To Hathersage to celebrate the 520th anniversary of Eric and Elizabeth – and George. There’s champagne, free scoff and, entirely unexpectedly, a blessing from a bishop thrown in. Perhaps I’d better explain.
Eric is Eric Marsh and Elizabeth is his wife. You may know Eric from the Cavendish Hotel, Baslow, which he still runs for the Chatsworth estate, or the George Hotel, which he owns, in Hathersage. If you have a bob or two you probably know him from both.
It is 20 years, sort of, if you count the sales negotiation time, since Eric bought what he describes as a “rundown pub with rooms and a toilet with a condom machine” and turned it into a plush three star hotel. A fourth star is being negotiated. The George is “ like the Cavendish but without the view,” is his sales pitch for the hotel he refers to as his pension fund.
Now here comes the PR spin. If this was the 500th anniversary of the George it would have been built in 1515 and the furthest Eric can go back with the deeds is the 1700s. A couple of centuries have gone missing but Eric feels in his heart they are there.
So here’s the challenge he gave the 80 guests who had been consuming the Yorkshire fishcakes, smoked salmon sushi and tomato shots provided by head chef Helen Prince and her team and champagne courtesy of John Hattersley Wines of Bakewell: to bring him documentary evidence of the existence of a building on the site from the 1500s.
He’s offering a reward of either an overnight stay with breakfast in one of the 24 bedrooms or a case of champagne. “But not both,” he says hurriedly.
Eric, so far as I can tell the only hotelier in Britain who also flies and builds his own aeroplanes, has been in the hospitality business for 50 years. In the nicest possible sense, he’s a throwback to the days when the personality of the manager was as important as the hotel he ran, and not a faceless cipher behind a corporate name badge.
He encourages loyalty from his customers. As far as he can he greets each guest personally. I’ve seen him work a dining room greeting perfect strangers as old friends. And that old fashioned courtesy seems to work with the staff. Many of the 24 employees at the George have been with him, either at Hathersage or in Baslow, for years.
Another reason for the gathering was to ask some of his best customers to recommend the George to their friends in a new loyalty rewards scheme still having the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But you can be sure it will live up to his mantra: “Success is proportionate to the effort involved.”
The George, as befits a venerable building, is full of steps and stairs and long corridors. We tour the rooms with Anne-Marie Milne, the head housekeeper, and admire the £200 a night honeymoon suite with four poster, a standard room and one of the £90 a night budget rooms. Rates will alter shortly to charge for room only with breakfast as an optional extra.
Eric Marsh is not unused to showmanship but even he is taken by surprise when one of his guests, a retired bishop, asks to bless the hotel and all who work and stay in it. So we pause, heads bowed, for what Eric admits is a first for him.
We leave with goodie bags containing a recipe for muesli and a jar of head chef Helen’s marmalade and a quest: to discover George’s missing centuries and rustle up some more guests for Eric.
PS: The George does a good Sunday lunch. Here’s my review from the Sheffield Star last year: http://www.thestar.co.uk/features/food-drink-cavendish-lite-george-an-annual-lunch-treat-1-6782479