Years after Kenya gained its independence, some buildings still stand strong even after the British left Kenya. They stand as a reminder of Kenya’s past before highways and trains cut through forests and hills.
At the end of World War 1, a young British doctor named Albert Rutherford Paterson made his way to Kenya to finish his studies at Maseno School.
A few years later, he moved to a bushy forest now known as Karen in Nairobi to lay the foundation of his home where he could start practising medicine. His home still stands to this day in the middle of Entim Sidai Wellness Sanctuary 100 years later.
“He came from the Church Mission Society doctors. They were part of the missionaries who started the Anglican Church of Kenya that exists today. When he got to Nairobi in 1923, he acquired 80 acres and started building the house,” said Mercy Hodari, a manager, Entim Sidai.
He had three children who eventually moved out of the country. The last-born son, Peter Paterson, subdivided the 80 acres and sold the piece of land with the house to Raphael Tuju, a politician, who chose to maintain the house as it was.
She narrates that Dr Paterson built the house near a clearing in the forest where Maasai nomads would come with their cattle to rest.
“It was a natural forest and that is why the road to Entim Sidai is named Rura Drive. Rura means sleep in the Maasai language. They cleared the section of land they were building the house on and left the rest of the forest,” she said.
The forest that is named Entim Sidai meaning beautiful forest in the Maasai language, is one of the few remnants of the original Ngong and Karura forests that straddled Nairobi before the original British settlements in the first half of the last century.
British country houses were originally built with sections called wings to separate parts of the house from the common areas such as the dining room.
Mercy says the house has two wings. One wing had some of the bedrooms as the house originally had a total of 10 bedrooms.
The other wing is where Dr Paterson practised medicine in his clinic. Mercy explains that he was part of the team of doctors who put up a new section of Kenyatta National Hospital, formerly known as the Native Civil Hospital in the 1930s before it was named the King George VI Hospital in 1952.
“He played a major role in establishing the health system at that time. He was appointed as the Director of Medical Services in Kenya in 1933,” she said.
Dr Paterson retired as director in 1941 but continued to serve as president of the Kenya Branch of the British Medical Association from 1946 to 1948.
“He stayed in the house for almost 40 years where he raised his children. He died in his home in 1959 at the age of 74,” she said.
In front of the house is a mugumo tree that the doctor planted for hanging clothes. Mercy says that the doctor wanted to cut the tree after he had no more use for it but learned that the Agikuyu considered it sacred and chose not to cut it. The tree is now 86 years old.
She adds that Dr Paterson did not plaster the house because he wanted it to look original and rustic with the stone detail protruding from the walls.
“Cement was also so expensive since they had to ship it from the UK. When it arrived at the port, they would transport it by train to Nairobi. Then carry it using ox carts from the railway station to Karen. Since Nairobi was basically a forest at that time, it would have taken days for the cement to arrive,” she said.
“They used red soil to put the stones together but used a very thick stone because the soil was slippery. This was to make sure the house would stand even though they did not use cement,” she added.
The house has been subdivided into two sections. One section of the house is rented as a whole at Sh150,000 per month to families. While the other section is rented per room.
Most of the rooms have now been transformed into master en-suite hotel rooms that are priced from Sh25,000 to Sh44,000 a night.
“This room (the honeymoon suite) was his resting room. He would have official meetings and brag about his magnificent view,” she said.
If only walls could talk, they would spill the secrets and plans that were hatched in that room.
“We have also tried to maintain the house by not making major changes since old is gold. We only repair it,” Mercy says.
The British colonial style of decor is still evident with Victorian furniture, a musical box, fireplaces and historical photos showing the arrival of the first train engines in Kenya.
Mercy says that some of the appliances such as the refrigerator, a grandfather clock and the gramophone still work.
“The historical artefacts from the 1900s compliment the section of the house with the unplastered walls and the old chandeliers dangling from the ceiling that still light up to this day,” she said.
An obituary written in the British Medical Journal on November 14, 1959 states, “Paterson was a prolific writer, and he brought out a two-volume book, which was printed in both English and Swahili, entitled The Book of Civilisation.
It told the African in simple language how to improve his standards of health and at the same time how to raise his living standards to enable him to take a full and proper part in the life of the colony.”
It is only poetic justice that a medical practitioner’s home was turned into a wellness sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the house and the 20-acre land it sits on are at risk of falling into the hands of auctioneers in an ongoing court battle between Mr Tuju and the East African Development Bank (EADB) due to a loan of $9.19 million (then Sh932.7 million) in July 2015.
The loans taken by Dari Restaurant, one of Tuju’s properties, were for the construction of Sh100 million three-story, flat-roofed mansions in Entim Sidai and the purchase of the late Dr Paterson’s 100-year-old house.