26th May 1932. Love thy Neighbour.
‘Neighbour’ from Anglo-Saxon: Neah Gebur or Negh Boor: ‘A nearby rustic or peasant’.
A judgement and declaration by Law-Lord Atkin Today in 1932, elaborated the rule that ‘loving your neighbour’ becomes in law, ‘you must not injure your neighbour’.(1)
The concept of neighbour or neighbourliness, good, bad and indifferent, is a wide one from the Biblical Good Samaritan to the bizarre case recorded in 1333 London of Joan and Andrew de Aubrey.
Representing thousands of similar cases in communities when people lived ‘cheek by jowl’, it appears that their neighbours had removed the walls of their shared privy, ‘so that the extremities of those sitting upon the seats can be seen, a thing which is abominable and altogether intolerable’.
There developed the notion that neighbours were responsible for each other; with husband beating for example, the neighbour deemed complicit, was paraded as a ‘laughing stock’.
A reputation for being a scold often provoked a suspicion of witchcraft with punishment via the scolds’ bridle and ducking stool.
A neighbour’s good reputation was highly prized and thought best placed to judge moral standing and sexual proprietary in rural Britain.
Much represented in fact, and fiction as the d’Durberville Family found when Tess with her illegitimate child caused its undoing and rejection by the neighbours.(2)
A study of poverty in 1913 Lambeth found the stand-offish neighbours behaved with kindness to one another when times were hard. However when families moved they were quickly forgotten as the nexus born out of mutual poverty and troubles was lost.(3)
By the 1960.s the cohesion of tightly-knit communities of terraced houses based on common values and employment, went with their destruction and re-location to new estates.
It was a break-up symbolised when a 1964 south London estate sculpture ‘Neighbourly Encounter’, showing two children straddling a fence, went missing.
A 2009 survey showed that a third of people under 25 didn’t know their neighbour’s names.
(1) It resulted from a common-law case in 1929 when Mary Donoghue brought an action against mineral water manufacture David Stevenson which went to the Law Lords.
It established the modern form of the Tort of Negligence which as enunciated by Lord Acton helped to resolve ‘the duty of care principle’.
(2) Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Durbervilles.
(3) The Fabian, Maud Pember Reeves Report.
Ref: Cheek by Jowl: a History of Neighbours. Emily Cockayne. Bodley Head. 2012.