Another blog by Steve Roughton, author of "What really caused the Crooked House to tilt"
Entering the front door of The Crooked House, which leaned crazily to the left, you were faced with another doorway which, although appearing to lean the other way, was upright. Opening the right-hand door, visitors experienced the full force of gravity as they were projected into the bar, via the skew door and uneven floor, only then to confront gravity being defied with balls mysteriously rolling ‘uphill.’ With the contradictory angles, the mind was unable to process true horizontal and vertical axes. It was nigh on impossible to stand upright against one of the walls with your heels against the skirting board. Bets were made. Optimists lost. In the bar, the landlord kept some marbles in a jar which were be used to demonstrate the ‘uphill roll’ on the ledge above the wooden seating to the bemusement of customers. Patrons often returned to show their friends this baffling phenomenon.
Figure 1. The bottle appears to roll uphill, defying gravity.
Figure 2. Gravity restored – the bottle rolls downhill.
Generations of Black Country folk, and many from further afield, made regular pilgrimages to the Crooked Inn for amusement and to test their power of equilibrium. The old photograph in Figure 1 shows the bottle rolling ‘uphill.’ Film footage is also available, demonstrating this strange phenomenon. By correcting the lens distortion in photograph, the true vertical lines are indicated in Figure 2. By projecting the horizontal line at right angles, alongside the tabletop, the mystery is unravelled. True vertical could always be determined from any suspended fittings. In the lounge a drunken grandfather clock, which appeared in imminent danger of falling over, was perfectly upright. Curtains of the same length, draping either side of a window, seemed to be much longer on the downward side. By sighting the eye across the bar counter (horizontal), in line with the seating ledge, the optical illusion could be temporarily dispelled as shown in Figure 3. The brain would process the true horizontal. Gravity restored.
Figure 3. To determine true horizontal.
The overall phenomenon of optical illusion is illustrated below in Figure 4. Inside a crooked house, the brain is disorientated. It processes perceived axes. Outside, with other rectilinear references available, true angles become apparent.
Figure 4. Defying Gravity explained.
With the loss of The Crooked House, two neighbours to keep this mystery alive. Located about five miles from The Crooked House site, another crooked building, saved for the nation, is the Tilted Barrel public house in Tipton. Although considered a less distinguished building than its lost neighbour, forever living in its shadow, the inn has always been a firm favourite with locals, giving the area its identity; a living symbol of its past mining and industrial powerhouse – its ‘essence of place.’ Reluctantly, the Tilted Barrel Inn, protected by Grade 11 listing in 1987, now takes over the mantle of its illustrious departed neighbour as the most crooked inn in the land. Noted by Historic England as:
‘Public House, Mid-C19. The building was affected by mining subsistence at an early stage, when the left-hand side of the façade sank considerably, leaving the left-hand bay and gable wall with a particularly obvious lean.’
Like The Crooked House, The Tilted Barrel is a disorientating structure with wonky doors and sloping floors; where gravity is defied, and balls roll ‘uphill.’ A new landlord, Haych Mann, took over the tenancy in February 2023 with a view to refurbishing by keeping and restoring its original special features. With news of The Crooked House’s demise, the pub will undoubtedly, albeit perversely, attract more trade; the poor relation inheriting its noble descendant’s cultural worth. The landlord has restored the levelled-off floors back to their original slope, mimicking The Crooked House, a sloping shelf rolls pool balls uphill. Playing darts has its advantages to the well-practised home team; a disadvantage to the disorientated visitors.
Where buildings have not been able to be saved in situ, many have been painstakingly disassembled, transported, and reconstructed brick by brick, timber by timber on the museum sites. At The Black Country Museum in Dudley, Jerushah tilted cottage, is one such structure. Built around 1840 at Coopers Bank, Gornal Wood, it was carefully demolished in 1987 and reconstructed at the museum. The design of the cottage is typical Black Country in appearance. In the back vegetable garden, the family kept pigs. Internally the dwelling has been furnished as it would have looked in the 1910’s. The manifestation, the legacy, of coal mining in the Black Country lives on with these two protected buildings.
The demise of the iconic Crooked House, the loss of mystery, leads us all to examine core values; to define ‘what is heritage?’; and to loss and regret, recognising ‘the essence of place.’ The Crooked House was not embraced into the heritage family before it was lost. A sharp lesson for planning authorities and conservation bodies.