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Developers who demolished ‘Britain’s wonkiest pub’ ordered to rebuild

In World
February 29, 2024

LONDON – The Crooked House, a pub in England’s West Midlands that was demolished in 2023 after a suspicious fire, could soon be rising from the rubble after its owners were ordered to restore the pub to its former lopsided glory.

The tavern, known as “Britain’s wonkiest pub” for its slanting walls and floors, was sold to a private developer in July 2023.

About two weeks later, the pub caught fire in a suspected arson attack, and the developers who had bought it brought in the bulldozers.

Locals were outraged. With the support of local politicians, they launched a public campaign to see the building restored and someone held accountable for its destruction.

Now, they may be one step closer to those goals becoming a reality.

South Staffordshire Council, the local authority for the area where the pub once stood, on Feb 27 ordered the owners to rebuild the pub within three years, restoring it using original materials and with its original character maintained.

The council said in a statement that it had “engaged with the owners since the demolition, but has reached a point where formal action is considered necessary.”

An initial attempt to reach the owners by phone and e-mail went unanswered.

The pub, located in Himley, a small village just west of Dudley, was not a listed building, which would have given it legal protection. But it was considered a “heritage asset” and registered on the Historic Environment Record as a building of local importance, according to the council.

Mr Roger Lees, the leader of South Staffordshire Council, said in a statement that a “huge amount of time and resources” had been put into investigating the unauthorised demolition of the pub, and the enforcement order had not been taken lightly.

“But we believe that it is right to bring the owners, who demolished the building without consent, to account,” he said. “And we are committed to do what we can to get the Crooked House rebuilt.”

The building, constructed in 1765 as a farmhouse, began to slouch in the 19th century because of coal mining under its foundations. For generations, its window frames had slanted sideways, and its walls seemed to tilt at a near gravity-defying angle, delighting both patrons and passersby.

Despite its wobbly looks, the building was structurally safe after being shored up by steel bars and other supports. But its fate had become as precarious as its appearance.

In recent years, the pub had faced financial hardship like so many others across Britain in the wake of the pandemic and amid a cost of living crisis.

The developers who bought the building planned to convert it for “alternative uses,” local authorities said at the time. However, a suspicious fire broke out on Aug 3, 2023, partially destroying the building.

Before the locals even had a chance to take stock, it was levelled.

In 2023, Staffordshire Police said it had arrested six people on suspicion of conspiracy to commit arson, but no one has been charged, and those suspects remain on conditional bail.

Mr Marco Longhi, a member of Parliament who represents the area where the pub was based, Dudley North, said the demolition of the beloved pub “shook our community.”

“So it’s fantastic news that an enforcement notice has been served on the owners for demolition without consent,” Mr Longhi said in a statement posted to Facebook on Feb 27.

He added that the owners would be required to “rebuild the site back its former glory, and I will not rest until the Crooked House is built back brick by brick.”

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