The word ‘neighbour’ dates from the days before the countryside was enclosed, when villagers farmed adjoining strips of common land. A neighbour then was ‘the man who tills the next piece of land to mine’.
These days, you might define neighbour as the person most likely to turn your life into a living hell. And the history of neighbours – as Emily Cockayne reveals in her authoritative if heavy-going book – is really a history of trying to minimise the irritation produced by the people next door.
There are exceptions, it’s true. Randolph Churchill, Winston’s son, fell in love with his neighbour in his fifties; and the creator of Biggles, W E Johns, left his wife for his neighbour’s daughter. But, ever since the fourteenth century, when permanent houses started replacing temporary wattle-and-daub cottages, neighbours have increasingly