, 2008

Well, the Mole Man didn't get to implement his "swimming pool, shooting range, and bowling alley" plans, but the article says he managed to get a car and a boat down there...
posted by lekvar at 11:42 PM on April 18, 2008

The dreamy, romantic part of me wants to cheer him on.

Most of me is sober, and that part says, "Idiot."
posted by Epenthesis at 12:34 AM on April 19, 2008

Most of me is dreamy and romantic.

You GO, Mole Man!
posted by rokusan at 12:53 AM on April 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

I was saying Boo-Urns!
posted by dirigibleman at 1:17 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's worth pointing out that his tunnels extended under the public pavements (sidewalks) outside his property, and caused one to collapse. He even tunnelled into the foundations of a neighbours house.

He now faces a bill of almost $600,000 for the repairs done by the council. It's pretty much certain he'll have to sell the house to pay for it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:19 AM on April 19, 2008

dreamy, wildly impractical here...

So, the charge isn't for building tunnels, it's to repair his home? One article says the tunnels run 26 feet deep and 20 metre radius from his home (ach, mix empirical and metric much?). That's a lot of digging.

There IS something intriguing about subterranean construction. Here are two articles from the ever-excellent BLDGBLOG about building underground in London. The first follows the underground bunker with the swimming pool and the bowling alley angle; rich folks who can't build a home cinema aboveground get planning permission to construct one under their garden. The second about a school which constructed an underground gym beneath the playground, chancing to find 5,000 corpses in the process. Good stuff.
posted by eponymouse at 1:31 AM on April 19, 2008

600K for repairs? He can't sell his house to cover those costs, did you see the photo of it? It's a wreck!

Though, even in this housing market, it's Hackney! Very cool nabe. "Handyman special!"
posted by DenOfSizer at 3:34 AM on April 19, 2008

I knew a guy in Georgia who excavated his crawl-space into a full-size basement through a hole in the kitchen floor. He carried the dirt out through the back door one bucket at a time.
He started by a trench inside the foundation, he shored up the house with screw jacks, removed the old foundation, and laid in block walls. Once this was done, he lowered the house onto the new foundation, and continued the excavation. Took him a bit over a year of steady work. Crazy stuff. It's amazing the dedication some people can devote to digging.
posted by three blind mice at 3:53 AM on April 19, 2008

Yeah, but he can't hold a candle to the Tunnel King.
posted by armage at 4:07 AM on April 19, 2008

How is that place worth a million pounds? Must be one HELLUVA location...
posted by bloomicy at 4:40 AM on April 19, 2008

Hackney, East London

Police said he was trying to find a way to get to the shops and back without getting mugged.

Yes, I am aware that this is a cheap shot at Hackney, and the irony that I myself live just up the road in the none too salubrious neighbourhood of Walthamstow is not lost on me either. In fact both of these things should go towards reassuring the reader that the above is, in fact, a 'joke'.
posted by MrMustard at 4:57 AM on April 19, 2008

At least the tunnels weren't filled with newspapers and cats.

Poor old bugger. If he'd sold house and moved to the country, he could have tunneled forever and no one would have noticed. Unless cows started disappearing.
posted by pracowity at 5:03 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great to see the Great British Eccentric is alive and well... though I don't think I'd want him living next door to me
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2008

For sale: Large Victorian house in up-and-coming area. Good transport links.

Requires modernisation.
posted by idiomatika at 5:19 AM on April 19, 2008

bloomicy -- "How is that place worth a million pounds? Must be one HELLUVA location..."

Pretty much all of London is priced into the stratosphere when compared with the rest of the UK not to mention places like the US.

We live in London's East End, postal code E1, walking distance to either of London's two financial districts (i.e., The City and The Docklands), and (current) market value for our relatively modest two story / two bedroom / garden flat is a little shy of £300K, so I can easily believe one million for a house in Hackney, especially so as we're talking fourteen (or so, details differ but its definitely LARGE) bedrooms. Looking at google maps, it seems Hackeny is perhaps a thirty minute bus ride from The City - I suspect this property, even in damaged condition, would be in high demand.

That being said, I always cringe at London real estate when compared to places like the US. I just took Mrs Mutant back to The Farm in upstate New York to meet Maw. For the value of my flat here in London I could purchase a couple of hundred acres there, complete with outbuildings, etc.

London is a very strange real estate market.
posted by Mutant at 5:28 AM on April 19, 2008

From the video link: "'Mole Man of Hackney' ordered to pay thousands of pounds for damage caused"

Thousands of pounds of what? *imagines him trucking tons (or is it tonnes?) of dirt up to the municipal court steps and just dumping it there in little sacks*

Oh, and death to HOAs. For just this reason. When I buy a house, I am going to live somewhere where I can build huge caverns and secret passages. Oh, and a tree house!
posted by Eideteker at 5:31 AM on April 19, 2008

posted by popechunk at 5:50 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like a rolling stone
Like a rolling stone
Like the FBI
And the CIA
And the BBC
BB King
And Doris Day
Matt Busby
Dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it...

That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood. And now we'd like to do 'Hark The Angels Come'.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:55 AM on April 19, 2008

Did anyone dig that article? Anyone?
posted by Wonderwoman at 6:23 AM on April 19, 2008

This guy is Bruce Wayne's impoverished English uncle, obviously.
posted by Dizzy at 6:24 AM on April 19, 2008

his 20-room Victorian property

those must have been 20 VERY tiny rooms.
posted by quonsar at 6:31 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

"I knew a guy in Georgia who excavated his crawl-space into a full-size basement "

I know a guy in Germany who did the same thing. then again he's an engineer and knew exactly what he was doing.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:11 PM on April 19, 2008

Yes, I agree with P.o.B. (hmm... a rhyme). If it was a real, truly memorable old English eccentric, then, we should have learned about a gifted engineer's mind at the bottom of all this digging. With some truly effective and fascinating tunnels that represented an invention or curious system of some sort. But all we get is mindless tunneling, w/o care for load-bearing and the like. Where are the great English tinkers and analysts and inventors of yore?
posted by yazi at 3:42 PM on April 19, 2008

Oh it's that house. I wondered why the signs about it being very very dangerous appeared.

Yes, it's Hackney, but it's in a nice bit of Hackney, so nice it even has a fancy foreign sounding name, De Beauvoir. It's also conveniently located near a soon to be new 'tube' station, the extension of the East London Line. So it's a house, on a relatively large site, in an area where people want to live. Yeah, people will pay crazy money for that, especially if they get to replace it with a nice block of flats.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:58 PM on April 19, 2008

I immediately thought of Williamson's Tunnels.
posted by raygirvan at 7:33 PM on April 19, 2008

They'll never get planning permission for a block of flats. They'll probably have to rebuild from the shell of the house that's left, at immense cost.
posted by smackfu at 7:40 PM on April 19, 2008

flapjax at midnite, I just had to mention that your post really brought a smile to my face, as did your name. One of favorite lines from Groundhog Day (go figure) is "too early for flapjacks?"

Great, it's now a little after midnight and now I want flapjacks.
posted by Davenhill at 12:39 AM on April 20, 2008

Mutant comparing London to upstate NY is a bit of apples and oranges, isn't it? A more accurate comparison is the price of London to the price of Manhattan real estate (I think London still wins due to the current exchange rate, though). Sure, there's lots of inexpensive land in the US, but the areas people want to live are not exactly cheap.
posted by Crash at 4:40 PM on April 20, 2008

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