Can you dig it? William Lyttle – nicknamed The Mole Man of Hackney – certainly could!
Most homeowners dream of extending their house – either upwards, out, or sometimes down. But no-one has ever taken home improvements to the extremes of William Lyttle. Born in Northern Ireland, Lyttle inherited his parents’ 20-bedroom, four-storey house at 121 Mortimer Road, Hackney, London, and immediately set about digging…
Over the next 40 years, he excavated an extensive series of tunnels under his house and the surrounding area. When asked why he was digging, Lyttle told reporters from the Guardian, ‘I first tried to dig a wine cellar, and then the cellar doubled, and so on. But the idea that I dug tunnels under other people’s houses is rubbish. I just have a big basement. It’s gone down deep enough to hit the water table – that’s the lowest you can go.’
Some wanted to know his secret, whether he was digging to the nearby bank…but he’d tell them, ‘People are asking what the big secret is. And you know what? There isn’t one.’
He was said to have removed an estimated 100 cubic meters of earth, to such an extent that in 2001, the pavement outside Lyttle’s house collapsed.
‘You could see all the tunnels sprawling out all over the place inside – it was crazy,’ said one neighbour. Another nearby resident recalled when ‘the whole of the opposite street lost power one day after he tapped into a 450-volt cable.
After complaints to the council, ultrasound was used to find out the extent of his burrowing. To their astonishment they found that the The Mole Man’s digging went 8 meters down and spread 20 meters in every direction from his house!
In 2008, the High Court ordered him to pay £293,000 to Hackney Council for repairs and banned him from going anywhere near the property. The council condemned the building, evicted Lyttle and re-homed him in a nearby tower block.
Engineers then set about removing up to 33 tons of gravel and junk from his back yard, including three cars, a boat, numerous television sets and old fridges. The labyrinth of tunnels was then filled in with concrete.
In 2010, the Mole Man of Hackney died in his high-rise top-floor flat. But when they found his body, William Lyttle had already knocked down some of the internal walls. A final act of rebellion!
It seems the Mole Man of Hackney couldn’t be contained. As he once said himself, ‘Curiosity is my curse. If I make a start, I must know where it ends.’