It’s hello to John and goodbye to Eric

Changes at two Hathersage venues. MARTIN DAWES reports

John Parsons: back in Hathersage

JOHN PARSONS has taken over as head chef of Hathersage Social restaurant, replacing Cary Brown who has left to pursue a new venture in Sheffield.

Cary enigmatically announced on Facebook that the business, previously known as Earnshaw & Brown at Hathersage Social, was now simply Earnshaw.

For John, who had been cooking at the quirky staff canteen at Breedon Cement Works, it was a chance to return to his home village, where he has worked at different venues over the years.

Breedon was perhaps the only canteen which served tomatoes on toast with za’atar spices, Japanese noodles and other world foods and was also open to all-comers.

It had been a nice little number, acting as a base for outside catering, until Covid restrictions barred the canteen to its own workers. John survived by cooking takeaways for the surrounding villages.

“It’s been two and a half years since I have been in a serious kitchen and did I feel it!” he said on his first day back. His first menu has John Parsons written all over it from the beef cheek Marmite and sauce gribiche to the much-copied Three Little Pigs ‘with pig sauce.’

Owner Earnshaw diplomatically declines to discuss past events althoiugh he did say he had sold his Aston Martin to tide restaurant and staff over during Lockdown in the absence of furlough funding. Instead he enthuses about the menu including “a spectacular Paris Brest.”

Lisa Everest, known to many from years front of house at Yankees on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, will manage the restaurant.

Eric Marsh: bishop blessed his hotel

ERIC MARSH has sold the three star George Hotel which he took over a quarter of a century ago as “a rundown pub with rooms and a toilet with a condom machine” and turned into a plush three star hotel.

It is now being run as a companion hotel to The Maynard at Grindleford, owned by care home millionaire Peter Hunt, and Maynard general manager Rob Hattersley has taken over the lease.

Eric. who jokingly referred to the George as his pension fund, for many years also ran the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow on behalf of the Chatsworth Estate. Observers referred to the George as Cavendish-lite; he himself called it as “like the Cavendish but without the view.”

One of the old school, he encouraged loyalty in both staff and customers. He could work a dining room with consumate ease, leaving guests feeling they had known him for years, not minutes.

Very much hands on, it was his voice you heard on the recorded announcement if you rang while reception was engaged.

Outside the hospitality business he built and flew his own aeroplane.

At both the Cavendish and George, he had a gift for public relations and PR spin. A few years ago, to drum up business, he threw a party to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the latter. That would date it from 1515 but the earliest records are from the 1700s.

Nothing daunted, he offered an overnight stay to anyone who could come up with documentary evidence to back his claim. As far as is known the prize was untaken. But he did get the George blessed by a bishop.

Rob paid tribute to Eric as “an inspiration for Derbyshire hospitality for many years.”

Champagne with George – and a blessing from the Bishop

Eric and Elizabeth Marsh cut the 520th anniversary cake

Eric and Elizabeth Marsh cut the 520th anniversary cake

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:


Head housekeeper Anne-Marie Milne and Eric welcome guests into the kitchen

Head housekeeper Anne-Marie Milne and Eric welcome guests into the kitchen

The George Hotel at Hathersage

The George Hotel at Hathersage