Restaurant review with Martin Dawes

Date:13th June 2011.'Wortley Hall, Wortley, near Sheffield.
Date:13th June 2011.'Wortley Hall, Wortley, near Sheffield.
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Take it as red for union of solidarity and good value

“COMRADES, I move the vote be put: That we adjourn for Sunday lunch in the GMB Room.” And so we did at Wortley Hall.

They don’t call this the Workers’ Stately Home for nothing. If you didn’t know its history and wandered into this 18th century country mansion, rescued by the workers as an educational centre, you would quickly pick up the vibes in your search for a roast dinner.

It might be early on if you notice the room rates listed behind reception: the Keir Hardie and Tom Mann suites are £137 (standard are £97).

Perhaps you’d glance at the pamphlets on the table nearby advertising the Anti-Cuts Convention, the Music Fund for Cuba or The Fight Against Austerity.

Or it might be as you walk the brooding corridors lined with pictures with catchy titles such as Angst, Waterboarding, Reagan Tribunal, Ground Zero and In Go(l)d We Trust, exuding an air of Leftie disapproval of everything American.

Surely you would twig this was not as other corporate hotels (in fact, the one word they don’t use of Wortley Hall is hotel) when you wander into the AEU Library and browse the shelves lined with old copies of Hansard, leather-bound volumes of the minutes of the Executive Council of the Electrical Trades Union and The Rambler.

Notice that a door leads off into the Fire Brigades Union Dining Room and another to the Sylvia Pankhurst Library, although this door is disguised as a bookshelf and we never found it.

But, like us, you want your dinner so retrace your steps back into the corridors, to the right of the sweeping staircase they forgot to install when the place was first restored in 1800, and head for the dining rooms.

There are two, the Courtyard and the GMB. We’ve booked, it’s best here, and as I always use an assumed name I reflect I could have chosen something more in keeping like Marx, Wilson or Attlee.

But not Blair, I think. The atmosphere, where the walls are heavy with history and scuffed paintwork, reminds you of the old days of municipal socialism before Clause Four was consigned to the flames.

Could it be that Wortley Hall, the self-proclaimed Oasis of Socialism, represents the last vestiges of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire?

But enough of this reverie. We have booked for 1.30pm and are anxious we won’t have missed the last vestiges of roast beef on the counter. A smiling waitress tells we have table 13 in the GMB. It’s underneath a shield presented by Truswell’s Brewery for the Clubs’ and Institutes’ fishing awards in 1922.

On each of the dozen or so tables in the salmon pink room is a vase with a single red Labour rose.

We are not sure what to do next so the same waitress tells us to buy a ticket for the £10.75 carvery lunch in the bar next door.

Here’s more Leftiness. It is decorated with a framed copy of an article about the hall from the Morning Star, written by Mick Shaw, “the first person to enter the hall through a broken window,” and a poster of a Bolivian revolutionary.

Lunch is good if a little cool. There are two roasts, a moist juicy joint of gammon and another of still blushing pink beef fore rib, carved thickly by the chef. You help yourself to Yorkshire puddings, roast and boiled potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower cheese and carrots. Oddly, there is no stuffing.

There is a vegetarian option although as the chef didn’t know what it was it may not have started life in the kitchen.

It’s two courses here, no starters, and I wonder if this is considered too bourgeois.

We follow with a light, bright, bread and butter pudding, swamped with custard, and a slice of lemon roulade. Good value.

We’re not rushed so there’s time to reflect on Wortley Hall’s history. Once the home of the Wortley family, the Earls of Wharncliffe, it was taken over by the army during the Second World War then went into sorry decline and on to the market.

It was saved in 1949 by the unlikely figure of Vin Williams, from Woodhouse, a former miner turned lecturer sacked from the pits for political activity.

He believed “the working class should own such a building . . . as an education and holiday centre.”

With others he took a lease and the place was bought outright for £10,000 when the then earl died in 1954 and death duties had to be paid. The workers had their stately home.

That’s Vin’s portrait, pipe in hand, in reception.

General manager Johnathan da Rosa says they serve between 80 and 180 Sunday lunches and they’ll have to think about starters. Prices are keen because that is the ethos of the place. Those pictures are on exhibition and don’t belong to the hall.

These days they have to think of other ways of making money to maintain the building, a costly business, and they’re repairing the roof. The hall is now popular as a weddings venue.

We pay our bill, just £24.95 with two halves of the local Wentworth Brewery’s guest beer, and plan to wander through the hall’s 28 acres of grounds, complete with woods and ha-ha, to see the snowdrops.

On our way out we notice cards for the Union Taxi Service. Of course.

* Wortley, Sheffield S35 7DB.

* Tel: 0114 288 2100.

* Open daily. Bar meals, evening meals and Sunday lunch. Credit cards.

* Large car park.

* Website: www.wortleyhall.org.uk

Email: martin.dawes@live.co.uk