Don’t.

Firstly and as many Londoners might naturally feel, there is of course the very practical consideration that fighting back in this way tends only to inflame an already delicate situation. Secondly, here in the UK at least, in your malice you might be creating an actionable private nuisance yourself!

Sound strange? Maybe, but look what happened when this kind of case was brought to court, many moons ago…

The case of Christie v Davey, 1893, 1 Ch 316

Seems that Christie here was a music teacher, who gave lessons in her house. Mr Davey, living in the semi-attached property next door, didn’t much like the noise. It seems he complained directly to Mrs Christie more than once. I’ve just found online a letter purporting to be penned from Mr Davey to Mrs Christie:

“During this week we have been much disturbed by what I at first thought were the howlings of your dog, and, knowing from experience that this sort of thing could not be helped, I put up with the annoyance. But, the noise recurring at a comparatively early hour this morning, I find I have been quite mistaken, and that it is the frantic effort of someone trying to sing with piano accompaniment, and during the day we are treated by way of variety of dreadful scrapings on the violin, with accompaniments. If the accompaniments are intended to drown the vocal shrieks or teased catgut vibrations, I can assure you it is a failure, for they do not. I am at last compelled to complain, for I cannot carry on my profession (the defendant was an engraver) with this constant thump, thump, scrap, scrap, and shriek, shriek, constantly in my ears. It may be a pleasure or source of profit to you, but to me and mine it is a confounded nuisance and pecuniary loss, and, if allowed to continue, it must most seriously affect our health and comfort. We cannot use the back part of our house without feeling great inconvenience through this constant playing, sometimes up to midnight and even beyond. Allow me to remind you of one fact, which must most surely have escaped you–that these houses are semi-detached, so that you yourself may see how annoying it must be to your unfortunate next door neighbour. If it is not discontinued, I shall be compelled to take very serious notice of it. It may be fine sport to you, but it is almost death to yours truly.”

Evidently the letter (which is also referenced and indeed quoted here) didn’t have much effect, and so it seems that Mr Davey took to making noise in retaliation whenever he heard anything from Mrs Christie.  Mr Davey’s noise in turn distracted Mrs Christie’s music lessons, and so Mrs Christie took Mr Davey to court to get him to stop.  According to records I’ve found cited many times online, it would seem that the court ruled in favour of Mrs Christie and granted an injunction against Mr Davey.

Surprised?

When I first heard this story, it was told as Mr Davey having brought the case to court, to get Mrs Christie to stop her teaching activities, and that the court turned the tables on him.  This would have been a much bigger surprise than what I’ve found to have been documented.

Given the presented evidence of his ongoing sufferings, if this case came to court now I might still ordinarily hope for a ruling in favour of Mr Davey. But on reflection, I think there’s an principle at work here:  one cannot justify the creation of a new nuisance, especially out of malice, in order to fix or protest against another.

A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges since this case originally came to court in 1893.  I’m intrigued to see what others might think of this case in light of our present-day exposure to noise, and whether attitudes have changed about such confrontation.  I wonder if there are any more recent rulings that might counter this one?