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.



12 comments:

  1. What a fantastic post, Claire! Impassionately written and excellent photographs.
    A vast amount of Walsall's heritage - wonderful listed industrial buildings - has been destroyed by mysterious fires over the years, as soon as the news broke about The Crooked House a couple of people on Facebook commented - it looks like Walsall Council's Arsonist ventured further afield.
    I'm probably the only person who never visited The Crooked House. I wonder if it will be possible to rebuild it as they did with The Elephant & Castle at the Black Country Museum.
    I knew it wouldn't take long for Andy Street to pop up in his hard hat. He loves a bit of publicity so, with the news going worldwide, I hope he acts. xxx

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    1. Thanks Vix.
      That's awful about the buildings in Walsall. Sadly it's the same here...not always arson, but quite often uncaring councils (Dudley Hippodrome is being dismantled as I type).
      Unfortunately the Black Country Museum is in no position to fund a Crooked House project - they've already put out a statement. I suppose they would also struggle to house another pub, particularly one that would better fit in the Victorian part of the site.
      Andy Street does love to be in front of the camera doesn't he? I'm just hoping someone takes note...xxx

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  2. a very sad story!
    but it must get told - again and aigan. because this happens again & again everywhere..... here they destroyed a listed(!) early baroque house for the driveway of a supermarket parking lot and the monument protection authority looked the other direction.
    i´m for a big punishment for the landowner - they should pay for the whole rebuild which will hopefully happen........
    you made very touching photos my friend!
    hugs
    xxxx

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    1. That's outrageous that they destroyed a listed building. How on earth did they get away with that?!
      You're absolutely right of course, but it does feel that this region in particular, is undervalued. Perhaps it's because it's largely industrial heritage. When a similar thing happened to a pub in London, those responsible were made to rebuild it brick by brick. I very much doubt that will happen here. One local councillor has already unhelpfully chipped in and expressed his opinion that it's too difficult to rebuild. It's not even his jurisdiction!
      Thank you! xxx

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  3. How absolutely appalling ... I really have no words. I'm sure it's no consolation that it's happening everywhere. There used to be an old farm which was a well-known and loved local landmark in a town near to us. In spite of ongoing protests, it was illegally demolished by a developer in 2001. He got sentenced for it twice, though, and was made to rebuild the farm, which he eventually did. Another developer legally demolished one of the oldest pubs in our village under the pretext that he would incorporate a replica of its façade in the building - a small and nondescript block of flats - which was put up in its place.
    Money does get away with everything here as well. Hardly anything is left of the village I knew when I was growing up here ... xxx

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    1. It's really shocking. The Crooked House is clearly symptomatic of a bigger problem.
      Really sad that the place you call home has become unrecognisable over time. xxx

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  4. Oh, that sounds HIGHLY suspicious - and how sad that the owners just felt they could do whatever they wanted if they threw enough money at it. We see similar things happening in my city (a beautiful mid-century modern tiled fountain to be destroyed for a freakin' water park that no one wants??). I'm with you on this, Claire. It makes me angry. Thank you for the photos and the story!

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  5. I was utterly shocked when I saw the news about the fire, but the deliberate knocking down of the building? That just left me speechless! The fact that the owners have done similar things before just shows their utter disregard and disrespect for heritage and other people.

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    1. Totally agree Nikki. This kind of thing sadly happens all too often, but I feel like a line has been crossed now!

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  6. Shame on the money grabbing landowners. It was not surprise to see at the end that arson was confirmed. An all too common story - one my dad often shares from his years in the fire brigade (his close friend and work colleague was an expert fire investigator and always worked out the cause!). Super photographic documentation Claire on the unravelling chain of events xXx

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    1. Thanks Lulu! Even more bizarrely, I have recently discovered that the last band booked to perform there (on the night of the fire, so presumably booked by the dodgy owners) were called Gasoline and Matches! xxx

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