The Crooked House of Canterbury

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Sir John Boys House, also known as The Crooked House, is a skewed 17th century half-timbered building located at the extreme end of Palace Street in Canterbury, Kent, England. The most noticeable feature is the front door, which leans at an exaggerated angle and was built with severely skewed corners to fit the door frame.

Above the door is painted: ”a very old house bulging over the road…leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below….” Charles Dickens 1849.

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Photo credit: Peter Gasston/Flickr

The inscription was taken from Charles Dickens’ most famous literary work “David Copperfield” from the section where he describes the residence of Agnes Wickfield, where David Copperfield lived while attending school in Canterbury. Although there is no evidence that it was Sir John Boys House that inspired Dickens to pen those lines. There are many houses in Canterbury with projecting upper floors, and that description would fit any of those. Indeed, when Dickens was showing some American friends the sights of Canterbury, and they tried to decide which bulging house was Agnes Wickfield’s residence, the novelist had reportedly laughed and said that several “would do”.

For many years it was believed that Sir John Boys, an MP and the first recorder of Canterbury, lived in the house but later archaeological survey showed that house was built in 1617, five years after Boys' death. Nevertheless, the house continued to be called Sir John Boys House. Sometimes it is also called King's Gallery, or Old King's Shop —names it acquired from the various retail shops that occupied the building. The inscription above the door was added when the building became a bookshop.

The house started to lean as a result of alterations to an internal chimney causing the structure to move sideways. Over the years the lean intensified and the chimney collapsed in 1988. The house would have followed had the City Council and Canterbury Archaeological Trust not intervened. The building is now supported internally by a steel frame, which prevents it from further movement.

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Photo credit: Fotorus/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ivan Lian/Flickr

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Photo credit: Alessandro Grussu/Flickr

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Two postcards from the early 20th century shows a relatively straighter door frame. Photo credit: www.machadoink.com

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The door frame as it appears today. Photo credit: Ramón Cutanda López/Flickr

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The house from the side. Photo credit: bixentro/Flickr

Sources: Britain Express / www.machadoink.com / www.canterbury-archaeology.org.uk / travellingspouse.blogspot.in / The Literary Guide & Companion to Southern England

See more leaning buildings:

crooked-house-windsor

lavenham-houses

santos-leaning-buildings

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