At Tatton Park, Cheshire – where herds of red and fallow deer
graze studiously beneath the take-off path
of Manchester Airport and are seemingly deaf
to climbing Airbuses and 737s – the so called Tenants’ Hall
was previously the last Lord Egerton’s private museum,
its four walls adorned with mounted heads of,
for example, wildebeest, giraffe, black rhinos, lions –
all killed by Maurice himself.
In the ‘20s, with the Tatton rents keeping the jackals,
as it were, from the door, he settled permanently
in Kenya’s Central Highlands.
He settled for the game, the social life, the deferential servants
and the perfect climate for agriculture,
with its plentiful rain, clement days, cool nights –
something the unsurprisingly resentful Kikuyu had known
for the many generations they had been settled there.
He founded the Egerton Farm School – for white youths keen
to till and own the African earth – now Egerton University
for black, mostly affluent, students.
He was a natural member of the Happy Valley Set –
that well-bred, well-heeled, history-free and somewhat
unhinged club of cocktail racists, profoundly deaf to irony.
He built a six bedroomed house and invited his – to this day,
seemingly unknown – English fiancée. She decried the place as
‘small as a chicken coop or a dog’s kennel’.
Over the next sixteen years – 1938 to 1954 –
he built the fifty three roomed Egerton Castle
with imported stone, oak panelling and tradesmen
and invited her (apparently the same one) again.
And still she spurned him – ‘a museum.’
He was eighty. From then, all women, chicken and dogs
were forbidden, literally on pain of death, irrespective
of class or ethnicity. Notices were posted, on appropriate trees,
to that effect. He dined alone – and continued to play tunes
by Vivian Ellis and Ivor Novello on the Steinway grand
in the castle’s unpeopled hall for his remaining four years.
Heirless, he left the castle and the school to the Colonial Office
and his Cheshire estates to the National Trust and the county council.
Perhaps he realised the game, as it were, was up – despite
the brutally illegal suppression of the Mau Mau –
and saw the empire and all its varied works as finished.
As usual, he would not have been wholly wrong or entirely right.
Egerton Castle is now a wedding venue – like Tatton, where,
for all such events, floor-to-ceiling net curtains
are drawn across the stuffed, severed heads.