Just days later, a fire gutted the 18th century building – and days after that, it was mysteriously bulldozed and left in a pile of rubble. Locals, along with the rest of the internet, have been left with more questions than answers. Here’s what we know so far.
The Crooked House, in Himley, West Midlands, stood at the site for nearly 250 years, after it was built as a farmhouse in 1765. In the 1830s, it was converted into a pub, and first named The Siden House, meaning crooked in Black Country dialect.
When Wolverhampton and Dudley breweries bought it, they made it structurally safe in the 1940s, renaming it The Crooked House because of its lopsided appearance.
People from places as far-flung as Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand and the US have travelled for a pint at the famous Black Country boozer.
But in July, the first disaster occurred, after a break-in forced it to close its doors amid thousands of pounds of damage to the inside.
When Marston’s sold the pub at the end of July, it was decried as a “shocking” and “sad” day, with other locals posting on Facebook that it was “a sign of the times”.
Pubs across the UK have been buffeted by rising prices and overheads, and The Crooked House appeared to be the latest victim of a wave of closures across the country.
Marston’s declined to name the buyer at the time of sale, but it has since been reported that Carly Taylor, 34, said to be the director of ATE Farms Ltd, bought the pub after it was listed at £675,000.
Reports also claimed her husband, Adam Taylor, 44, was a shareholder and former director of Himley Environmental Ltd, a company that had a landfill site next door.
The Mail reported that buying the pub was “all about access” and that the landfill company had a longstanding feud with Marston’s overuse of a road to the pub that they shared.
Mr Taylor is also reportedly a former director of ATE Farms Ltd, and he is now claimed to be the director at A T Contracting and Plant Hire Ltd which shares the same address as ATE Farms.
His wife, meanwhile, was reportedly a former director at A T Contracting and Plant Hire Ltd. None of the companies could be reached for comment.
The night of the fire coincided with a planned gig by country band “Gasoline & Matches” – talk about an unfortunate coincidence. The pub had advertised the show before it was shut down and sold.
When firefighters raced to the site late on Saturday, 5 August, they found “mounds of dirt” blocking the road, making access much more difficult. Crews were forced to park about a third of the way down the lane and roll out about 40 lengths of the hose before they could get a water supply to the building.
Chris Green, a fire service veteran of 16 years and watch commander at Tipton Fire Station, said: “When we got there the lads had to work so hard because there were mounds of dirt that had been put in the road blocking the lane. They could have been put there as a security measure.”
The Telegraph reported that one local said intruders had been seen inside the closed pub, and were seemingly partying and listening to music. But police said no one had been inside when it went up in flames.
Police said within days that they were treating the fire as arson. They have reason to believe the fire was started deliberately, they said, and local officers are appealing for information linked to the blaze.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Chisholm, Head of Specialist Crime, said: “We understand the significance of this much-loved building and the upset and anger felt by many so want to reassure you we’re doing all we can to understand more about what happened, and who was responsible.
“There is lots of misinformation circulating within communities and online and this is unhelpful. We’re trying to provide accurate and timely updates, but as I am sure you can appreciate, there is a lot of work and liaison with a number of partners which needs to be completed and this takes time.
“There are also certain things that police and fire do not have the powers to deal with, the decision around partial demolition of the building for example when the scene was handed back to the owner. We are working hard with our fire colleagues to understand the cause of the fire and are in contact with the landowner, we will keep you updated with any further significant developments.”
The council decided to allow a partial demolition of the former pub. Chisholm, however, said: “There are also certain things that police and fire do not have the powers to deal with, the decision around partial demolition of the building for example, when the scene was handed back to the owner.”
Bulldozers then promptly reduced the entire site to rubble, raising more questions as to what was going on. South Staffordshire Council said it is investigating potential lawbreaking. Its officers had carried out a site visit but had not agreed to “the demolition of the whole structure” or deemed that it was necessary.
So now, alongside an arson investigation, the local council is now looking into the decision to knock it all down. Local Dudley North MP Marco Longhi raised questions about the demolition in a letter to the chief constable of Staffordshire Police.
The new owners have bought and gutted a pub before
On 10 August, it was reported that the Taylors bought and allegedly gutted another traditional pub several years before.
Mr Taylor also owns the Sarah Mansfield Country Inn, a pub in the Warwickshire village of Willey around five miles away from their home, The Mail reported.
He bought the pub in 2020 and is said to have ripped out the interior, before council planners issued a 'stop notice' to prevent any further works. It is now closed.
Meanwhile, the boss of the firm which supplied the digger which was allegedly used to knock down the pub has insisted he’s “done nothing wrong”. Lyndon Thomas said he was "not Mystic Meg" – but had he known what was going to happen he would “probably have done something different”.
Thomas told Construction News the excavator had been delivered to the customer – who had an account with the company – a week-and-a-half ago. A driver was not supplied in the deal. He said the customer was paying weekly for the hire but declined to say how much, or name them.
No doubt, fresh details will emerge soon. But until then, the saga continues to have locals and internet watchers alike raising their eyebrows.
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