Celebrating 35 years of memories

A HOTEL marked its 35th birthday by turning back the clock for a series of retro events.

The Carlton Park Hotel in Moorgate Road has survived a fire, been dubbed Yorkshire’s most romantic workplace and even provided a home to a popular parrot.

And this month it is putting on a series of shows paying tribute to the pop stars of the past four decades.

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They’ve welcomed performers highlighting the songs of Cilla Black, the hits of Elton John and Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and Shirley Bassey and the retro programme continues next week with a Motown Soul Night.

Back when the hotel opened in 1981, it was Bucks Fizz who were the toast of the nation after landing the Eurovision crown, while flags waved to mark the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Dubbed “the North of England’s most luxurious venue” on its opening, the Moorgate-based hotel gave residents the chance to savour a range of delicacies of the day including Hawaiian cocktails and melon served in port - and that was just for starters.

Its Pavilion Bar was adorned with exotic palm trees and even a parrot cage was installed. The blinged-up birdcage reputedly cost more than £2,000 to build - more than enough to buy a brand new Vauxhall Astra - and was home to a blue and yellow macaw, aptly called Carlton. 

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Jason Gossop, sales manager at the 80-room hotel said: “It’s hard to imagine the excitement there must have been on that opening night as Rotherham gained its first luxury hotel. 

“Today, we employ over 100 people and the hotel has firmly established itself as a prominent local landmark.

“Over the past 35 years, the hotel has had a very colourful history. During our research we unearthed some incredible stories about some of the people who have worked and visited here.”

By the 1990s, the butter-basted dishes enjoyed on the hotel’s opening night had been replaced with much healthier options, seeing the hotel awarded a prestigious Heartbeat award by Rotherham Borough Council for helping to lead the fight against heart disease in the town. 

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In 2001 - two years after the hotel was granted its own civil marriage licence - trouble loomed when parent company Queens Moat House collapsed and the hotel was sold twice before being acquired by family-run Skyland Hotels. 

The new owners invested more than £2 million refurbishing many areas of the hotel as well as expanding its function room facilities. 

All was going well until 2008, when disaster struck. 

A fire which started in the kitchen saw the hotel close for nine months, leaving both staff and the hotel facing an uncertain future. 

The Carlton Park’s owners ignored advice from insurers and kept on all the full-time staff, along with many part-timers, before the hotel re-opened to much acclaim in March 2009.         

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Built on the site of Moorgate House, an imposing Georgian building once home to John Oxley, a founding partner of law firm Oxley & Coward, the building later housed a children’s home, run by Rotherham Borough Council from 1955 to 1970.

Planning permission for a hotel was granted in 1978, and three years later, under the leadership of general manager Emil Malak, the Carlton Park opened its doors, creating 50 new jobs on the site. 

More than 200 people applied for the positions. 

Thirty-five years later, some of those first members of staff continue to work at the hotel today. 

Among them is front office worker Leigh Valentine, who said there was “a real buzz around the place” when she joined the staff a few months after it opened.

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Leigh, who was married at the hotel, said: “Everything has changed over the years, really. I’ve done several roles but have been on the front desk for the past 20 years.

“I can remember when the hotel first opened there was something special about it, there was nothing like it in Rotherham or even Sheffield.

“One thing hasn’t changed. December is as manic as ever - we have something on in every room every day.”

Colleague Jane Harkness, who heads the ten-strong housekeeping team and has been on the staff for over 30 years, said: “It’s enjoyable but mad at the same time.”