DUBLINTIMEMACHINE: Today, we visit an eccentric Irishman who inherited a mansion in London and dug a massive illegal underground complex beneath his gaff…just because! William Lyttle (1931–2010) was a civil engineer, and when destiny brought him to 121 Mortimer Road in Hackney during the swinging sixties he decided his fancy new digs 20 rooms weren’t quite enough, so he excavated a wine cellar in the basement.
So far, so sane. However, Lyttle discovered that digging was strangely stimulating for him. He said he’d “found a taste for the thing”. So his little dabble with making a single subterranean room turned into a forty-year addiction. The Irishman soon mined not only his own grounds but single-handedly generated a massive, multilevel tunnel complex that would put an ant colony to shame. His labyrinth boasted lofty rooms, and grand underground avenues 18 metres (59 ft) long. Contrasting this were little shafts barely a child’s height. Most were lit with adhoc electrical lighting.
Foreshadowing the Shawshank Redemption or perhaps inspired by the Great Escape, William Lyttle dumped the dirt discreetly about his garden and local parks. However, in a possible symptom of his mental health, he also filled entire rooms of his above-ground domicile. So even as his secret project flourished his once fine mansion fell into disrepair.
Obviously, this improvised underworld was a very dangerous undertaking.
Wrecklessly the adventurous civil engineer invaded the earth beneath his wealthy neighbours’ homes too and excavated as deep as the water table. His greatest and most illegal excavation connected his mansion with the local Dalston Lane rail tunnel.
Inevitably the project aroused unwanted attention. Yes, there had been rumours the eccentric Paddy was up to something. Considering the times it would’ve been amazing if he wasn’t considered a possible terrorist by Scotland Yard. But the penny dropped when a local publican expressed concerns about his cellar collapsing. And the water supply became disrupted…and lighting a mini underground village drained local power supplies. Then the understandable complaints rolled in. Bizzare noises in the nighttime. Inexplainable sinkholes appearing in neighbours flowerbeds, gaping chasms in the leafy yuppie streets.
Incredibly (if you’ve never worked for Fingal County Council) despite Hackney Council receiving tip-offs and serious complaints they did feck all for decades. Eventually, an ultrasound inspection of the grounds of Lyttle’s gaff was carried out in 2006, and the rest is history. Sadly (for him) Lyttle was evicted in 2006. Then Hackney Borough Council began the mammoth mission of backfilling the Mole-mans tunnels with aerated concrete. Over 33 tonnes of soil and debris were removed! In 2008 the High Court made him pay £293,000 in expenses. They generously housed Lyttle in a hotel for three years. Finally, he was rehoused on the top floor of a high-rise apartment building, hoping this would put an end to his antics. A not-so-random inspection of his new “digs”. The inspector discovered he had knocked a hole in a dividing wall!
We’ll give the last word to “The Mole Man of Hackney” himself.
When journalists asked why he did it all, he said, “I’m just a man who loves to dig. There is great beauty in inventing things that serve no purpose.”