Owner of Gilpin Hotel John Cunliffe passes away


Picture: The Cunliffe family L-R: John, Christine, Ben and wife Rachel, Barney, daughter Xia and wife Zoe.

John Cunliffe, the co-owner of Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, has died aged 76.

He passed away last week after a seven-week battle with cancer surrounded by his family at Gilpin Lake House.

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John ran the five-star Gilpin Hotel and Lake House with his wife Christine and son Barney and wife Zoe, with youngest son Ben and wife Rachel of Ben Cunliffe Architects behind the design development and construction of the two properties.

John had recently had his book published, ‘Slightly Perfect: A Lake District Love Affair’, which detailed his own experiences of the hospitality industry and his story of creating the ‘perfect hotel in an imperfect world’.

All Kindle proceeds from the sale of the book in May will be donated to Hospitality Action.

In a message sent to fellow hoteliers in the Lake District, son Barney said: “We survived terrorism, foot and mouth, 9/11, 2008, hedging, and many other challenges described in Dad’s book, and we all hope that we will do the same after this. It’s a great shame that Dad won’t be able to write the sequel of survival. But, we look forward to opening our doors again and bringing love and laughter back to Gilpin.”

John had a long and varied career in the hospitality industry. John and Christine met at hotel and catering management college in London, before his first job took him to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel after graduating.

When he returned to home soil, he enjoyed a stint at Brown’s Hotel before joining Christine at Trusthouse Forte as catering manager at city caterers Ring & Brymer. He then moved to Café Royal.

Other roles saw him work in Cyprus and Jamaica, where he opened a new hotel, before returning to London to manage Grosvenor House Hotel’s apartments in Mayfair. He then secured a role back with Ring & Brymer in the 1970s and 80s, before John and Christie decided to buy the Hole in the Wall hotel in Bath.

By 1987, the hotel had turned into a ‘complete disaster’ and the couple were eager for a new venture. After spotting an ad in Caterer & Hotekeeper for the B&B Gilpin Lodge, John and Christine put in an offer, and the hotel was theirs.

Five generations of Cunliffes have been involved with both Gilpin Hotel & Lake House. John’s grandmother lived in Gilpin from 1919 and John spent many ‘happy childhood holidays’ there.

The Lake House was still in the family, lived in by John’s father Professor Tony Cunliffe.

Since taking over in 1987, John and Christine have worked tirelessly to create a fine English hotel with family kindness and hospitality at its core.

Son Barney and wife Zoe joined them in 2000 and they have built up the reputation of what is now a five-AA-star hotel, part of Relais and Chateaux, with 25 bedrooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Other son Ben also plays a significant part, having designed and developed many of the hotel’s new spaces, as well as the Lake House and its striking elements, which opened in 2010, while Christine is responsible for the interiors.

In 2016, Gilpin opened five new spa lodges to wide acclaim.  

John says: “Our feeling about running a hotel is that perfection is a big word but a good objective. It’s got to be right and it’s got to be special – every moment. Nothing less will do.”

Tags : Cunliffe familyGilpinhotels
Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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