A monument to love or vanity?

Lord Egerton envisioned a castle so elaborate and marvelous that there was no way she would refuse him again. That dismissal inspired the Baron to build 53-roomed castle that is so elaborate that his all-male retinue of 16 servants had to number the rooms to avoid getting lost within. PHOT/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Enchanted by the unnamed Austrian lady during a vacation in England, Egerton set out to convince her to marry him and move to Kenya. He invited her to his home at the time, a thatch-roof six-bedroom. She dismissed the house as being “as small as a chicken coop”.
  • When the mysterious woman saw the castle, she dismissed it as a ‘‘monument to vanity’’ and a ‘‘museum’’ and drove out in a huff only two hours after arriving. She returned to England and fell in love with someone else.
  • For the woman for whom he made the long journey, he gave the land in Muthaiga where Gertrude’s Hospital now stands.

Love is no mean feat. Perhaps for those men who were born into power and status, nothing is more frustrating than unrequited love.

Most of them tried to impress women by achieving feats that would surely convince them of their suitor’s loyalty, determination, and personality.

No love story in colonial Kenya is as tragic as that of Lord Maurice Egerton, the fourth Baron Egerton of Tatton in Cheshire. When he died in Njoro in 1958, he was childless and had remained unmarried his entire life.

His lifelong bachelorhood was not by choice but rather the result of two refusals by the woman of his dreams from which he never recovered. While his peers like Lords Errol and Delamere were involved in intricate love webs, Egerton remained obsessed with one woman even after she refused him.

Enchanted by the unnamed Austrian lady during a vacation in England, Egerton set out to convince her to marry him and move to Kenya. He invited her to his home at the time, a thatch-roof six-bedroom. She dismissed the house as being “as small as a chicken coop”.

Lord Egerton envisioned a castle so elaborate and marvelous that there was no way she would refuse him again. That dismissal inspired the Baron to build 53-roomed castle that is so elaborate that his all-male retinue of 16 servants had to number the rooms to avoid getting lost within.

The Egerton Castle stands as one of the architectural marvels of the colonial era. The four-storied edifice is a symbol of wealth and extravagance, and has features such as an escalator that are still uncommon in private homes today. The zinc tiles on the roof, the dressed stones, the oak for the paneling, and the interior décor were all shipped from Europe.

Albert Baron, the engineer, was from Rome and over 100 of the builders brought in from Asia and Europe.

Guests from as far as Zimbabwe and Malawi, then Rhodesia and Nyasaland respectively, attended the housewarming party.

When the mysterious woman saw the castle, she dismissed it as a ‘‘monument to vanity’’ and a ‘‘museum’’ and drove out in a huff only two hours after arriving. She returned to England and fell in love with someone else.

Lord Egerton became a delusional recluse and a passionate misogynist. He ran the castle as if he had the family he had envisioned. He had notices specifically banning females from visiting the castle pinned on trees and the gates. The notices threatened that any female trespassers would be shot on sight.

The estate was closed to everyone except a small group of friends, doctors, servants, and overseas bands he invited over to entertain him. All the visitors had to leave their female companions at least eight miles from the castle. Even his staff would receive a two-week notice to vacate all women and girls from their living quarters whenever he planned a visit.

Lord Egerton is also said to have banned his servants from ever keeping chicken and dogs because of his unnamed interest dismissed the first house as being “as small as a chicken coop or a dog’s kennel”.

To while away the time, Egerton threw all his energies and his entire fortune into agriculture. He founded the Egerton Agricultural College, now part of Egerton University, and left his entire fortune to the government. Before his seemingly cursed pursuit, Egerton had been a pioneer aviator, an avid traveller, farmer, and an amateur filmmaker.

Today, the castle is safe for anyone to explore. It is a favourite spot for photo shoots; a situational irony as women now throng where they would have run the risk of being shot only less than six decades ago.

The flamboyant Ewart Grogan has a happier love story. To prove to his future father-in-law that he was the best man for Gertrude Watt, Grogan proposed that he make the unprecedented Cape-to-Cairo journey.

He commenced the expedition from Cape Town in 1897 and arrived in Cairo in 1900, becoming the first man to complete the long journey. Wild animals, disease, and even cannibals stalked Grogan through most of his two and a half year journey. In the end, he got the girl.

King who abdicated

Grogan’s other successes are embedded in the history of Kenya, especially Nairobi. He named Chiromo after a small village in Malawi where he lost his luggage while on the journey to Cairo.

He also owned the parcel of land known today as Kirinyaga Road or ‘Grogan’. Referred to as ‘‘Bwana Chui’’ by his Kikuyu neighbours, Grogan founded Kenya’s timber industry and built the first modern deep-water port at Mombasa.

For the woman for whom he made the long journey, he gave the land in Muthaiga where Gertrude’s Hospital now stands.

Such sacrifices and seemingly thoughtless actions for love are not limited to the settlers of the era. King Edward VIII abdicated the throne, a first for any post-Anglo-Saxon British monarch, for the love of Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee.

In his broadcast to the Kingdom on December 11, 1936, Edward famously stated “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” Two years later, Egerton began his own journey to complete infatuation.

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