Farewell to pioneering pub’s champion of beer

Stephen Fearn and Alison Gosling cook up another batch of their award winning food at the Fat Cat pub.
Stephen Fearn and Alison Gosling cook up another batch of their award winning food at the Fat Cat pub.

The Fat Cat pub in Kelham Island will be closed on Tuesday while farewells are paid to its former manager Stephen Fearn, who helped put Sheffield on the map as a haven for beer enthusiasts.

But the place won’t be deserted – far from it.

Stephen’s wake is being held at the Alma Street pub, with staff, regular customers, brewery bosses and more all expected to attend to raise a toast to the real ale pioneer.

“I think the pub’s going to be pretty full,” said the Fat Cat’s landlord Duncan Shaw, who has been leading the tributes to Stephen after his sudden death aged 64.

For more than 30 years Stephen Fearn was the licensee of the Fat Cat at Kelham Island – the pioneering pub that broke away from the big breweries to become Sheffield’s first real ale free house.

During his tenure the pub won numerous awards for its beer and food, and was regularly feted by the Campaign for Real Ale.

Stephen also led the way with the Fat Cat’s ‘no smoking’ room, which was one of the first of its kind in the UK, pre-dating the smoking ban of 2007.

He died at home at his flat in Kelham Island on December 23. It is believed he suffered heart failure.

Duncan Shaw said his death was unexpected.

“We were all a little bit shell-shocked,” he said.

Stephen’s personality was a blend of ‘dry wit’ and a respectful manner, he added.

“He had a wicked sense of humour but he always had old-school respect for people,” said Duncan.

Stephen grew up in Woodseats and Heeley. He ran the bar at the Black Swan, affectionately known as the Mucky Duck, before taking over at the Fat Cat in 1983.

“Stephen shopped around and got different weird and wonderful beers in. Even with all the rejuvenation of Kelham Island, Stephen agreed the Fat Cat should always stay the same – it needed to be a warm, welcoming pub, whether someone had come in once, twice or a thousand times.

He retired eight years ago, but still hosted the Fat Cat’s Monday quiz night.

Away from ale, Stephen was an enthusiastic music fan and gig-goer as well as a dedicated Sheffield United supporter, and followed the Yorkshire cricket team closely.

He was not married, and leaves no children, but Duncan said: “His immediate family was the Fat Cat’s staff and customers.”

Stephen’s funeral will be at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium on Tuesday at 11.15am.