Castle that was built for a hard-to-please lover

The Lord Egerton Castle in Njoro. The design
The Lord Egerton Castle in Njoro. The design was based on a scaled down version of Tatton Castle and most of the materials were imported from England. PHOTO | FILE  

Lord Egerton, the fourth and last Baron Egerton of Tatton (1874-1958), was born Maurice Egerton Tatton, the last child of Allan de Tatton Egerton and Anna Louis Watson on August 4, 1874.

Maurice was a pioneer aviator, automobile enthusiast, keen photographer, collector, natural historian, traveller and ardent youth worker, but lacked social skills.

He was friends with Wilbur and Olville Wright and had his own planes and a landing strip at Tatton Park in Chesire County. Maurice was widely travelled having visited Alaska, British Columbia, the Gobi Desert, Tien Shan Mountains in central Asia, South West Africa, Rhodesia and Malawi, finally settling in Kenya in 1920, the same year his father died leaving him to inherit the title, Baron of Tatton, along with Tatton Park.

Served in the navy

He had served in the British Navy during World War I and was granted some land in Ngata area under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Lord Delamere sold him a further 21,000 acres, around the same area, after convincing the baron that farming was a viable proposition in Kenya.

Lord Egerton was meticulous in every undertaking and his farm proved to be quite successful. In 1939 he donated 740 acres where Egerton Farm School was established with the goal of preparing white youth for careers in agriculture.

In 1955, the name changed to Egerton Agricultural College and the institution started offering a one-year certificate course and a two-year diploma course.

By the time of Lord Egerton’s death in 1958, he had donated a further 1,100 acres of land to the college and soon after, students of all races from Kenya and other African countries were being admitted. Today, it is a fully fledged university with its own charter.

While Lord Egerton’s farming and travelling ventures were flourishing, the same cannot be said of his social life. Apparently, some time in the mid to late 1930s he had met and made the acquaintance of a nubile lady from the nobility in Austria, with the full intention of making her his wife. I hasten to add that he was already in his 60s and perhaps had left it a bit late by normal standards.

The details are rather scanty, but the story goes that he brought the lady to see her future home in Njoro, which consisted of a four room structure in the middle of a large farm. She took one look at the house and remarked that it resembled a chicken coop and left, in a huff, back to Europe.

Lord Egerton was not one to give up easily and he took up the challenge in 1938 by embarking on the construction of Egerton Castle at Njoro in a bid to win the lady back. The design was based on a scaled down version of Tatton Castle and most of the materials were to be imported from England.

Unfortunately, World War II broke out in 1939 and construction was halted as safe passage of merchant ships could not be guaranteed. In any event, Lord Egerton himself returned to England to participate in the war.

Construction resumed immediately after the war and it is said the lady returned to Njoro in 1946 and was not impressed and this time she left for good, marrying an Austrian nobleman soon thereafter.

Recently, I met the caretaker of Lord Egerton’s Castle, Andrew Kiplimo, who took me round and informed me that the building was completed in 1954. The design is neo-classical with natural dressed stone walls, slate tiled roof, steel casement windows in recessed carved timber frames and panelled and carved timber doors carried in arched timber frames. Floors are mostly finished in polished parquet, with coloured ceramic tiles for wet areas and smooth cement screed for work areas.

Internal walls are beautifully panelled in highly polished exotic timber.

In total, there are 52 rooms, all clearly numbered. Out of the original 100 acres, the castle now stands on 38 acres, the balance having been hived off in the Kenyan spirit of self help.

During recent years, the premises have been used as a school and as an IDP camp, when a lot of vandalism took place. The property is now being managed by Egerton University Investment Company Ltd and there are plans for extensive rehabilitation.

I could not help noticing a large quantity of sophisticated communication equipment in Lord Egerton’s bedroom, some bearing the inscription “US Army”. Next door there is a commercial sized fully equipped photographic dark room. Considering his enigmatic nature and his mastery of aircrafts and photography, could Lord Egerton have been a spy?

He fitted the bill rather well and this tale about his fiancée, who has never been identified, could all have been a ruse to take us off his tracks.