The destruction of the “UK’s wonkiest pub ” has caused uproar and heartache, so in bloody-minded denial that last orders had been called, I went down for one last pint.
The Crooked House in Himley, Staffordshire, has become a key battleground in recent weeks with Brits expressing their anger at heritage being knocked down.
The beloved boozer caught fire on August 5 with two men from Milton Keynes, 66 and 33, having since been arrested on suspicion of arson.
Police investigations into how the fire started are ongoing and whatever the outcome of that may be, standing over the rubble is a town mourning the loss of both a historically significant building and an authentic community hub.
The road to the Black Country boozer was eerily quiet as I made my way down, passing by witty yet biting placards that stressed the resentment people felt about the situation, which saw the gutted remains of the building demolished shortly after the fire broke out.
“Happy hour is over,” read one. “Mama weer [sic] all crooked now,” another.
One clever protestor had simply attached a burnt placard to a stake and shoved it into the ground.
The sun was out as I walked down the twisting lane, lined with greenery and the smells of nature while in my head the only thought: “Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a boozer at the end of this stroll?”
Once upon a time, rounding the final right-hand bend, I would have been met with the sounds of a summery session – all cheers and laughter floating on the warm August air.
Not today though – instead birdsong was drowned out by the clangs and crunches of mechanised hydraulic machinery as workers picked at the rubble like a fussy child would over their steak and kidney pie.
A fence had been erected across the road and at this dead end, a small group of Crooked loyalists stood watch over the process.
The atmosphere was subdued, the odd news team and politician moving between the watchers, who turned out to be semi-organised activists part of a Facebook group working to get the inn back on its uneven feet.
At the time of writingSAVE THE CROOKED HOUSE (LET'S GET IT RE-BUILT), has 22,000 members.
Despite the sombre atmosphere, I had come here with a job to do – one that any right-minded pubgoer is well familiar with – stay until last orders had been called.
Pouring myself a cool lager picked up from the petrol station at the end of the lane, along with packets of pub favourites Smith’s Scampi Fries and Bacon Fries, I settled in for a session.
A cold one in hand, I chatted with the watchers while desperately trying to imagine I was a few yards up the track standing over a wooden bench, the smells of pub grub and cigarette smoke wafting on the summer air.
I got speaking to a pair of women, teachers giving up their summer holidays, who had laid out a picnic blanket right by the gate and it was then it became clear how much this place means to the local area.
“I got married here. We wanted a pub wedding, we wanted something really different,” said Gema Edwards-Smith.
“We wanted a party with our friends where they could drink and be happy and it was just the most memorable day and it was the most perfect place for that. It was wonderful.”
“It’s very much been the heart of the community for a long time,” explained Hayley Mason.
The pair were very local, “from literally up the road,” and had felt the loss of the boozer viscerally, attending the scene from around half eight every morning they could.
“We’re here to make sure everything is as it should be,” Hayley continued.
“Long term we want it rebuilt, we need the bricks, we need everything salvaged as much as we can so we stay here and,” pointing behind me, “the gentleman in the van stays overnight to try and protect it as much as we can."
They explained that members of the Facebook group came and went often, updating one another and taking it turns to keep watch over their local.
Gema added: “I think that’s the biggest thing, the protection of everything that’s still here needs to stay here so we know where it is when the rebuild does happen – and I’m confident it will – everything’s where it should be.”
They had sat in front of lorries trying to come in and out, not moving until, “I’d had the go-ahead from [Tory MP for Dudley North] Marco Longhi saying work’s stopping, nothing’s going to happen until we’ve seen a plan of action.”
Mr Longhi was there with a camera crew as we spoke, signing a placard of names supporting the cause.
He seemed in a hurry so I didn’t offer him one of my cold ones, but between him, Hayley, Gema and the thousands more desparate for the pub’s reconstruction, maybe mine won’t be the last beverage sipped at the Crooked House after all.
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