But when the end came, it did so swiftly. Father and son were removed at dawn from the home - just outside Wymeswold, Leicestershire, and within three hours it was reduced to a pile of rubble.
Both men, William, 67, and Lester, 34, were arrested for their vain efforts to prevent the council's contractors moving in to do the job the pair had been ordered to do themselves three years ago.
Last night, Lester Pickavant's girlfriend, Tricia Bloor, who also lived at the house, accused Charnwood borough council of making them homeless, despite making applications earlier this year for permission to carry out the work. "The chief executive of the council read us a few words to say what they were going to do," she said. "Lester and I stayed in the house ... then police officers forced open our front door and we were led away."
The authority stoutly defended its decision, saying that from the outset the Pickavants had been advised that they required planning permission, but carried on regardless without it.
Building work at Holly Lodge Farm was monitored from the time the property was erected on the site of a previous cottage.
Officials at the local authority said in a statement that they were first led to believe the building was to be a barn. The Pickavants only conceded later that it would be a house, while ignoring advice that they needed planning permission. They had always claimed that the cottage had stood on the site for 200 years and they had renovated it.
In 1992 the authority served an enforcement notice, demanding that William Pickavant, a retired soldier, demolish the house, an order against which he appealed.
But his appeal was rejected at a subsequent public inquiry and he was convicted this year in the crown court of failing to comply with the enforcement notice. The Recorder in the case urged Mr Pickavant to "come to his senses". Still the Pickavants did not comply with the order and the council said in September that it planned to do the job itself "in fairness to all those who have been refused planning permission and have abided by the law".
Yesterday at 6.15am, officials from the council, accompanied by police, arrived to be met at the front gate by the Pickavants and Miss Bloor.
William Pickavant was released without charge after questioning yesterday. Miss Bloor was angry at the outcome of the dispute. "I cannot believe the world exists with such people. I would never have thought any of this possible. It was a beautiful cottage, lined with oak beams. It was a typical rural home.
"I honestly thought someone would find a compromise to the problem. Where can we go now? Am I just going to have to buy a tent?"
Police last night charged Lester Pickavant, 34, with making threats to kill. He was being held at Loughborough police station and is due to appear before magistrates today.Reuse content