Hotelier, industry activist and bon viveur Somerset Moore dies at 76

23 December 2019 by
Hotelier, industry activist and bon viveur Somerset Moore dies at 76

Hotelier, industry activist and bon viveur Somerset Moore has died at the age of 76 from cancer.

Through a career spanning more than 50 years, Somerset Moore was best known as the owner of Flitwick Manor in Bedfordshire and the Painswick hotel in Gloucestershire, as well as contributing to the wider industry through his involvement with the British Hospitality Association (the forerunner of UKHospitality), Young Chef Young Waiter competition and Cotswolds Finest Hotels. In addition to being a trained chef, he was renowned for creating, with his first wife Hélène Etchats, a succession of beautifully designed ventures.

Born on 29 September 1943 in Weston-super-Mare, Moore was inspired to enter a career in hospitality having seen the young general manager of the Lygon Arms in Broadway, Worcestershire, enjoy an enviable lifestyle, including driving a Daimler. He reasoned that if a job in the business brought such benefits at a young age, he would give it a go.

Moore studied catering at Gloucestershire College, where he would later return as a guest lecturer.

After marrying Hélène in 1965, the couple were appointed to run the Sun Inn in Kelvedon, Essex. However, realising that he needed more kitchen experience, he decided to apply for a job as junior commis chef on the soup section at Prunier's fish restaurant in St James, London. Here he rose to the position of chef de partie on the fish section, where he enjoyed cooking for actors and from the nearby theatres, including his favourite actor Alec Guiness.

With more experience as a chef under his belt, Somerset and Hélène advertised themselves in The Caterer as an enthusiastic couple looking to run a business. The result was their appointment as the manages of the Pheasant Inn in Keyston, Cambridgeshire, where they doubled the turnover of the pub in the first three months.

Other ventures followed including the White Hart in Flitton, Bedfordshire, (ten years), Flitwick Manor (six years), Paniswick (six and a half years) and the Old Passage Inn in Arlingham, Gloucestershire, which was sold in 2007.

Flitwick Manor was renowned for being transformed from a privately owned house into a country house hotel with 19 bedrooms. The restaurant within the hotel opened just six weeks after the Moore's bought the property. Anticipation was so high that 120 guests turned up on the first night when only 60 had booked. No one was turned away.

Moore's flamboyant style opened doors to a number of collaborations with the nearby Woburn Golf Club including the International Dunhill Masters and the launch of the debit card Barclay Connect at which event two low-flying jets cruised over the manor alongside a fireworks display. The combination of the two brought over 300 complaints.

Numerous activities in the wider industry saw Moore involved as a founder member of the British Hospitality Association, with which he worked hard at promoting the sector and campaigned for menus to be written in English rather than French. He was also involved in the early years of the Young Chef Young Waiter competition, both as a judge and chairman. From 1998 onwards he was involved in launching Cotswold Finest Hotels (CFH), holding the position of chairman until earlier this year.

Chris Dee, tourism manager for the Cotwolds for six years, and more recently a freelance hotel marketing consultant, said that Somerset ran the CFC with "creativity" and "great humour" as he helped grow the membership of the organisation and help it adopt to a digital world.

"He made inspection visits, didn't hesitate to decide if a hotel wasn't quite right for the group and involved himself in other ambassadorial roles, from local media to his long campaign for a reduction in the VAT rate for hospitality," he added.

"Somerset later took enthusiastically to reviewing hotel restaurants to provide a unique set of informed and very readable reviews for the Cotswold Finest website. He was a knowledgeable commentator on both the Cotswolds and local food scene and he once said that assembling these reviews was one of the most pleasurable things he had done in his career. He was a man who loved both hospitality and, especially, conviviality."

Gareth and Helen Pugh, who bought the Painswick hotel from the Moore's and then went on to run the Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge, near Bampton, Oxfordshire, summed by Moore's character as "a bon viveur, the largest of characters" who was "always first with a witty anecdote and the very best of company". When Gareth once met Moore dressed in "his finest silk dressing gown" at 11am on a Sunday morning in Londis, Moore explained: "A gentleman never dressed before midday."

The Pughs added: "Somerset's knowledge of cuisine, the finest hotels, the best spots for fishing was second to none - he lived life to the full and left no stone unturned where fun was concerned.

"He was incredibly supportive when we bought the Painswick hotel from him, always popping in for a glass of Champagne when we had won an award, our successes were his successes and we were enriched because of it.

"He knew everyone, had the skill of always making you feel that you were the most interesting person he had ever met, he was the epitome of hospitality."

Richard Ball, executive chairman of Calcot Hotels, the current owner of Painswick, added: "Somerset was one of the pioneers of the country house hotel and a passionate champion for our industry. He was a loveable character that will be missed by many."

Somerset Moore is survived by his first wife of 40 years, Hélène, three children, Josephine, Magnus and Raoul, and a sister Tess. He was married and divorced for a second time.

Somerset Moore, 29 September 1943-19 December 2019

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