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What are ancient lights

01:00 Mon 30th Apr 2001 |

A. Around London there are quite a few signs, often above pubs, which read: 'Ancient Lights'. What does this mean asks peter.griff. Modge gave a comprehensive answer, but let me elucidate. Ancient lights are windows that have allowed the householder light, uninterrupted, for 20 years or more.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Q. So...

A. The sign is put up to ensure nothing else is built in front of them. This is not confined to London.


Q. Why

A. A new building would probably block out the light to the old one. If you build a house blocking out the light of the old one, you could be taken to court - and you'd probably lose your case.


Q. Let's hear the legal reason for this.

A. OK, but read carefully. It gets complicated. Formerly, you couldn't claim you ancient light had been blocked unless you had gained a right to the window 'by prescription' - that is, a long-established custom. The law dates from the 13th Century.


Q. That's now changed

A. Yes, the Prescription Act (1832) updated it. The 20-year rule was brought in. It tends to refer to the owner of the property, too.


Q. So, it's just to stop house-building

A. Oh no. It could be a wall or a tree that's blocking the light.


Q. And this is blocking out all the light

A. No. To quote a legal opinion: 'Total deprivation of light is not necessary to sustain this action, and if the party cannot enjoy the light in so free and ample a manner as he did before, he may sustain the action; but there should be some sensible diminution of the light and air. Building a wall that merely obstructs the right is not actionable.' The law also stands when a building with an ancient light - say, an office, - is converted for another use, such as a house.


Q. And what about a loss of view

A. That's not covered.


Q. So if I build in front of an ancient light, what will happen

A. You may be sued. First of all, though, an injunction could be slapped upon you to stop any work. When in doubt, see a solicitor.


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By Steve Cunningham

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