As the name suggests, The Crooked House, a historic pub in England’s West Midlands, had a distinctive feature.
Thanks to mining subsidence, the building had partially sunk into the ground, earning the unofficial name “Britain’s wonkiest pub.”
Visitors from across the world came in for a drink where, if you paid for a pint, your money would appear to roll up the bar.
Not any more.
The 18th-century building was last weekend gutted by fire. Two days later what remained was demolished, and now all that is left is rubble. Police are investigating the incident as possible arson.
The loss of a historic landmark has angered and saddened the local community.
Just two weeks before the fire, the property was sold to a private owner and the local council says it is investigating whether the demolition of the building breached planning laws.
Police said they were working through “a number of lines of enquiry” including looking at CCTV footage, forensic evidence and witness accounts, but said no arrests had been made.
The case has become something of an obsession in the UK press and online, prompting police to also warn about “unhelpful” speculation.
Situated in the village of Himley, near the market town of Dudley, the pub became a landmark due to its lopsided front and interior.
Matt Wright, a Dudley local who says he had his first pint in The Crooked House, told CNN the pub was “the beating heart of Dudley.”
“Whenever you travel around the world and tell ‘em you’re from Dudley, they’ll say, ‘is that by The Crooked House?’ Because it’s been there for nearly 300 years, my grandparents and great-grandparents drank there – it was such an integral part of our community. We were so proud of it.”
After hearing that the building was to be sold to a private buyer “for alternative use” earlier this summer, Wright and other villagers began campaigning to save their historic pub.
Wright co-founded the “Save The Crooked House” campaign group. Online petitions were set up; a Facebook group grew to more than 15,000 members. One group member even suggested writing to King Charles. The villagers rallied around the pub to save the heart of their local community. Instead, they found themselves in a state of near mourning, after the fire and demolition apparently dashed hopes of the pub surviving.
“It’s like a death in the family,” Wright told CNN by phone.
The local council said it was “incredibly saddened by the loss” and was investigating its demolition. West Midlands mayor Andy Street posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, pledging to rebuild the pub “brick by brick.”
As unlikely as it sounds it would not be the first time a cherished pub in England was rebuilt in this way.
Developers in London were ordered to rebuild a pub there after it was demolished, although in that case it was determined to be an illegal demolition. An inquiry specified it be rebuilt “brick by brick,” which in practice meant building it as close as possible to the original, including using salvaged materials.
But in The Crooked House’s case, that appears to be unlikely. A council leader told the BBC that “there is very little left of the original bricks that they could use.”
While much is still unknown about the blaze and subsequent demolition, part of the reason the case has resonated so much here in the UK is that much as pubs are a much-loved institution, many have been closing, often to be redeveloped by new owners.
It has been a tough few years for British pub owners. There has been the ongoing effect of Brexit, the Covid pandemic, and, more recently, soaring energy bills.
Commercial real estate intelligence firm Altus Group told CNN “the number of pubs ‘vanishing’ from the English and Welsh communities that they once served increased sharply during the first 3 months of the year to 51 a month, up nearly 60%, from 2022.”
Sacha Lord, chair of the Night Time Industries Association, told CNN: “The UK needs to do a better job to protect pubs – pubs are community centers in rural areas – if you take that away, communities disintegrate.”