Burned and bulldozed British pub to be rebuilt just as it was — crooked

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As It Happens6:24Burned and bulldozed British pub to be rebuilt just as it was — crooked

When England’s historic Cooked House pub first started leaning to one side more than 250 years ago, it was by accident. 

But now — after the pub was gutted by a mysterious fire, then subsequently demolished — the town council has ordered its owners to rebuild it just as it was, this time on purpose.

“When the news broke, we were all absolutely overjoyed,” James Raybone, a member of the Rebuild The Crooked House campaign, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

“The first victory has been won, but now the battle really starts to make sure that what is on that order actually gets done, and the Crooked House comes back.”

‘People were literally sobbing’

The pub in Himley, England, was originally built as a farmhouse in 1765, but started sinking on one side as a result of extensive coal mining in the area, widely known as the Black Country because of its mining history. 

Around 1830, it became a pub. Ever since, it’s been a popular local watering hole and tourist attraction. 

But in August 2023, Crooked House went up in flames.

The fire, which police are investigating as arson, came two weeks after the pub was sold by pub retailer Marston’s to a company called ATE Farms, which also owns other properties in the area. Three people were arrested and later released on bail in connection with the blaze, but no one was charged.

A display of broken chairs, pieced of a bar, plastic containers and a urinal is erected in front of a pile of debris. Throughout the debris are handwritten signs that read, "Rise from the ashes," More than a pub," and "A crime against the Black Country — happy hour is over."
At the site the Crooked House pub in Henley, England, community members gathered up everything that survived the fire and bulldozers, and created a makeshift memorial to the beloved watering hole. (Submitted by James Raybone)

Two days after the fire left the building gutted — and before a cause could be determined — the new owners bulldozed what remained of the building without authorization.

This, says Raybone, sent shockwaves through the community, and people immediately started gathering at the site of the rubble.

“People were literally sobbing,” Raybone said. “It was an absolutely unique building and suddenly there was just a pile of bricks.”

Support from the mayor

After a lot of outcry from the community, the South Staffordshire Council said in a statement this week that it had “engaged with the owners” and have ordered them to rebuild the pub “back to what it was prior to the fire” by February 2027, or face prosecution for failing to comply.

The notice was served on ATE Farms owners Adam and Carly Taylor and the company secretary. They have 30 days to appeal the notice.

“We have not taken this action lightly, but we believe that it is right to bring the owners, who demolished the building without consent, to account,” Roger Lees, the council’s, president said. “We are committed to do what we can to get the Crooked House rebuilt.”

A man in a suit smiles against the backdrop of a sprawling green countryside.
James Raybone is a member of the Rebuild The Crooked House campaign, a grassroots network that sprang up after a famously lopsided pub in central England was gutted by a fire, and subsequently demolished. (Submitted by James Raybone)

Andy Street, the mayor of the wider West Midlands region who has supported the pub’s reconstruction, welcomed the decision. In a video posted on social media, he said the owners of the bar flouted laws designed to protect heritage buildings. 

“The owners messed with the wrong pub, the wrong community, & the wrong authorities,” he wrote in the same post.

CBC was not able to reach the owners for comment. No contact information is listed for ATE Farms, and the Taylors have not commented publicly on the fire or the order to rebuild.

More than just a pub

Raybone says he and other Black County residents have fond memories of Crooked House.

“It was a place you went with your grandparents. It was a place that when you first passed your driving test, you just took the car and drove there,” he said.

“To the people of the Black Country, it’s a symbol of the Black Country and a bit of their identity.”

It was also, he says, a really odd experience.

“When you first walked in, nothing was straight,” he said. “It was very disorientating. But once you kind of sat down, and got maybe three or four pints in, things got a little better, shall we say.”

Raybone says his work with the Rebuild The Crooked House campaign has shown him the power of community advocacy.

“I think what it showed is that if something really bad happens, the community will galvanize and they will join together,” he said.

“A people power movement … can still make a positive change. And I think that’s really important. It’s brought a lot of people together.”





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