By Beatrice Obwocha
Colonial settler Lord Maurice Egerton, from whom the Egerton University derives its name, would turn in his grave if he knew how the solid legacy he implanted in a castle he built at Njoro has been torn down.
Lord Egerton shunned and hated women all his life, after a woman, for whom he built a monumental castle at Njoro, turned his proposal for marriage down and rejected the building, terming it a ‘museum’.
He banned women from ever setting foot in the 100-acre ground in which the castle stood, spent the rest of his life alone until his death on January 30, 1958. The woman associated with the baron’s irrational behaviour has never been named in all accounts about his life.
Stark irony today glares back at the loner’s legacy. The house that failed to win love for the fourth Baron Egerton of Tatton, Cheshire, has become a favourite attraction for lovers tying the knot.
Its expansive green lawns and the tree-cloistered fringes of the gardens where he ones walked alone, sulking in rejection, are most sought after for garden weddings and other outdoor events.
Where the reclusive baron pinned notices on trees warning that the grounds were out of bounds for any woman, lovers now hold hands and walk down open air aisles, declaring the vows of their union.
On weekends, the university rents out the Egerton Castle grounds to as many as four wedding parties.
Hundreds of women walk here freely, unbeknown to them that 52 years ago a notice hang from a tree warning that any woman trespassing the grounds risked being shot.
Men visiting the baron were asked to leave their women eight kilometres away.
He banned his male workers from ever bringing their wives to their servants’ quarters or keeping chicken and dogs.
He hated chicken and dogs because the woman who spurned his proposal said the six-bed roomed house the Lord lived in — before completion of the castle — was ‘small as a chicken coop or a dog’s kennel’.
What a far cry the castle is today from that lonely legacy. A couple will wed on Valentines Day and others have booked the venue for subsequent weekends until April.
Its beautiful flower gardens, well-trimmed green lawns with the background of the imposing, solid castle provide a scenic setting for garden events.
Robert Onyiego, 76, a former employee of Lord Egerton, still takes care of the castle which is owned by Egerton University.
Onyiego lives with wistful nostalgia of the days he served his lonely master, which he compares with what his estate has become.
Onyiego recalls that his master led a “quiet, private and lonely life after he was rejected by the love of his life”.
“He had few visitors. He lived alone, ate alone, played the piano to himself and slept alone in this large castle. You could tell which side of the castle he was in by listening to his steps,” says Onyiego.
Lord Egerton had started building the 53-roomed castle in 1938, finishing it in 1954.
Since arriving in Kenya in 1927, Egerton had lived in a six bed-roomed house next to the castle.
As the construction work neared completion, in 1954, he invited his fiancÈ from England to live with him.
Onyiego remembers the woman drove into the compound but did not stay for two hours before driving away.
“We learnt later she had refused to live with him and went back to England where she got married to another man,” he said.
“My master kept swearing and vowed never to love again, let alone marry another woman. He also did everything possible not see set his eyes on women,” recalls Onyiego.
The castle was built by an engineer called Albert Baron from Rome to oversee the construction of the castle.
About 100 Indian workers formed part of the technical labour team. Locals were employed to do manual labour.
Most of the rocks used for the construction were imported while others were fetched from Kedowa and Njiru. The marble and tiles used to decorate the interior were imported from Italy and England.
On completion, he employed 16 servants, all male and rarely entertained visitors though the castle had many guest rooms.
He lived in it for four years before passing away in 1958.
The castle is located in Ngata, 14 kilometres from Nakuru town. It is managed by Egerton University and tourists and locals are charged a fee to visit it.
The castle was open to the public in 2005 and, apart from attracting tourists and history lovers, it is also used for corporate functions such as office parties and cocktails and picnics.
Egerton University used to allow weddings to take place for free at the castle grounds until 2007 when they started charging a fee.
Born in 1874, and dying childless, Lord Egerton’s loner lifestyle ended his family lineage because he did not leave an heir to carry on the family name.
He was the last son of Alan de Tatton and Lady Anna Louisia Taylor. His two siblings William and Cecil Egerton had died while young.
Egerton also did not allow chicken and dogs in his compound because his fiance compared his house to a bird nest, though he ate chicken, meat and eggs.
Couples who wed at the Castle are aware of its history but say they do not let that stand in their way.