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Solomon was busy talking to the ancient watchman who’d been looking out for some
of the owls Solomon battles to protect from superstitious Kenyans who’ll kill them for
no sane reason.
Meanwhile Mrs Waruhiu showed us around her home - a rather nondescript grey
stone house with a red tiled roof, an enclosed verandah to one side and a porch with
a wooden front door (now painted electric blue) framed with some similarly painted
decorative windows. The dark inside corridor had lovely old wooden doors leading off it
and cedar parquet floors - in need of a polish. Through one door, in the bright blue living
room was a generous-sized stone fireplace. A photograph of General China stood on
We walked around the outside where salvia and agapanthus lilies straggled along the
back paths. There was an older looking building with asbestos roofing and a chimney
- formerly the kitchen I guessed: colonial kitchens tended to be separate as they often
‘I heard that this is a very old house,’ said Solomon.
But this house didn’t even look pre-second world war, although it’s possible it was
built on the site of an older one. An elderly Kikuyu lady had now joined us. She turned
out to be Mrs Waruhiu’s step-daughter although she was considerably older than her
stepmother. Her mother had been General China’s first wife - who’d recently died aged
94. We gave Mrs Waruhiu a lift to the road, passing through her 97-acres of relatively
unspoiled land, bisected by a stream and dotted with acacia trees - although it appeared
that her late husband’s first family were busy making them into charcoal.
I later went through all my old old books and maps, but the only colonial name I could
link to Waruhiu’s house was Grimley, from a 1954 War Office map. The farm had been
called Tinggal and a plantation of some sort was marked behind the house. I asked
around amongst some of Kenya’s older population, but nobody seemed to have heard
of the Grimley’s.
We continued along the tarmac road, then diverted left to Gibb’s house. A large and
imposing stone house with five chimneys, a shingle roof and - unusual for then, and
attached servants’ quarters. The house backs onto the Aberdares and faces a long rift-
valley view. It is government owned and we agreed it would make the perfect museum/
restaurant/homestay - the first stop on the Ol Kalou side of the tourism circuit. An
added attraction is a Mau Mau cave where apparently before the Emergency the happy
valley-ites used to clamber up for sundowners.
‘There are colobus around here too,’ Solomon told us.
A red-winged starling suddenly swooped down and landed on my hand. It must be hand-
fed by one of the government teachers who use some of the bedrooms of Gibb’s house
as somewhat squalid dwellings. The bird cocked its head, then flew away, leaving me
as surprised as the government officials who were watching.
That is a very good omen,’ enthused Solomon.
I have yet to establish the age of Gibb’s house, although it was most likely built after the
second world war. Lt-Col. Alistair Monteith Gibb was the son of Brig-Gen. Sir Alexander
Gibb, who founded the British engineering firm, Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners in 1922.
It also became the first engineering consultancy in Kenya and GIBB Africa Ltd still exists
here today. Alistair Gibb married twice (both titled ladies), played polo, and partnered
with neighbour Geoff Buxton in their Happy Valley farming ventures. These ‘gentlemen
farmers’ could afford to hire managers and one of Gibb’s managers had been John
Gillet. There were two Gillet brothers - David, who lived in a stone house, now encased
within a flower farm, closer to Ol Kalou.
The next house we visited, now Gatonodo Primary School, was a wooden house and
later consultations with the old maps showed that this was John Gillet’s house. ‘Yes it
was Gibb’s manager’s house,’ confirmed the friendly headmaster as we walked around
a pretty little cedar house, its window and door frames now painted bright turquoise. The
surrounding salvia and nasturtiums, presumably once tended by John’s wife Moerag,
had now run wild around its perimeters. The school was very neat and tidy: the rooms
of the old house were now staff rooms and offices, and in the largest room there was a
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