The Crooked House pub – or the Siden House, in Black Country dialect – was one of the “must-see attractions” of the Dudley area, said Guy Kelly in The Daily Telegraph.
An 18th century former farmhouse in the village of Himley, run as a tavern since the 1830s, it was fondly dubbed the “wonkiest pub in Britain”. Subsidence caused by coal mining meant its walls sloped at a 16-degree angle, and had to be shored up by buttresses.
Generations of proud locals loved to show off the famous optical illusion that meant coins or marbles appeared to roll uphill along the bar. As an old Black Country rhyme has it: “Come in an have sum home-brewed ale / Stop as long as you’re able / At a pub called the Siden House / Where the beer runs up the table.”
Now, sadly, this local landmark is gone. It was gutted by fire earlier this month, and “almost as soon as the emergency services had vacated the scene”, the pub was “hastily and clumsily demolished”.
Two centuries of local history have been lost, said Jessica Murray in The Observer. And the more details that have emerged about the episode, the more suspicious people have become.
The fire started weeks after it was sold by Marston’s Brewery to a firm of property developers. Firefighters found the narrow access road blocked by vast mounds of earth, and had to combine 40 hoses to reach the pub from hundreds of metres away. The damaged building was then demolished, less than 48 hours later, without the necessary council permissions.
The fact that the digger used for the demolition had been booked days before the blaze by a company linked to the new owners only aroused more suspicions. Police are treating the fire as arson, but have made no arrests.
A historical ‘fluke’ destroyed
The case has caused a national outcry, said Rowan Moore in The Observer. As well it might: “an unrepeatable fluke of history, a source of wonder and pleasure to so many, has been destroyed”.
Many have called for it to be rebuilt, brick by brick. If arson is proved, giving the culprits “the near-impossible task of putting this architectural humpty-dumpty back together would seem a fair and proportionate punishment”.
Meanwhile, the heap of rubble remaining serves as “an ugly parable” of the fate of the country’s pubs, 50 of which are closing every month, said The Times. Running a pub is an often “thankless” and unprofitable job. And given the “pathetically restrictive planning regime” that makes it so hard to build elsewhere, developers have every incentive to buy a struggling pub for demolition or conversion to housing.
The lesson is clear for all those mourning the fate of the celebrated wonky tavern: use your local before you lose it.