UK farmer built illegal castle behind haybales

A farmer in the Green Belt outside London secretly built an elaborate castle without planning permission, hiding the work behind a wall of hay-bales. Now that the word has gotten out, they're going to knock it down:
A British farmer named Robert Fidler is fighting to keep the city from bulldozing his castle that he built by hiding the construction with hay bales. Officials were unaware of the elaborate castle because hundreds of bails of straw concealed it for four years, the UK Daily Telegraph reported Friday. After Fidler, 59 unveiled his home to neighbors in 2006 he was served a planning contravention notice the following March, which ordered demolition of the structure.
Link (Thanks, Dan!)


  1. They *think* they’re going to knock it down. He hid a few canons under hay bales in the turrets.

  2. Reminds me of a documentary I saw some years back about people in the US who build their own ‘castles.’ Some were pretty amazing.

    ‘Course, others were pretty questionable as to whether they qualified as ‘castles’. One looked like two mobile homes stacked on each other. I guess the big white wooden fence with crenellation qualified it.

  3. Well, at least we know there won’t be a standoff that ends in a gun battle as one man defends his home against the tyranny of the state.

  4. In the midst of him protecting his house a group of aliens appear to demolish the earth for a spacial highway

  5. Jeff, he built it without permits and he is located in a “green belt” which is supposed to be open, natural, land.

  6. If he had the time, money, and energy to build a house like that, why wouldn’t he get a permit?

    Unless the permit process is much more onerous and expensive than it is in the US, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s basically, submit a drawing, a form, and a few hundred bucks. At key stages in construction, have the inspector out for a look. Depends on jurisdiction, but usually at least three and as many as six inspections: footer, rough structural (or “framing”), and final. Add in electrical, plumbing, and HVAC for more civilized areas.

    I built my own garage last year, and the inspections were not difficult and involved only one correction and one comment. The correction was “muck out that footer before pouring the concrete” and the comment was “I ain’t never seen anything like this.” (I built a steel-truss, wood-frame, wood-sided garage. Pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.) (toot, toot)

    That building looks amazing, and sadly it’s not that unexpected for them to tear it down or require major changes that cost more than the initial construction because the permitting process wasn’t followed. They may ..well, will.. be more strict than usual because he did it intentionally (knowingly) without a permit, and flaunted it, which is pretty stupid.

    Building codes are one of the few governmental regulations that are mostly a good thing. They go too far in some instances (I’ve had a plans examiner ask “what’s your plan for rodent control?” uhh, what?) but overall, they save lives and protect future buyers of the property. Ask Mexico City in 1985 what they think of lax building codes and inspectors.

    Inspectors (again, in the US at least) have a lot of leeway in accepting things that aren’t by-the-book. If it’s safe, but not exactly what’s specified, they may let it slide. Especially if you’ve made an effort in other areas to work within regulations and such.

    Not to say they’re pain free.. they aren’t. But they have an upside. I know my building’s not going to fall on me in a storm or minor earthquake. That’s nice.

  7. “If he had the time, money, and energy to build a house like that, why wouldn’t he get a permit?”

    Because he is a fool. UK farmers famously keep trying this sort of thing, and this individual had other ongoing planning problems. So he was “known” AND he was deliberately trying to conceal the works behind those bales.

    Green belts are important. We don’t have a lot of space, and green belts stop developers from turning the whole country into a hideous grey suburb.

  8. @9 He didn’t get a permit because he built in protected greenbelt space, which is very difficult to legally build on. The regs say your building can stay if after four years there are no complaints, which is why he unveiled it now four years after building it. However, the local gov is contesting that no one could see it during those four years, so the four years begins now, during which they are eligible to demolish it (so they say). I just hope they do it with catapults and archers.

  9. London and the area around it is very densely populated. It’s surrounded by a “green belt” of open country and farmland where building is not permitted. This is to prevent urban sprawl from taking over, and to allow people some of the benefits of the countryside.

    For a rich guy to just build a house in the middle of the green belt, hoping to take advantage of a technicality, is pretty shabby behaviour. The hay-bale trick is also a bit nasty on the farmers, who are probably now going to be intrusively scrutinized.

    I hope the house is knocked down.

  10. Has anyone found the castle under construction on Google Earth? I’d like to see what a castle hiding behind hay bales looks like from the air…

  11. Sad that the property that you own… while yours… really is not yours… when you need permission to do (almost) everything.

    :) SCC

  12. Well, let’s be just. Fine him and let him keep it, AND tax him hard for his little game he played.

    It’s not like someone else will try putting up hale bales or similar and try the same trick. No-one will fall for that again. And it’s quite beautiful, as houses go. More of a shame to destroy it than to let it be.

    So, make him pay up.

  13. Not to get all Republican here, but whatever the consequences, it serves him right, doesn’t it? If he kept it hidden while he built it, then he knew it was an illegal construction.

  14. AFAIK, the land he built on is taxed lower, as it is zoned as agricultural. He would have paid a lot more for the land as well had it been zoned residential: it’s in a green belt. Since farmers are subsidized by tax breaks and such, I don’t have to point out he was gaming for land kept deliberately underpriced. Make him pay up the differences retroactive to the time he started his project. And tax him hard, as I said. And regulate his home’s price on the market in future, so that he can’t realize an unfair profit.

  15. Did he honestly think nobody would notice? I have mixed feelings about this… if he built it on open space, I’d say he got what he deserved, but he was a farmer who built it on agricultural land… don’t farmers tend to live on their farms? If he was already living there and just “upgraded” his home, I don’t see the harm.

  16. Rules aren’t for everybody obviously. Castle dwellers do deserve such special consideration.
    Like those people that commute to work alone in their cars like everyone else, but aren’t burdened with waiting in long lines to enter the freeway like everyone else when there is a perfectly vacant car pool lane to use.
    Robert Fidler undoubtably deserves special treatment, and I hope that he gets it.
    And, I hope that a Walmart super center decides to do the very same thing on the adjoining property.

  17. He can keep it if he can defend it. The local authorities have to limit themselves to trebuchets and scaling ladders, he can use boiling oil (but it has to be soy based) They could sell tickets

  18. So the giant pile of hay bales is OK, but the castle is so offensive it must be reduced to a pile of rubble by the state.

  19. A Google Maps link to Fidler’s Honeycrock Farms can be found at . The image must be pre-2002, as the castle is evidently built approximately where the two silos in the center stand. (Judging from the news photos of the finished house, it doesn’t look as if it actually incorporates them.) You can also see one of his nice blue tarps at the top of the image.

    More info can be found in the denied planning applications for the home ( ) and recreational space ( ).

  20. So was it hidden by hay bales or by straw bales? They’re different materials. One’s for eating, one’s for bedding.

  21. But I thought that Britain was this ultra-surveilled “nanny-state” where nobody gets away with anything without it going on CCTV. And all this dude had to do to hide the construction of a gorram huge buidling is put it all behind some hay bales?

    Brother Cadfael, were are you when we need you?

  22. He surrounded the building with hay. Can you say “fire hazard”? I have to agree with the council on this one.

  23. @TheophileEscargot

    Totally unrelated to this post in any way, shape or form, but it’s so wonderful to see another Blaylock fan here!

  24. mother earth news;

    Fireproof? Tests have confirmed that straw bale walls are naturally fire resistant. When straw is compacted into bales, there’s not enough air for the straw to burn well. The plaster coating seals the bales into a noncombustible casing.”

  25. You will get people who will try to kid you that this castle’s about freedom. It isn’t. Its about money. According to the press it cost him £50K to build. Depending on the size (and from the photos it looks pretty big for a uk house) if it were legal it would sell on the open market for at least 10 times that. Plus in theory he could then push to get his land re-zoned as residential. Residential land in Southern England usually costs £1million an acre upwards (about 20 to 50 times what it is worth as farmland).

    The south east of england is a crowded place. we have to have strict rules on what gets built where else we’d end up with even more hideous sprawl than we already have (and we have too much already).
    He could of course go live somewhere else where the rules are more relaxed and build what he likes.

  26. One in a long series of self built castles, this and the underground palace in Italy are just the most recent discoveries, no doubt there are others feverishly working away on their great secret palace. Over at Curious Expeditions we put together a list of our favorite top 15 self built castles…

    We will have to add this to the list!

  27. Can’t keep up with the Jones’? Get the city to knock their house down.

    This is truly despicable. The one right every man should have is the right to build a fucking castle on his property–I mean that with no sarcasm or irony whatsoever.

  28. @ mazoola #25:
    Thanks for the map and application links, they were very enlightening.

    I find it striking that the castle was built within a few km of Gatwick and was only a coupel hundred meters south of an airfield. The site must have been overflown constantly. I guess it was just not overflown by anyone from the planning commission.

    As someone who has just been through the planning and building inspection process, I have to echo comment # 9: the rules exist for mostly good reasons. I wouldn’t want to buy a house that hadn’t been inspected at all durring construction. It might look like a castle on the outside but it could be areal mess on the inside.

  29. Time to name names. WHICH specific government PEOPLE are failing to CELEBRATE instead of DEVASTATE this folk art sculpture?

    Does anybody wonder why building castles is illegal in Britain? Rich blue blood trust fund Baby Boomers (old money) doesn’t want their property values to go down, since most, instead of the old school method in which property equaled income via agriculture and livestock raising, now means expensive hotels (castle weddings!!!).

    Notice the bad design too. Too many windows. Probably just like gothic Rockefeller Church on 122nd and Broadway in NYC, this thing has a welded STEEL structure to support it.

    Dude’s big mistake? Getting caught. Should have tunneled instead. But like Manhattan, most of England is bedrock, so that would make a lot of noise and dust, and a big pile of little stones.

    I kid you not that a revolution against government may soon happen in the USA and UK, as in militias assassinating Eurocrat bureaucrats and taxmen. If they tear this down, next they will come for BoingBoing for daring to link to music mash ups and torrent files of the IT Crowd.

  30. I’m in the minority here. I agree 100% with what Moonbat said, “The one right every man should have is the right to build a fucking castle on his property.”

    If you own property, you should be able to do damn near whatever the hell you want with it, without involving the government. Anything short of, say, opening your own nuclear reactor should be fair game. This story makes me sick.

    And, to the guy who didn’t like the design… too the hell bad, bro. It’s not your castle; it’s that guy’s.

  31. If you own property, you should be able to do damn near whatever the hell you want with it, without involving the government.

    Would that include a halfway house for addicts or ex-cons? Tranny bar? Strip club? Abortion clinic? Gay Pride Center? African Community Center? Slaughterhouse? Porn studio? Mosque? Or just castles?

  32. Here’s what I have to say, so he didn’t file a permit. Who’s complaining?? People would rather see a pile of brown decaying hay covered with tires, plastic tarp and rope than a beautiful, unique, stone castle with a nice green yard on their greenbelt? Apparently they would also prefer to see go-carts driving around some track as well. Why not just let him pay the fine for the permit and allow the place to stand? Plus it is a good point that just because he built the building behind some hay aerial views were to be had those four years and I am sure his neighbors had to know about it but apparently didn’t care. I say if the gov is trying to get him on a technicality, he should be able to win on a technicality.

  33. So the council would rather look at a giant wall of hay covered with a blue tarp and tires than this beautiful castle? I’m a little torn here because it seems that he should be made an example but the castle is so cool looking I almost forgive him.

    … and go karts! I want a castle with go-karts!

  34. The land isn’t zoned pretty, it’s zoned agricultural.

    That gets my vote for quote of the week. People have an amazingly hard time understanding zoning until somebody tries to build a school or a church next to their house.

  35. He flaunted the laws, doing what he knew to be wrong, for his own satisfaction.

    It’s too bad he didn’t find a better outlet for his creative side.

    And yeah, I find it extremely hard to believe that no one knew about this for FOUR YEARS. I suspect they were waiting him out.

  36. I must admit, I do find this a bit funny – it is a castle, after all – but this guy’s blatantly trying to find a way to get around a law that’s there for the rest of us. He knew his land’s in the greenbelt, designated as not-for-building-on so that the UK doesn’t just become one big town.

    Those who say he should’ve been allowed to build there – what if I wanted to build a 45-storey casino opposite your place? I’m being facetious, but that’s the same argument used here.

  37. I live in (a part of) a 14th century castle. This is not a castle. It’s a cottage that just happens to have crenellations on it.

    There are some more pictures of it in articles from the Telegraph and Daily Mail.

  38. Is there not a single person here who knows how old the laws are against building illicit castles?

  39. Antinous, it does not hinge on defensibility. Fortification is a royal privilege, and no castle is indefinitely defensible if the Crown thinks it ought not exist. Fortification is also an inherently political act. Since the original purpose of castles was to enable you to plunder your neighbors but not be plundered by them, the traditional hostility of the monarchy to privately proliferating castles is generally a Good Thing.

    I see we’ve had a rebirth of the “You can do whatever you please on private property” argument. This is not and has never been a valid stance. Land law has always been cooperative, because your ability to enjoy your own property depends on your neighbors’ actions, and their ability to enjoy their property depends upon yours.

    If an ancient and well-established right of way crosses your property, you can’t build a house or wall that cuts it off. Depending on where and when you lived or live, you can’t deal with runoff from heavy rains by channeling it into your neighbor’s yard. You can’t dispose of offal by dumping it into the local stream, or drain your retting-pond into it, or set up fishing weirs that completely destroy downstream fishing, or create an artificial lake whose outlet empties into a different stream, thus depriving everyone downstream of the diversion of their water. If part of your property’s boundary is a creek or river, you can’t dump rocks and gravel at the edge of your side of the stream, building up your property and forcing the stream to chew a new watercourse out of your neighbor’s land.

    You can’t dump your garbage in front of your neighbor’s doorway. You can’t plant noxious and invasive weeds that will spread to your neighbors’ fields. You can’t slaughter their herd animals that unavoidably stray onto your property, though you may be due recompense if they get into your corn or your vegetable garden. If your township has agreed that landholders shall jointly bear the cost of maintaining the town’s defenses, you pay up. If they’ve agreed that all households shall securely cover the coals in their fireplaces by a certain hour at night, you cover them. (Curfew, from the Old French covrefeu, “cover fire.”) If your city has agreed that businesses that generate noxious smoke or offal, or are chronic fire hazards, or are otherwise incurably nasty, are to move out of the central market area, you move. If your city has decreed that in order to forestall a ruinously expensive arms race, no household shall build a tower more than two and a half stories tall, you don’t do it.

    The maintenance of walls, fences, roads, wharves, gaols, drainage ditches, and irrigation systems has always been a fruitful sources of civic disagreements. If you’re a landowner, you don’t get to ignore such disputes, because you gain and lose by their outcome.

    Some North Americans managed to get the idea that private property rights are absolute because it took the law a little while to catch up with the settlement of the continent. As noted above, this cannot be anything but an error. Furthermore, a good deal of the reason the charming British countryside, towns, and villages that Americans so admire are charming is because Brits don’t cherish the bizarre belief that buying a parcel of land makes you God-Emperor of the Universe within the bounds of your property.

  40. You want to move to Palm Springs? I’m one of the founders of a group that sues developers when they get back room, sweetheart deals to violate all the local building codes and build in scenic canyons and mountains. We could always use some help.

  41. I don’t think I’d be much use. I grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and I have difficulty maintaining my composure around developers.

  42. The green belt thing seems ridiculous to me, look at the location of the house, right next to those huge storage buildings which are much uglier and larger. I don’t know much about zoning, but are farmers allowed to live on their farms, or are they forced to commute from the cities?

  43. Maybe we can merge the machicolation debate with the gun control debate. Boiling oil doesn’t kill people. People kill people.

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