Wendy Woodhouse 1944-2022. By Chris Bamford.
It is with great sadness that we are passing on the news that one of the most important, influential, respected, and downright nicest people in the Sheffield pub scene, Wendy Woodhouse, passed away in late September.
Although many already knew Wendy from her many years running a newsagents on Ecclesall Road, and from her many other business interests, she became well known in the real ale scene after opening The Harlequin in October 2006. The Harlequin, in the former Manchester Hotel on Nursery Street, took its name from a much-loved pub on Johnson Street around the corner, which was unfortunately demolished, despite Wendy’s attempt to save it. In typical Wendy fashion, she was not to be deterred and simply bought The Manchester instead, a former Wards pub which had fallen on hard times.
Under Wendy’s stewardship, and later that of her step-daughter Hannah after Wendy’s partial retirement, The Harlequin fast established itself as one of the best real ale pubs in a city not short of such places. Having diligently learnt her craft during a short stint at the Kelham Island Tavern, and through friendship with other highly respected Sheffield publicans, the pub soon became famed for its beer festivals and vast array of new and rare beers from around the country, as well as local favourites. Before long, the pub was the recipient of several CAMRA awards. Characteristic of Wendy’s dedication to authenticity, there was also a nod to the history of the building’s past life as The Manchester, in being one of the few places still serving John Smith’s Magnet on cask.
Driven by Wendy’s love of rock and roll, the pub hosted regular live music nights, including frequent performances from Sheffield’s legendary guitarist Frank White. There were quiz nights, folk music sessions, good value food at lunch time, and a function room hosting all manner of events, emphasising another of the values Wendy held most dear – community spirit.
Perhaps the story from the Harlequin that best reflects Wendy’s sheer determination was the fact the pub, despite being located only a road width away from the banks of the Don, did not close during the 2007 floods – a fact of which Wendy was most proud. This is reflected in this correction issued in an online local history group when it was suggested otherwise:
“The information you give about The Harlequin during the Flood is incorrect. I was the licensee at the time and the pub did not close, not even for one day. I continued to trade the whole time by selling Kellham Island Brewery bottled beers. The pub and cellar were cleared and cleaned, the cellar sanitized and re-equipped and up and running with cask ale by Friday the 6th July. On Saturday the 30th June we catered for a couple who were celebrating their joint 50th and 60th Birthdays, again with bottled beers but it was nonetheless a huge success. By the way its original name was the Manchester Lincoln and Sheffield Railway Hotel.”
Wendy was never one for taking it easy, and after leaving The Harlequin it wasn’t long until she popped up behind the bar of another of Sheffield’s resurrected pubs. Shortly after it reopened, she fast became a weekend evening fixture behind the bar at Shakespeares on Gibraltar Street. With Wendy entertaining the regulars, many of whom came specifically to see her, she was always on hand to provide advice, parkin, and support. It wasn’t long before Shakespeares, as the Harlequin had before, established itself in Sheffield’s beer scene. She was part of the team when Shakespeares won Sheffield CAMRA Pub Of The Year in 2013, and kept her regular shift up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
Not content with this already impressive impact on the pub industry, 2018 saw the start of another chapter in the story of Wendy’s influence. After thwarted attempts to save a couple of other Sheffield pubs (sadly now lost to us), Wendy bought the building housing the former Crown Inn on Scotland Street, then operating as The Sleep Hotel.
With significant investment, not to mention her drive, resourcefulness and experience, this has become The Crow Inn, which opened in June 2019. With Wendy available for assistance, advice and with her unwavering enthusiastic support behind the tenants, this too has become an award winning pub, and seven room hotel. In fact, The Crow will be presented with its second CAMRA Pub of the Month award on Thursday 3rd November, an occasion of which Wendy would have been immensely proud.
Most people would be content to be involved in one award winning pub. To have been part of three, which have in many ways helped shape the evolution of the real ale and craft beer scene in Sheffield, is testament to the sheer energy with which Wendy approached everything throughout her life. She will be sorely missed.
About Wendy and Me
I first spoke to Wendy on Christmas Eve 2007, when she called me to ask if I still wanted a job at The Harlequin, after having dropped in my CV a couple of months earlier. Soon I was being trained in her diligent methods on the bar and in the cellar as I worked with Wendy through the handover to her step-daughter Hannah in 2008. Wendy kept a watchful eye on proceedings over the next couple of years from her shifts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays while I became assistant manager. While I was the general manager of Shakespeares I hired Wendy (in as much as anyone could ever hire Wendy) once she left The Harlequin. After we took over the running of The Rutland Arms, myself and Kate accompanied Wendy to auctions and near-derelict buildings on her quest to find one more pub. We worked closely alongside Wendy during the refurbishment transforming the Sleep Hotel into The Crow Inn, and are the current tenants there. Without Wendy’s guidance, advice, support and more, I very much doubt I’d have the career I have in this industry.