Architectural History of the Green City in the Sun (Part 2)

Lord Delamere was interestingly an indirect descendant of the first ever Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Robert Walpole. His family owned the Vale Royal Abbey which is a magnificent estate with some rich history of its own in Cheshire, UK. I tried to find out whether where the young Hugh Cholmondeley grew up had any impact on him but I’m yet to find that out. It seems he was less concerned with his own personal comfort and more with the affairs of both the settlers and the natives.

Vale Royal Abbey (Delamere Home)

Getting pictures or architectural information about the Soysambu ranch is difficult but I won’t give up just yet…Being extensively wealthy and the owner of huge chunks of land, it’s not surprising that he was known as the Cecil Rhodes of Kenya. Its believed that British settlers followed him both spiritually and politically. Such was his influence that he became president of the Colonists’ Association and a member in the Legislative council. Historians believe he genuinely was fond of Africans and particularly the Maasai. The Lord even entertained the British Under-Secretary, Sir Winston Churchill, on his maiden visit to Kenya. Well, I think thats as far as I will go about Lord Delamere.

A city of its size, Nairobi has a number of suburbs and areas. The colonials seem to have influenced, to this day, both the diversity and segregation of our suburbs as they are today. The British preferred the leafier western sections of Kileleshwa, Lavington, Highridge, Parklands, Gigiri and Runda although Kangemi and Dagoretti were exceptions, possibly workers who served the colonials were allowed to settle here. Picture this, if you were to look at say, Google Earth, viewing Nairobi, the West of the city happens to be much greener than the East! Try it… The colonials loved trees and wide picturesque avenues.

Meanwhile the Africans were handed settlements and estates in places to the east such as Dandora, Huruma, Pumwani, Kariobangi, Kariokor and Embakasi. Interesting to note, The East African Women’s League took it upon themselves to construct a Maternity facility for African women. They turned to the wife of the new Governor, Lady Grigg who formed a child welfare and maternity league and helped raise around Shs.17,000 for the Lady Grigg Maternity Home at Pumwani (now Pumwani Maternity Hospital) in 1928. This happens to be the reason why you may come across predominant industrial and mass market British architecture here.

The Asians ‘coolies’ who were brought to help construct the railway, mostly settled around what is today Starehe constituency, harbouring suburbs such as Southlands, parts of Parklands and Ngara. If you take a look at the architectural influence in these areas, you will see numerous oriental and ornate gables, intricately designed mosques, fabulous temples and a few shrines…

Much of what is today Lavington area initially belonged to the French Holy Ghost Fathers and was known as St Austins mission. Now you know why there are numerous schools or missionary-themed ammenities in the leafy suburb: Strathmore, St. Mary’s School, St. Austin’s School and Loreto Convent but to mention a few. The neighbourhood was quiet with a single shopping centre, Lavington Green, serving the entire area. The British settlers would commune there regularly over chat and brunch and the properties were modestly sized and characteristically renaissance themed Anglo Saxon brick structures with brown tiled roofs.

Danish author Karen Blixen migrated to Kenya in the 1910s and took on coffee farming. This was primarily towards the section of the city that is now Karen-Langata. There wasn’t much infrastructural development in that area, mainly because of the agricultural encroachment up until just after the second world war when the land was sub divided into 5 to 40 acre parcels of land and distributed to colonial government workers and ex-British forces. The Nairobi Urban District Council (now the City Council of Nairobi) attempted to impose building by laws in the area but they were aggressively opposed by residents who did not want to be told how to utilize their large tracts of land. After independence however, the newly formed CCN extended the boundaries of the city and Karen-Langata area came under by-law control. Nairobi begun growing at a rapid rate towards the 70s and 80s though, but this particular part of the city was experiencing slow development because of the large tracts of land residents owned: it also proved difficult and expensive to supply services over such huge distances. In order to spur growth, the City Council further subdivided the land making it more affordable for middle income Kenyans and increase its service charges.

Govt Rd (Now Moi Avenue) in 1920

The Central Business District of Nairobi arguably went through some of the most dynamic of changes. There’s usually a tussle about which was the most important of streets at the onset, but it seems Station Road (later to be Government Road) takes precedence, as the name suggests. Nairobi’s 3rd Avenue was another important street as it became the main artery way into the capital but was renamed Delamere Avenue in honour of one of the greatest of the Englishmen to settle in Kenya and even chair the Legislative council. An 8-foot bronze statue in his image was even erected at the avenue’s head, as his 2nd wife, Lady Gwladys became the first woman Mayor of Nairobi.

Kenyatta Avenue (Delamere Ave) as it was in the 1930s

There is also the notion that the entire city is centered around the ‘City Square’ which is basically enclosed all round by the Holy Family Basilica, the Nairobi Law Courts, City Hall, the Parliament Buildings and KICC. Did you know that what is currently the Bank or Baroda building right next to the ICEA building on Kenyatta Avenue used to be the Library for the East African Women’s League? The EAWL was led by Lady MacMillan. In the course of the research I undertook to begin the series, I discovered there is more and more that I would like to encompass and therefore in my next post I will cover Nairobi CBD solely, almost building by building…tell me what you think…

Click here to continue to Part 3 >>

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7 thoughts on “Architectural History of the Green City in the Sun (Part 2)

  1. Great work but I learnt somewhere that the Indians were given the areas of Parklands, ngara and Pangani because Nairobi back then was a swampy mash in those areas. Considering that the Europeans had taken the greener parts, the Africans were banished to the dry-lands that were mud-pits in the rainy season and dust bowls in the dry season, it would seem to be true.

    Why would the MacMillan library be named so if the Bank of Baroda building was the library?

    Kudos for keeping us informed.

    • MacMillan, the Sir, owned both properties, among others…I’m working on finding out where the transition happened though. I’m glad you’re still tuned in by the way, and if thats true, that was nasty! 🙂 Will look into it…

  2. amazing waiting for the 3rd part:-) i’m a history lover but this sheds a lot of light on a lot of things.cheers for sharing!

  3. Nice post Kevin. All these brilliant blots on our history…they colonized our foremothers via a Company! The Imperial British East African Company but we have now forgiven them.

    So?
    The other day a grandmother sold her goats to come buy shares…shares that have never increased in their prices. Grandmothers never learn btw. We are in serious trouble…if we do not gmake some serious money in the next few years…no, Hours to buy back what belongs to our foreMothers….

    I was also randomly thinking that we cannot have “back-up” like Cholmondeley but we have opportunity. So the Lord in your story was not satisfied with his Fathers Wealth! That is so so Rogue i mean wrong…

    But am glad you paint the possession trail so well. You are an architect in your search for meaning too.

    Amazing! Keep writing! So “WHO OWNS KENYA?” Therefore….
    This is not our history Kev, this is theirs…..isn’t it? Our history is in far-off places like Kerugoya…and Vihiga …and Machinani District

    How I pray you shall take a bus and one day write about my cabin in Kakamega or some other obscure places we have lived, hitherto

    I almost read Lady Gaga Maternity Home Hahahaa

    When you say “took on coffee farming” something is asking me “Took By what means?” The shadows behind this post are disturbing my reading of it. I need some coffee break Kevin

    Now, setting all my inhibitions aside at once, by the dogs of Egypt! I must congratulate you for a very brilliant blog my good friend. Keep writing! Amazing!

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