Tributes paid to 'pioneer' of country house hotel movement

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The woman who established one of the West Country’s most famous country house hotels and restaurants, has died.

Kay Henderson was seen as one of the pioneers of the British country house hotel movement in the 70s and 80s, and opened Gidleigh Park in Chagford with her husband in 1978.

Gidleigh Park has since become one of the top boutiques in the country, boasting a Michelin-star restaurant run by Michael Caines and quintessentially English bedrooms.

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Kay, who died at the age of 74 from cancer, was known for her dedication and hard work, turning Gidleigh Park into one of the UK’s leading hotels with a widespread international reputation.

Originally built in the late 1920s, Gidleigh Park – a mock-Elizabethan property – had been converted from a private home into a hotel in 1955 and was in a poor state of repair when acquired by the Hendersons.

They undertook extensive works before opening and welcoming their first guests.

Kay taught herself to cook mostly from books, before assuming a professional catering role at Gidleigh Park, where in 1981 she is believed to have become the first American woman to achieve a Michelin star.

She continued to cook at the hotel until 1986, before John Webber became the first outside appointment as head chef, followed by Shaun Hill and for the past 21 years, Michael Caines.

The Hendersons sold Gidleigh Park to long-time guests of the hotel, Andrew and Christina Brownsword, in March 2005.

Speaking to Western Morning News, Kit Chapman, director of the Castle hotel, Taunton, said: “The style of Gidleigh was largely down to Kay. The most important thing was that the food had to be good as both Paul and Kay believed that would bring people in – and it did. I remember Kay as having a good sense of humour – she enjoyed having a good time.”

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