20 March 2010

Colonial Clubs: Muthaiga Country Club

The Muthaiga Country Club is a club in Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa. It is located in the affluent suburb of Muthaiga, about 15 minutes drive from the city center. The Muthaiga Country Club opened on New Year's Eve in 1913, and became a gathering place for the elite society of British East Africa, which later became the colony of Kenya in 1920.

"The Nairobi Club had a bar and a large billiard room, the walls festooned with the usual array of horns and dented with the imprint of errant balls. It was ramshackle enough, and in what one of his business partners called ‘an unusual outburst of respectability’, Berkeley Cole, a prominent farmer, announced that he was sick of being treated like a pig and yearned for a club of a refined nature where you rang a bell and a drink was brought to you on a ‘spotless tray’. A backer came forward, a site was identified three miles from town and architects, surveyors and builders were imported. The result was a low, unobtrusive edifice with modest Doric columns at the entrance and a pinkish pebbledash finish, the interior designed around parquet floors, a peristyle that was initially not roofed, and a fleet of sofas with loose chintz covers. The Muthaiga Club was generally considered ahead of its time as well as too far out of Nairobi, and initially membership was low, but a coterie of aristocrats including Berkeley, Delamere and Denys remained enthusiastic. Although only fourteen of them sat down to the inaugural New Year’s Eve Dinner at the close of 1913, the event was staged comme il faut, with multiple courses prepared by a top chef shipped in from the Bombay Yacht Club and music played by the band of the King’s African Rifles. Muthaiga had the best cellar in Africa, with a range of clarets from Châteaux Pauillac, Lafite and Latour downwards, a shop selling Charbonnel and Walker chocolates and freshly baked croissants. Delamere was the first president, and over the years he and his cronies nurtured that peculiar sense of deliberate enclavity that marked out the colonial club from Bombay to Calgary. Muthaiga was Denys’s home from home in East Africa for two decades. Lounging in his characteristic slouchy pose on the terrace with its modern blue screens, surveying the tennis courts and trailing bougainvillea, he found the companionship he needed after the solitary life of the bush."

Excerpt from Too Close to the Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, by Sara Wheeler (2006)


WerewolfinExile said...

Oh, the way things once used to be.

I was in Nairobi in 2007. We stayed in the suburb of Karen. Grand time, but Nairobi was a very in-your-face city at times.

That being said, reading a passage like that makes me nostalgic for something I never experienced. A powerful feeling. Where do you find these great books?

pashmina said...

Oh for the good old days, when the British ruled the world, bringing parliamentary democracy and railways to the great unwashed.