Dick Moy

Antiques dealer and bon vivant restaurateur

Thursday 23 December 2004 01:00

When historic Greenwich became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997, the late-Georgian town centre was rightly included with the more famous " park-and-palace" landscape. If any inhabitants had also been " scheduled", Dick Moy would have been first on the list

Tall, bald and bearded, in appropriate dress Moy would have made a fair imitation of a jovial modern bishop, though his natural talents lay in the bazaar rather than the temple. Once dubbed "Mr Greenwich" by a journalist, he combined enthusiasm for the town's mix of historic grandeur and urban grit with a charismatic business presence in it of nearly 50 years as a general antiques and book dealer, and 37 as a idiosyncratic, bon vivant restaurateur.

An old sign at Spread Eagle Yard - the 1780s coaching-inn frontage that housed his varied fiefdom - proclaimed "This is the shop for wonderful value". So it was - unique and widely known to television and film buyers looking for period kit and costume, or collectors of anything from Roman pottery lamps to pictures, glass, silver, weapons, walking sticks, books and autograph letters, old photos, furniture, theatrical and other ephemera, African masks or a wandering Chinese bronze.

The proprietor was of equal value: sociable, energetic, knowledgeable, astute but also an encourager of interests and ready to make deals that turned regular clients into friends. His persuasive charm could easily double his money during a morning street market and still come away with a vanload to sell. His generous hospitality also had roller-coaster aspects: Christmas roulette at "Casino Moy" was a hazardous highlight of his passion for games.

His own stories included trying to ignore the screams from a back office while paying a trade call on Reggie Kray or, more respectably, the warm reunion of his ex-French Resistance Russian chef, "Madame" Tamara Lecinsky, with Earl Mountbatten of Burma, when the latter once ate at the Spread Eagle. (She had previously been Mountbatten's cook.) Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon were also diners there - Snowdon once hired the place as a film location - as were many names from theatre and entertainment. The painter Betty Swanwick designed menus and John Bratby's portraits of Moy and several of his children were paid for in bibulous dinner bills. Both were local friends.

Born in Brixton in 1932, Dick Moy was the only child of a Chief Inspector in the City of London Police (his mother surviving him). He always wanted to run his own business but at Haberdasher Aske's School, in New Cross, was keener on books, natural history and the country. This later led him to buy a Kent farmhouse that he filled with old furniture, children, and friends for cricket-and-strawberry parties, but eventually had to part with in his second divorce.

On leaving school at about 16 he briefly worked in a bank before National Service in the Army, making sergeant and being sent to the recruiting office in Birmingham - an early sign of his selling abilities. Thereafter he spent several years in City credit insurance before his first wife began a rented bookshop at the Spread Eagle in 1956. His support soon became full-time, expanding into house-clearing antiquery ("grotting" as he liked to call it), with another shop in Chelsea, and doing well shipping large quantities of Victorian chamberpots and similar ware to the United States. He bought the "Spread" in 1964 and launched the restaurant three years later - heroically rebuilding it after two later fires. The worst, during the firemen's strike of 1977, gutted the building.

In the 1950s he was among the first to see the potential of then shabby, industrial, post-war Greenwich and was one of the founders of the influential Greenwich Society. In the late 1960s, when Moy was chairman and Cecil Day-Lewis, the Poet Laureate (who lived opposite the Spread), its first president, the society was instrumental in getting the historic town declared London's first and largest Conservation Area - stemming a tide of short-sighted demolition and plans for driving a relief road through the centre.

Moy remained a passionate and positive champion of local conservation and economic revival to his death, in the Greenwich Society and other bodies, including the official World Heritage Site Steering Group. The Greenwich Theatre, which he tried to revive as an amateur house in the early 1960s, also owed him a debt as first treasurer of the trust that rebuilt and reopened it professionally in 1969. He gloried that Dan Leno, Houdini, Marie Lloyd and other stars performing there in its music-hall days used to lodge at the Spread. In the 1980s he rejoined the theatre board and ran charity auctions for it. His advice also greatly helped the move of Trinity College of Music to the Old Royal Naval College in 2001.

Moy's unstoppability - which his third wife described as "being whisked everywhere as if tied to the strings of a runaway balloon" - concealed the leukaemia that he lived with for over 20 years. Experimental treatment in the last two then vanquished it but also his immune system. Weakened by every passing germ and tirelessly supported by his partner, Lynda Stockdale, he none the less remained characteristically positive and impatient for eventual recovery.

Over 300 people including civic leaders packed his funeral, tacit recognition that his death marked the end of an era in Greenwich that his ebullient personality helped to define.

Pieter van der Merwe

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments