Thursday, 5 April 2012

Glass walls

From Wikipedia

I recently noticed an old brick wall crudely topped with cement in which there were embedded shards of broken glass. The glass had all been levelled off and made comparatively safe, but it reminded me that this was once a cheap line of defence against intruders.

I sauntered on the road back to Barkingham for about five minutes, then struck off sharp for the plantation, lighted my lantern with the help of my cigar and a brimstone match of that barbarous period, shut down the slide again, and made for the garden wall.

It was formidably high, and garnished horribly with broken bottles; but it was also old, and when I came to pick at the mortar with my screw-driver, I found it reasonably rotten with age and damp.
Wilkie Collins - A Rogue's Life

Of course a determined intruder could just smash the bottle shards level with the mortar or just break up the mortar as in Wilkie Collins’ novel, but why don’t we see such things any more? Is it too dangerous to the intruder or just ineffective?

My guess is that the owner could be sued and that’s enough to get rid of it. Plus the possibility of horrendous injury to a thoughtless child. As a child I knew what the score was with brick walls, but I still wouldn't have one on my boundary. Horrible idea.


Anonymous said...

Form follows function. What looks like broken bottles on a wall may be a crystallisation of the social, legal and criminal attitudes of a bygone era. There must have been a need for strong protection, the bottles and cement were cheap, a wall-clinber losing a finger would not get much sympathy - legal or otherwise. So was this a kind of balance or a
form of oppression?

WC wrote this about 1856 and his wall was old then. A time of mantraps and spring guns, the squire as magistrate, deportations and hangings a commonplace. So broken bottles seem to fit. It might be interesting to know over what timespan broken bottles were used.

Then there is WC's use of form and function in describing Frank, a crystallisation of Victorian fears, aspirations and
vulnerabilities. More to them bottles than meets the eye.

Sam Vega said...

The local police came to warn a neighbour whose garden is alongside a relatively lawless alleyway (and for our sleepy market town, that's not saying much) that her barbed wire fence-topping was a legal liability. She ought, apparently, to have signs every metre informing potential intruders, etc.

Apparently, burglars hate trellises more than anything else apart from big dogs. Trying to climb a rickety half-rotten trellis complete with unpruned climbing roses guarantees a fine comedy routine which ends in failure.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I think sympathy would have been limited even in my childhood, but in WC's day there would be none as you say. I think cheapness must have been important, as ever.

Sam - I heard about the trellis and roses idea too. Also gravel because of the scrunch when walked on.

James Higham said...

Yes but as children, we had the native sense not to climb onto such a wall.

A K Haart said...

James - yes we did, yet today it doesn't seem to be enough. I find the idea horrible now, but I didn't then.