Some 60 years on after its construction, Lord Egerton’s castle still looks ominous in its strength, writes GARDY CHACHA
Some 14 kilometres from Nakuru town (on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway) amidst thicket of shrubs and tall equatorial canopy trees, lies a mansion, magnificent as well as fascinating in its architecture. This is the Lord Egerton’s castle. It was constructed in 1952, coming through a cold reality that the purpose for which it was built had fizzled out.
On a visit to the castle, I meet the tour guide in charge Roselyne Owiro who relays the story behind the castle’s existence and the inspiration encrypted in the chiselled stones dotting its stairways and foyer. No one can predict beforehand the shadow of love and hate casted by the castle on its lush lawns.
Born in 1874 into a royal family of Lords — Barons of Egerton — Lord Maurice Egerton was the lastborn son of Alan de Tatton and Lady Anna Louisa Taylor. He had two siblings; William and Cecil Egerton who died young leaving him as the sole heir to the family’s vast wealth and riches. He worked in the Royal Navy until 1920 when his father died, thereby succeeding him as the fourth baron of Egerton. He developed a passion for hunting and photography, two activities that prompted him to travel the world and kept him on a trail through continents.
He came to Africa through Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe), went up through Congo then made his way to Uganda, eventually entering Kenya where he based the rest of his life. While here, he was convinced and equally inspired by Lord Delamere to settle and do Agriculture in the country. Maurice then bought 21,116 Acres from Delamere, circumventing Lake Nakuru, Parts of Rongai, Ngata, and Molo, running to Egerton University.
As an offspring of royal lineage, it was customary that Maurice marries a girl of the same status and thus, he found himself a young nubile beauty whose lineage branched off Queen Elizabeth’s. Maurice built a four-roomed cottage, which he hoped would impress the woman.
He invited her to come and see the cottage but to his dismay, the lady didn’t spend more than two hours in the compound, calling the cottage a ‘bird’s nest’ and prompting Maurice to think of building a bigger house befitting the royalty status. Maurice set on a project to plant a big mansion which would leave no doubt to the girl of his dreams that he was indeed worthy of her companionship. That is when the idea to build a castle – modelled on his families back at Tatton Park Cheshire – came up.
Lord Maurice Egerton broke ground; laid the foundation to the castle in 1938. He contracted English architect Albert Brown, a cabal of Italian construction workers and more than 100 Red Indian labourers to realise the fancied design. Still, the lady wasn’t impressed, this time citing that it was small like a dog’s kennel. She left for Australia and subsequently married another one of British Lords who seemed to have carved out an ideal palace in the Kangaroo dessert.
Lord Maurice was devastated and heart-broken but nevertheless went ahead with the construction of the castle, fully furnished with a children’s room, a master bedroom for him and his wife, numerous other rooms, confinements, alleyways, barricades, cloistered venues and artistic lacunas.
Block by block and floor by floor, the mega structure rose tenaciously, emblazoned in breath-taking architecture that is said to have greatly resembled the Neuro-classical mansion that belonged to the family back in England.
Lord Egerton’s castle, in its pulchritude, evoked passionate –if not sacred – misogyny for women because of his dream wife’s snub and belittling of his stature. He pinned notes on tree girths and branches warning women that they risked soaking bullets if they made it anywhere close to his hundred-acre plantations that approved of his Agricultural acumen.
Most of the rocks used for construction were brought from abroad. Sparkly green marbles for fireplaces were imported from Italy and tiles used to decorate the interiors were ferried from China. The inside stairways and walls were panelled with British oak.
A huge ballroom for high calibre meetings, entertainment, celebrations and rendezvous connects to the guests’ lobby. Among the 52 rooms inside the castle are bathrooms, guesthouses, a dark room (where Maurice developed his photography films), a library, a reading room, a kitchen, a laundry room, and many other partitions, creviced for specific functions.
The roof of the castle is made of imported zinc tiles gliding over each other like pangolin shells. Polished curved stones line the perimeter of the balcony at the third and fourth floors while dressed blocks – also imported – form the fringes.
The organ player takes the height of two storeys; made with 411 sound pipes and a cabinet that operates the organ. Thrice a year, the organ’s player would come from England to play for the Lord his favourite Ballards.
A car pack adjacent to the Servants’ Quarters housed a Rolls Royce, a Pilot,