FUNERAL DETAILS AT END OF STORY
WHENEVER Chris King passed the crumbling Georgian mansion at the corner of Sharrow Lane and London Road he knew the best way to bring it back to life was as a hotel. The Grade II listed building had been built around 1780 by Master Cutler and scissorsmith John Henfrey on a site then on the outskirts of the city.
Chris didn’t start out as a hotelier, he was a structural engineer. So he knew if a building could be saved. However, as with so much of what happens in Sheffield, he had to battle with a city council which lacked imagination. It took over two years for him and his wife Val to get planning permission for the Charnwood, Sheffield’s first boutique hotel. It lasted for almost 20 years as a popular wedding venue and the focus of much of the city’s good cooking.
The 22-bed Charnwood opened in 1985. Its guests included stars from the World Snooker Championship and comedians Victoria Wood and Mike Harding. It also became the home of two top restaurants, Brasserie Leo and the smaller more upmarket Henfrey’s. Chris was not a man to cut corners. He employed celebrity chef and local lad Kevin Woodford as catering consultant. The Woodford Suite was named after him.
“Chris told me he wanted to do things right,” says Cary Brown, whom he appointed the hotel’s (and the country’s) youngest head chef at 21. He had dropped by to do a two day shift after leaving Claridges and was on his way out when he was offered the head chef’s job, provided he passed a three month’s trial.
Chris sent Cary to Paris to see how things were done there before opening Brasserie Leo. When Cary left, Wayne Bosworth and his sous Marcus Lane made similar trips. The restaurant was designed with banquettes, alcoves, gleaming brass, big mirrors and a splendid bar. Even the coat stands were authentic. And in the kitchen were a dozen copper pans.
The hotel aimed high. A lobster, truffle and veal sweetbread starter was on the menu for £17.95, a fortune, then as now, for Sheffield in the Eighties. Even Cary was worried about the price. “Chris said if it’s worth that, charge it,” he recalls.
He enjoyed his new life. Always impeccably dressed, he and Val could often be seen dining quietly in a corner checking the quality of the food and the reactions of customers.
Other chefs who made a name in the kitchen included Wayne, Murray Chapman and Stephen Hall as head chefs while others including Marcus and Jamie Bosworth, who would both later run Rafters, and Richard Irving also cooked.
While the cooking got the Charnwood into the guides the hotel ran smoothly with Chris and Val at the helm and her sister Ann Sommerfield as duty manager. There were good years then bad as business was hit by a slowdown at the turn of the century. “The economics did not stack up, the economics of a small hotel against a big one,” he said then. Chris tried unsuccessfully to sell the hotel, on the market for £1.3 million.
It closed on Christmas Eve, 2004. The 16 staff were all found jobs, according to Anne. If Chris couldn’t sell the place as a hotel he would turn it into apartments. He supervised the work himself. “I do not want to pay people for what I already know,” he said. The project opened the following year renamed Wisteria Gardens, after the striking mauve and blue flowers which covered the walls. He had planted them a quarter century before.
Val, who predeceased him, died from cancer. Chris also had it but recovered and went to run a smallholding near Lincoln where he planted 2,000 walnut trees. However he returned to Sheffield later and died at Beauchief.
Cary Brown said: “He was a legend and pioneer in the hotel and catering industry. What he brought to Sheffield wasn’t realised until later. If it wasn’t for that hotel Sheffield would not have got on the culinary map until years later.”
#Chris King died on Thursday, 16 November, 2017. Details of the funeral will be announced here shortly.
Picture of Chris King sourced courtesy of Craig Harris.
*The funeral will be held at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium at 1.15pm on Thursday,7 December, followed by a wake at the Double Tree Hilton, Meadowhead.