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Old world Kenya of Christine Nicholls

The Kenyan World of Christine Nicholls

I have borrowed these delightful snippets from a blog by Christine Nicholls (and others). I have written to her and hope to have a chat online. I enjoyed them and I hope you might too.

 

The Sunday Post

 

John Rathbone: Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer

| Sep 12, 2019 |

Storekeeper and Newspaper Pioneer Few will remember the Dewdrop Inn at Rumuruti, but the newspaper the Sunday Post will ring many a bell. One man was responsible for both endeavours: John Sylvanus Rathbone. Clutching a map provided by the Land Office, in 1920 Rathbone walked from Thika in the direction of what became known as Nanyuki, excited by the prospect of developing a well-watered farm. The streams and rivers on the map, and its injunction preventing the structure of any wharves, landing stages or ferries, proved to be illusory. Instead, Rathbone opened the first duka in Nanyuki, calling it Township Stores. Rathbone was born in Sheffield on 25 Nov 1963 and was given the names John Silas. One of his first jobs was as a private tutor and elementary teacher in Sheffield, and there he met Emma Lucie Brenner, a language teacher born in Germany, but of Swiss nationality and a scion of the famous family for which the Brenner Pass is named. They married and soon had a son and a daughter. The daughter, born in 1906, seems to have provoked a breakdown because we find Emma Lucie in ‘South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum’ that year. The child lived only three years. At the start of World War 1, Rathbone joined the army and fought in the German East Africa campaign. Of literary bent, he started a magazine for the troops called ‘Doing’.  He was assisted in this enterprise by fellow soldiers George Kinnear (later editor of the East African Standard), and Herbert ‘Pop’ Binks, who called his column ‘What Binks Thinks.’ Returning to England after the war, Rathbone decided...

 

Who remembers ‘Miranda’s Merrier Moments’ in the Sunday Post?  It was a gossip column, at one time written by ‘Mugs’ Muggeridge, a secretary working for Shell. She had a lively social life and so was well placed to write the column. The column concerned itself with naming those attending social events and describing their clothes. In the 1940s people wore long dresses, even for a drink in the evening. People wanted to be named in the column but the newspaper got into trouble sometimes and was sued for defamation of character. Mugs called the newspaper the Sunday Pest. For £10 a month Mugs lived in Torr’s Hotel in Delamere Avenue (now Kenyatta Avenue), almost new in 1930 when she arrived in Kenya. Nobody would use the hotel lift because a cheetah was kept in it. Delamere Avenue was then made of murram and was full of holes – people needed chains on their cars to get along it in the rainy season. They came to Torr’s for the nightly dances, where Micky Migdoll and his band played. The Claremont was another dance floor at the time. As for the New Stanley, it was a much staider hotel than Torr’s. Torr’s closed in 1958 when the building was taken over by the Ottoman Bank. Does anyone know what happened to Mugs? In 1987 she was she was eighty-eight years old and living in her flat in Muthaiga. And can anyone help with enquiries about Henry Murrell, of Motor Mart in Eldoret? He died in 1948. What sort of a man was he?...

 

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi?

 | Oct 23, 2017 |

When did Electricity Come to Nairobi? In order to supply electricity for lighting and power in the district of Nairobi, the Nairobi Electric Power and Lighting Company Limited, with a capital of £30,000, was founded in February 1906. Its originator was Clement HA Hirtzel (misspelt Hertzel in most sources), who had arrived in East Africa from South Africa in January 1904. Described as ‘a penniless counter-jumper from the Cape’ by McGregor-Ross, Hirtzel had actually been born in Exeter and had obtained engineering qualifications. He also had a motor car and motor cycle business in Nairobi, where he lived at Parklands, and he obtained a farm at Limuru. He was awarded an OBE and became a freeman of the city of Exeter, to which he later retired. In April 1904 Hirtzel obtained a concession for fifty years from the Governor, Sir Charles Eliot, to supply Nairobi with electricity. He signed a draft contract to do so in 1905, and set up a company named the Nairobi Power and Lighting Syndicate. Charles Udall was chief engineer and the managing director was RC Bayldon, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who later became chairman of Nairobi’s Chamber of Commerce. The general scheme was to generate electricity by means of water power, then running to waste, to supply Nairobi and the surrounding country. In November 1906 the company chose to use the first fall on the Ruiru River below the Fort Hall road, some 18-½ miles by road from Nairobi. A bungalow for the engineer was erected near the site of the works and the task of damming the river was undertaken....

 


The Donovan Maule Theatre

 

| Jun 19, 2017 |

The Donovan Maule Theatre Many of you will remember Nairobi’s Donovan Maule Theatre. My abiding memory is of us Kenya High School girls trying to persuade our headmistress, Miss Stott, to let us go to see Lock up Your Daughters there in 1960. She eventually relented. Who were the couple who founded the theatre? Donovan Maule was born in Brighton on 24 June 1899 and his wife Mollie was born in London on 24 June 1897. Both came from theatrical families and toured the country with their parents. They were married in 1920. Donovan Maule joined the army in World War II and ended his army career in Egypt as director of drama, Middle East Land Forces. He and his wife Mollie then sailed to Kenya. They docked in Mombasa on 4 September 1947 and made for Nairobi, but found that the theatres there had all been converted to cinemas during the war. They proposed to start a professional repertory company in Nairobi and began by doing a broadcast for Children’s Hour at the Cable and Wireless transmitter at a tiny studio at Kabete. They had to make all their sound effects. To make ends meet they began their drama school using space in front of the screen at the Capitol cinema. Their first play was The Dear Departed. The Theatre Royal had become the Cameo cinema but the Maules decided that this was a better venue for them, though they could only use it for matinees so that films could be shown in the evenings. They began to build their  theatre in 1949 –...

 

 

An Eccentric East African Hotelier

| Feb 22, 2016 |

An Eccentric East African Hotelier   If you crossed the Kenya border into Uganda in the 1940s you came across a rather dilapidated building with a faded tin roof, half a mile from the border, at Tororo. On a board, it announced itself as a bar: ‘Prop.: H.H. Aitken. Licensed to sell liquor to whom, how, and at what hour he pleases.’ You entered a dark room, with a bar displaying bottles of liquor behind it. Bottles of beer were in an icebox in the corner, and there was a price list. Customers were invited to leave money in a bowl on top of the bar. There was also an invitation to answer calls of nature behind the house.   If you desired to stay, you were presented with this price list: Tororo Hotel, Tororo, Uganda, Prop.: H.H. Aitken, P.O. Box 9, phone 8. Per day single room shillings 17.50  double room   32.00 Dinner, bed, bath, morning tea and breakfast. Visitors who do not bath, 2 shgs extra. (There were also prices for meals and board terms for four to six days and for a week.)   After this was proclaimed: Nuisances: Children: In proportion to food and accommodation, Noise and Nuisance to Visitors and/or the Proprietor. Livestock: Dogs and other fleasome beasts and Birds are not allowed in the hotel. Servants: Cannot as a rule be catered for. Corkage is charged on Visitors’ own Wines, Spirits and Beer Golf free to hotel visitors   This strange establishment was the brainchild of Herbert Henry Aitken, a man who was a legend on both sides of the border. Who...

 


Sneak Preview: Horse Racing in Kenya

by Shel Arensen | Feb 16, 2016 |

Old Africa has been working for over two years on a project covering over 100 years of horse racing in Kenya. We’ve just completed the rough edit of the full book and are moving into the stage for final editing and photo selection. I think we can use about 300 of the over 900 photos collected so far. Here’s a sneak preview of one race in Nanyuki that didn’t go as well as it should have. Gentleman Rider Rowland Minns wrote the piece, which will be included in the book. Rowland Minns riding Beaujolais in an Open Hurdle race in Limuru in 1969. This was NOT the horse mentioned in the story that follows.

 A BAD RIDE IN NANYUKI

Another incident at Nanyuki was on a horse owned by another farmer, which had been ‘warned off the course’  for being uncontrollable (the horse not the farmer). This meant the horse couldn’t ride in official races organized by the Jockey Club of Kenya, but no one seemed to care if the horses ran in the gymkhana events upcountry.  I asked the farmer what it was like and all he said was that ‘it could go a bit’ but tended to throw its head around. It appeared in the paddock led by no less than two syces, who appeared to have great difficulty in controlling it. When the word came to mount, I took a flying vault into the saddle as it was far from stationary at the time and then told both syces to let go of it thinking this might help. The race was right round the course and the...

Firebrand Editor of the Kenya Press: Harold George Robertson (‘Rab the Rhymer’)

by Christine Nicholls | Nov 22, 2015 |

Firebrand Editor of the Kenya Press: Harold George Robertson (‘Rab the Rhymer’)   From the age of ten in the 1950s I was an avid daily reader of the Mombasa Times and loved its crossword. So I was very interested to come across some details of one of its former Editors, Harold George Robertson, or ‘Rab the Rhymer’. He was a Scotsman, born on 3 January 1884, probably in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, the son of William and Martha Robertson. He went to Kenya on 9 August 1912, describing himself on the ship’s manifest as an artist. With him went his wife Mrs M. Robertson, eight years older than himself, and three sons – aged six, four and an infant. His elder brother James G. Robertson followed him three months later and as a contractor was responsible (with Gow and Davidson) for the building of the New Stanley Hotel in 1913. Harold Robertson thrust himself immediately into journalism in Nairobi, joining the staff of the East African Standard and the Leader. This did not satisfy him and he began the East African Tatler and Free Lance, published by the Leader. The Tatler, a satirical magazine without advertisements and containing articles, short stories, poems and cartoons, all of them composed mainly by Robertson, did not continue after the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914. Harold joined the armed forces, serving in the East Africa Pioneer Company, East Africa Supply Corps and East African Ordnance Department, earning the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Yet his journalistic instincts remained with him during the war and he contributed poems to...


The Founding of Kitale

by Christine Nicholls | Nov 4, 2014 |

There is a map of the Trans Nzoia area in 1908, which showed numerous potential farms delineated by metal beacons stuck in the ground. A survey had been done to encourage white settlers to come to the area. Kitale appeared as a rectangle three miles by two, but in reality, there was nothing there – not even one building. The British Government sent out settlers after the First World War in 1919 and they found that what was supposed to be Kitale was just grassland and scattered trees, with not a single hut or person to be seen. One traveller noted: ‘It was impossible to foresee that this small area was destined to become the commercial centre of the 1000 square miles of fertile land. As I moved westwards two huge lions passed me, for this was lion country where game abounded. Kongoni, reedbuck, oribi, topi and waterbuck were plentiful, and leopard well in evidence in the forested areas, their victims wild pig and monkeys.’ In reality the Trans Nzoia district was not a popular area. It had a reputation as the home of malaria and blackwater fever and it was removed from civilisation, because the nearest railhead was at Londiani over 100 miles away and the nearest bank was at Eldoret 45 miles away. But gradually convoys of ox wagons carrying furniture and tools travelled from Londiani and the soldier-settlers sent from England after the First World War began to occupy and develop the farms. A District Commissioner, Mr Champion, was appointed but as there were no buildings in Kitale he took up residence in what became known...

Nairobi’s First Stripper

by Only in Africa | Sep 5, 2014 |

About the year 1948, Nairobi had one very popular nightclub called the 400 Club that, with new management, changed its name to The Travellers Club. The new manager sought the permission of the Michael O’Rourke, the then Commissioner of Police, to employ a professional strip-tease dancer on a short assignment. Michael had a preview of the act and gave his permission on condition that the Club staff should be excluded from the performance. (That was the way things were in those far-off days). The show was a great success with full houses almost every night. Eventually, for the final performance by this somewhat overweight lady who was certainly past her prime, she promised to put on a fan dance. There was standing room only for the customers. Sure enough, about midnight, all the staff were sent home and a small low platform about the size of a coffee table was brought onto the stage with a curtain all around it. The lights dimmed, seductive music was played, the curtains opened and the lady proceeded to dance with a pair of huge ostrich feather fans that hid her attractions from view. At the end of the dance, the lady was back on the platform and then simultaneously she threw the fans apart, the lights went out and the curtains closed. There was tremendous applause and yells of, “Encore, encore!” Then after a few minutes, the lights dimmed again, the seductive music started and the curtains opened. However, instead of the stripper, who should appear with the fans and dressed only in his jockey underpants was none other than the manager...


Mayence Bent and The New Stanley Hotel

by Christine Nicholls | Aug 22, 2013 |

Mayence Ellen Bent, the founder of the New Stanley Hotel (now the Stanley Ramada) in Nairobi, had a most interesting early life. She was born in the district of St Pancras, London, on 17 April 1868, the daughter of Walter Bentley Woodbury and Marie Olmeijer. Her own name and those of her sisters (Florence, Constance, Hermance, Valence, Fayence and Avence) alert us immediately to the fact that this was an unusual family. And indeed it was. Her father W.B. Woodbury was a famed photographer (just google him to see how famous he was) and her mother was the daughter of a Borneo trader, Charles William Olmeijer, of mixed Dutch-Malay descent. Joseph Conrad had visited his trading outpost at Tanjung Redeb on the Pantai river and this gave rise to his famous story Almayer’s Folly. When Woodbury was photographing in the Dutch East Indies, he saw a beautiful schoolgirl, Olmeijer’s daughter Marie. He determined to marry her and this he did in Batavia in 1863, taking her back to England with him. There the couple had one son and six daughters with the unusual names – Mayence is the French form of the town, Mainz. How did Mayence get to Nairobi? She lived in Penge and Croydon as a child and then she and her sister Constance went out to South Africa, where Constance opened a boarding house. They were joined by their stepbrother William Stanley Bent. What had happened was that the girls’ father, Walter Woodbury, had died in Margate in 1885, and five years later his wife Marie married Edward Stanley Bent, a struck-off solicitor who spent five years...

She abandoned her so-called ‘husband’, William Bent (actually her stepbrother) and took up with Frederick Francis Tate, fifteen years her junior (he was born in Wolverhampton on 30 June 1883). He arrived in East Africa in 1904 and worked for the Uganda Railway, becoming pier master at Kisumu. He then moved to Nairobi, where he was a part-time barman at the Grand Hotel and a piano-player at the Railway Institute, Nairobi (his family was musical – indeed his sister was the famous soprano Dame Maggie Teyte, who changed the spelling of her name). Fred was the son of Jacob James Tate, a wine and spirits merchant in Wolverhampton (and later hotel proprietor near Euston station, London), and his wife Maria Doughty. Fred was six years older than Maggie. His brothers Jacob and Sydney later joined him in East Africa. Fred and Mayence went to Zanzibar to get married, probably to avoid speculation about there being no divorce from William. The announcement in Nairobi’s newspaper The Leader on 20 November 1909 reads ‘The marriage of Miss Mayence Woodbury with Mr Fred Tate was celebrated on the 9th inst. at the Catholic Cathedral at Zanzibar.’ May’s partnership with D E Cooper was dissolved in 1909 (he moved to Sotik and became a JP there, dying in 1929), and Fred became the manager of the Stanley. The hotel had thirty bedrooms and an annexe, but Fred and May wanted to expand. After all, they had a Bechstein piano and a Thurston billiard table to...

 

On Growing Old in Kenya

by Dick Hedges | Jan 28, 2012 |

I have not yet found any area of the planet earth in which it would be pleasant to grow old. I do however count myself extremely fortunate to be growing old in Kenya for the following reasons. The indigenous populations of East Africa have a culture of respect for the aged. For most of the rest of the world, the opposite is the case. The Aged, both firm and infirm, cannot be dispensed with quickly enough as they become a social and economical embarrassment and burden to their younger generation. They must be hurriedly hidden away to await death in some dismal, expensive care (less!?) home. Such an unfortunate fate awaits an ever-increasing portion of the Caucasian populations. Over one million a year is the increase of retirees in the UK alone as the baby boomers turn into geriatric ‘doomers.’  Happily, this is not the case in Kenya. This Kenyan virtue and lack of it in other cultures was well illustrated when I found myself on 4th Avenue in New York a couple of years ago. I had best describe myself, as I obviously appeared to the cab driver in question. He saw an old and decrepit geriatric with white hair and long white beard shuffling along with a limp, a stoop and a walking stick. I had failed to obey a ‘Don’t cross’ pedestrian traffic light, causing a stream of loudly-shouted oaths bestowed on me by this New York cabby. Having endured in my time two years of vocal instruction from his and her UK majesty’s staff sergeants on the parade ground and from bosuns before the mast...

 

 


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