The name should be warning enough, but the first sight of the Crooked House is still disorientating. Getting there involves following a narrow track through an isolated patch of woodland, under a dismantled railway and through what was once the mining heartland of Himley, Staffordshire. ‘Mind the bend, or yul be in the cut,’ warns a chalk sign, ‘cut’ being the Black Country word for canal. Waiting at the end of the path is the wide, brick face of the Crooked House. Its walls are tilted at an angle of 16 degrees – four times that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
‘You get used to it after a while,’ says Mark Edwards, barman at the Crooked House. ‘It’s only when we have a new staff member that we realise how much we have to steady ourselves against the walls of the corridors.’ The floor and bar itself have been levelled off, making the walls and large windows seem all the more skew-whiff. For visitors, Edwards often rolls a marble on the table, which appears to move uphill thanks to the room’s strange aspects. Meanwhile, getting to the lounge involves walking downhill because the lounge side is four-foot lower than the bar.
‘It is the cheapest place to drink,’ says a Wolverhampton local. ‘You feel pretty far gone after just one.’
The tilt comes from a bad case of subsidence. The building, once a farmhouse, lies on the boundary of an estate heavily mined for coal in the 1800s. The ground was hollowed out to such an extent that the south side of the boundary began to slump, bringing the building with it. In 1830, it became known as ‘The Siden Arms’ – ‘siden’ meaning crooked in the local dialect.
The Black Country spans the region northwest of Birmingham roughly covering Dudley, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. Its name is thought to derive from the 30-foot-thick coal seam that lies close to the surface – or belching from industrial smoke. Mining for coal, sand, clay and limestone was common across the area. Though this dried up in Himley in the early 20th century, the pub continued to subside. In the 1940s it was considered too dangerous and closed to the public. Luckily, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries saved the building by installing brick buttresses, wedging it in place on the south side. ‘We now have glass filaments installed over cracks to monitor whether or not the building is moving,’ says Edwards, quickly adding, ‘just in case.’
This was published in the January 2019 edition of Geographical magazine
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