For centuries, the sandstone walls of the Punch Bowl Inn greeted passersby on a quiet English country road. Tour guides in Hurst Green pointed out the pub to village visitors: Legend had it that a notorious robber operated out of the pub in the 18th century before he was caught and executed. His ghost still haunts the place, they’d say.
The pub’s story ended, seemingly, in June 2021 when residents learned that the Punch Bowl Inn had been demolished. Outrage followed. The pub was a listed building, a designation in the United Kingdom that protects structures of historical significance.
The Ribble Valley borough council, which oversees Hurst Green, took legal action against the pub’s owner, Andrew Donelan, whose company demolished the building. In early March, authorities rejected an appeal from Donelan’s company and ordered them to rebuild the Punch Bowl Inn within 12 months — using the very stones from the pub’s rubble.
The order “is pretty unique,” Tom Pridmore, Ribble Valley’s tourism officer, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If you could see the pile of rubble, by golly, what a job that’s going to be.”
An attorney for Donelan did not respond to a request for comment.
Donelan’s company, Donelan Trading Ltd., purchased the inn in 2015. The company argued that one of the pub’s chimneys was unstable and in danger of collapse, according to court documents. The Ribble Valley council said that did not justify demolishing the multi-building structure.
The Punch Bowl Inn was once a bustling pub but became less popular as competition in the region grew, Ribble Valley officials said. It had been vacant since Donelan Trading Ltd. acquired it, but it remained a local landmark cherished for its folklore and historic designation.
Then in June 2021, Alison Brown, chairwoman of the Ribble Valley council’s planning-and-development committee, received a call from a resident. Workers were pulling the pub down. Shocked, she sent an enforcement team, but they arrived too late.
“By nine o’clock in the morning, it was just a pile of rubble,” Brown said.
The council took legal action against Donelan’s company. Going to the courts was rare in cases like this, said Killian Garvey, the lawyer who represented the Ribble Valley council.
“In England we’ve got huge amounts of listed buildings,” said Garvey, who specializes in planning law. “We’re very lucky in that respect.”
There are 400,000 listed buildings in England, according to the British government. If they’re demolished, local planning authorities can penalize those responsible, Garvey said.
“That will only work when you’ve got bodies like Ribble Valley being proactive and saying, ‘If you mess around with them, we’ll throw the book at you,’ ” he added.
The Ribble Valley council wanted to set a precedent on behalf of Hurst Green’s “horrified” residents, who were shocked by the speed of the demolition, Brown said. The council ordered Donelan’s company against removing the piles of wood and sandstone from the site. They remain sprawled along the road where the pub once stood.
Donelan and four others were found guilty in December of demolishing the pub, the Lancashire Telegraph reported. In March, an inspector denied an appeal from Donelan and confirmed several penalties, including a fine of about $83,000 and a strict rebuilding assignment.
Ample documentation exists of the Punch Bowl Inn’s layout and construction, Brown said, which Donelan’s company will have to follow closely when rebuilding the pub. The company will submit an assessment of the rubble to determine which materials are still usable in the pub’s reconstruction, which planning authorities will approve, according to court documents.
Brown said the process will probably be costly and painstaking — she estimates much of the stone is still usable.
As for residents upset by the demolition: “I think they feel justice has been done,” she said.
Other councils across the United Kingdom might agree. Garvey said that he’s received inquiries from other groups looking to launch similar challenges after news of Ribble Valley’s victory. Historic England, a government body that manages the preservation of listed buildings, applauded the council for taking action.
“It’s encouraging when heritage crime, like the demolition of the Punch Bowl Inn, is taken seriously,” a Historic England spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. “Demolishing our cherished listed buildings without consent is a crime that impacts the whole community and we hope that this case serves as a deterrent.”