Sunday, November 06, 2011

Plundered Roofs

A house in our street that had been converted from garages sported downstairs door and window projections covered with lead sheeting. These protuberances broke up the otherwise dull fa├žade, and the lead/grey rooflets added a mellow charm to the frontage.
This fine covering should have lasted for many a lifetime. But one morning, after some 15 or more years of the building’s life, the lead had gone – ripped off in the night by thieves.
The ragged bits of lead flashing remained attached to the walls, turning the building into an ugly mess – stripped of its charm.
The thieves were brave, as in front and around were occupied homes, all beneath street lights, where anyone witnessing the nocturnal event could have called the police.
The owner of the house then had the projections covered with slates and dark, quarry, ridge tiles. The result was adequate, but now rather clumsily heavy compared with the original lead.
In a remote way, and many years ago, I may have been party to such lead theft.
I was sculpting in lead, melting it on my kitchen stove and casting the poisonous liquid metal in home-made casts of plaster-coated wood.
In those days I lived in London’s dockland, well before its elevated development took place.
The correct way then, in that area of the East End, was to make it known in a now non-existent pub that was frequented by police and criminals, what commodity one wanted. As if by magic it soon arrived – to be paid for in cash, of course.
You did not ask questions about the origin of anything that came one’s way. For all I knew, my lead came from people like those who stole the lead here in Hammersmith.
When that lead was stolen not far down our street, I was made aware that over the porches of each of our six terraced houses was also lead covering, secured mostly by its weight and a few very inadequate nails.
So I went to the screw box and secured the lead roofing on my porch with four screws (now rusting and very visible) on each side. And I knocked in a few wide-headed galvanised nails in between – just to make sure.
A day or two ago I left my house shortly after 7 o’clock in the morning to collect the paper, and on returning was astounded to see that the lead on my neighbour’s porch roof had been ripped away in the night. Only the contorted flashing attached to the brickwork’s pointing remained.
The thieves had also tried to lever away my own lead covering, but to no avail.
I have spoken to others in our terrace, and some have now secured their porch roofing with screws.
What kind of thieves would risk judicial punishment by stealing such a small quantity of lead, right beneath a street light and with people around?
It was certainly a quiet job, as, on a still night, none of us heard a thing.