Thursday, August 31, 2023

Roving Reporter

Greetings!  I've had too much screen time, so am keeping this one brief for the benefit of my sore and blurry eyes.  This post will be an eclectic mix of photo news, not that this blog is ever confined to any one particular topic anyway.  I have way too much of a butterfly mind for niche posts.

I've been busy with work over the last couple of weeks with the sunniest rainy day wedding courtesy of the delightful couple who chose me as their photographer (blog and  sample photos here  grab your umbrella and learn how to take wedding photographs in the rain (winterpeach.com) We hit it off and I was flattered to join them at their evening celebrations.

This was closely followed by the wedding party of a lovely couple who married in Greece before the devastating forest fires took hold.  I'm sharing a few of my documentary style favourites here.





It's also worth mentioning these gorgeous sustainable, seasonal and British grown flowers created by the lovely Anna of the wonderfully named Hedge and Berries.


Whenever we've had some spare time, we've been busy trying our best to assist The Crooked House campaign, attending the meeting organised by local MP Marco Longhi and generally creating and publicising.  I've been visually documenting events for my records and to help maintain local interest.  We've met some fascinating people and Gareth even received a hug from author, local historian, Peaky Blinder descendant and thoroughly decent Professor Carl Chinn, who is quietly lending his support.  

People may wonder what all the fuss is about, but we're all feeling genuinely aggrieved by the actions of those responsible for the loss of a community hub older than America.  A line has been crossed and seemingly with the world on our side, we're not letting this one go.

Here are some photos from the last week or so.

Marco Longhi MP


I was listening intently, honestly, but Himley Hall's light shade was too beautiful to ignore!

Much mistrust!  When work started a little prematurely and without formal agreement on the clean up, Marco appeared on site.  A politician who keeps his word!





Over the coming days, the mood calmed, after a clear list of works  to be carried out and working methods was made available.  Paul and Ian, who front the Facebook campaign, were again interviewed on site alongside a CAMRA representative (Campaign for Real Ales) holding a certain person's handy work.

The pub may be notably absent - for now - but the community spirit remains.  Most evenings, there are campaign supporters maintaining a vigil over the bricks.  It's entirely possible that you might run into a paranormal investigator, artist, lawyer, brick layer, pigeon fancier or drone operator at any given time.  Welcome to the Black Country!

The latest news is that two people have been arrested and released on conditional bail for arson with intent to endanger life.  

In other news, I found this colourful skirt in a charity shop.  It's  W. German label confirmed its vintage fashion credentials and I had change from £3.00!   With all of the campaign activity, I'm feeling a bit punk, so teamed it with a punk festival t-shirt I purchased from Vix some years ago.


In complete contrast, I've also been rocking some Barbie pink puff sleeves.  Mood definitely dictates my outfits.  Anyway, perhaps Barbie pink puff sleeves can be punk too.  The boy asked, somewhat incredulously "What are you wearing?" so perhaps that proves my point.


As for reading material, this amazing first edition folklore book was picked up at Claverley Church when I was doing a recce the week before V's wedding.  The print is teeny tiny, such is the volume of detail and artworks contained within, but it's now possibly my most treasured possession.  It's absolutely a book to curl up and over-winter with.  I've also finished reading the latest offering from the brilliant Laura Purcell.  If I tell you that her Twitter handle (I refuse to call it by it's new name) is @spookypurcell, then I'm sure you can imagine her speciality.


The garden has been somewhat out of bounds recently, due to incessant rain.  However, we've had the odd nice day in August, so for some zen moments and being mindful of Autumn knocking on the door, I've tried to capture something of the garden and beyond before the seasons change.  Some of these photos were assisted by my newly acquired video light, a handy and affordable little gadget, which turns everything "disco."





My favourite hydrangea.  I never tire of this beautiful blue.


Walks may have been less frequent, but all the more enjoyable as a result.  Nature always delivers.  Check out this mighty oak...


...a thistle, gone to seed...


and this sun kissed spider's web.  Spiders!  At the risk of sounding like Ms Purcell herself, we're almost into September.  They're coming.

Hope you're all fine and dandy.  Catch you soon!







Thursday, August 10, 2023

A Very Crooked Tale

 


One thing that really triggers me is those who think that money can elevate them above the law.  A case in point this week centres around a local quirky landmark - The Crooked House pub (dubbed by the press as "Britain's Wonkiest Pub").  As the dramatic events of the last 7 days have unfolded, this is shaping up to be a very crooked tale.

First, a little history for those unfamiliar with the site.

The pub was originally built as a farmhouse in 1765.  Subsequent mining in the Black Country region in the early 19th century caused one side to begin to sink giving the building its distinctive angle.

In the 1830s the property became a pub called The Glynne Arms after local landowner and part owner of Oak farm Iron and Brickworks, Sir Stephen Glynne (also the brother-in-law of Liberal politician William Gladstone.

Condemned in the 1940s, the pub was saved from demolition after work was undertaken on a buttress to help strengthen the structure.  However, by the early 1950s, the its future was still uncertain.

In 1957, the pub's then owners, The Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery, spent £10,000 on repairs, safety measures and finally installing electricity.

Flames first threatened the pub in 1986; a fire resulting in damage necessitating a £360,000 facelift.

The pub began to be referred to as The Crooked House in 1900 as its quirky appeal gained traction...and so it began.  


This pub is part of the Black Country heritage.  Everyone in this part of the world will have childhood memories of this place.  I recall the excitement of glimpsing The Crooked House at the end of a seemingly endless winding lane and experiencing the thrill of seeing a marble roll uphill inside.  You don't believe me?  See for yourself.

Marbles Roll Uphill At Crooked Pub - YouTube

The pub was put up for sale by Marston's PLC after a review in 2021 and finally closed its doors in March this year.

It was sold in July this year as a going concern for £675,000 to a buyer based in Warwickshire (ATE Farms Ltd) - far enough away from the Black Country.  It transpires that said buyer also owns the 15 hectare quarry and landfill site next to the pub.  Notably, the landfill site is now being developed with permission being sought to develop another part of the land.  Access might be an issue.  Doubtless it would aid that access if the pub wasn't there.  Still with me?

Incidentally, a "burglary" took place in June this year.  The burglars didn't rifle through drawers and cupboard, but instead set about smashing up the kitchen and toilets.  Doesn't that strike you as odd?

Back to the present.  On Sunday morning, we awoke to the news that the pub had been gutted by fire on Saturday night.  Mounds of earth blocking access to the pub had slowed the Fire Service's efforts to tackle the blaze.


The Black Country reacted angrily, calling "arson."  The police launched an investigation and the press descended.

Still reeling from this news, two days later, a digger operator appeared on site and proceeded to demolish the building.  Bear in mind this was in the midst of a police investigation into the cause of the fire.

Locals flocked to the site demanding answers.  The Council claimed that they had agreed for safety reasons, that the building be taken down partially - only the upper floor.  Clearly this instruction had been ignored.  There were also allegations of the digger being given rear access to the pub.  By whom you may ask?

To further rub salt into the wound, Historic England has confirmed that the pub was being explored to be listed, after the organisation received a request in July.

It didn't take long for the owner's name to be published in the press.  She is unsurprisingly refusing all requests for an interview.  Having married into money, she and her husband appear to have form.  Reports have stated that they bought and gutted another pub in recent years.

These were the last photos I took of the pub, back in 2019.


We visited the site yesterday.  There was a police presence and we were politely asked if we could return a little later (there is a public right of way running up to the pub) as the sniffer dog was in action and they needed to keep the site clear.  Whilst chatting to the policemen, they confirmed that this was the strangest case they had worked on and pointed out that the news had now gone international; a CBS news crew were standing to our left.

On our return, I took photos of the site in its current state.  





Press are ever present...and long may it continue.  As long as all eyes are on this story, hopefully the powers that be will ensure a thorough investigation and all legal options will be explored.



It was truly devastating to see a building holding such memories and importance in the lives of a community reduced to a pile of rubble.


We weren't alone, mourners, souvenir hunters and local musicians were amongst the visitors to the site, including a group enjoying a final drink outside the pub.








There was palpable anger from visitors at the audacity of the people behind this wilful destruction.






Unrelated headlines, but isn't money at the centre of everything these days?






We took a final (for now - let's not begin speaking of this in the past tense) look at the small pub garden, still blooming and intact.



Back in the car park, the steel bracing frame - some distance from the building - looked far from unsafe to our untrained eyes.  No doubt when the digger grabbed hold of this, the building was doomed.



Discarded chairs were piled up in a far corner of the site...for how long I wonder?  I gently tried to dissuade souvenir hunters, as I, like the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, would like to see those responsible made to rebuild this brick by brick.  I fear it might never happen, but have joined the campaign group in any event.


I abhor the way money talks and blind eyes are turned.  Ways around planning laws are found and individuals make calculated decisions, carrying out dubious actions fully prepared and able to pay off resulting fines.  Really, this has to stop. Hands off our heritage!


The lane approach is not always picturesque, with its landfill site entrance and derelict bridges once used to carry mineral railways from nearby collieries, but Britain is renowned for quirky, interesting buildings such as this.  Take them away and what are we left with?  Soulless big enterprises and uniform, characterless boxes serving as houses.

As we walked back down the lane, evidence of the owners determination to develop the site, maintain access points for their diggers and lack of care for aesthetics was clear.


The latest?  Arson has been confirmed.  A petition to rebuild the pub has 7,000 plus signatures.  You can add yours here if you feel so inclined.


Reports I have seen have already tentatively suggested that to rebuild the pub would be difficult and expensive.  But not impossible, surely?  This week Mayor Andy Street said:  "We will not let the Crooked House be consigned to history."  Hope springs eternal.



Panic!

It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...