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It took five years for the New Stanley to rise above two entire blocks of the now bustling
town of Nairobi; and it was opened on the eve of the First World War in 1914. The old
hotel in Victoria Street was sold to Dan Noble, who had been Nairobi’s first postmaster.
He, however, had made a fortune in gold prospecting in the Kakamega Gold Rush of
Western Kenya and, though now retired, ‘couldn’t bear to see the old place go’.
So, Mr. Noble continued to run the Stanley whilst Mayence and Fred Tate’s new hotel
was being built, and this suited Mayence Tate very well. What did not suit her quite
so well was the fact that Dan Noble flatly refused to give up the name. Consequently
Mayence and Fred Tate were forced to call their hotel the New Stanley, which Mayence
maintained did not have quite the same ring to it. She never forgot this; and she never
forgave Mr. Noble for his impudence.
The New Stanley, however, was splendid indeed.
It spanned two blocks, it rose to two floors, it was embellished with twin domes, it had a
red-tiled roof and it was painted dazzling white. It also had a Thurston billiard table (the
very best) and a Bechstein grand piano. Yet for all its chintz and Edwardian splendour,
the New Stanley still retained something of its rakish air, and it still had something of the
feel of a Wild West saloon in which anything might happen. There was a Long Bar down
which shot glasses could be skimmed. There was a barman clad in shirtsleeves, a black
waistcoat, and a long white apron who acted as mediator, broker and bouncer alike. And
there was a buzz of commerce and business that was so compelling that eventually the
Long Bar changed its name to the Exchange Bar. And thereafter, in the absence of any
other, the bar of the New Stanley became the official Nairobi Stock Exchange.
It was during the East African Campaign of the First World War that the New Stanley
rose to her final greatness. The natural home to officers and war correspondents alike,
it was in the New Stanley that war plans were made, spy missions were launched,
manoeuvres were planned and impossibly tall tales of daring-do were told and relayed
back to London. Mayence and Fred worked hard, and they made a great deal of money;
so much so that at the end of the War they were able to retire to London, leaving a
manager to run their hotel. This suited Fred, who had a penchant for the life of the
gentleman, but it did not suit Mayence who pined for ‘her’ hotel.
In 1933, the couple returned and took over the management of the New Stanley once
again. Four years later Fred died, leaving Mayence, heartbroken, to run the hotel alone.
This she did, though reputedly with less verve, and it flourished throughout the Second
At the end of the War, Mayence made her announcement: ‘It’s not the same without my
Fred,’ she said. ‘So I’m going back to London where we were happy; and I’m selling the
There were many that would have liked to buy the New Stanley, but Mayence had always
maintained her loyalty to Abraham Block, the man who had made her first mattresses
out of grass cut from beside the railway lines. This despite the fact that, in 1927, he had
bought The Norfolk Hotel - her main competitor. In 1947, Mayence sold the Stanley
Hotel to Abraham Block. By now retired, Abraham Block put the management of the
hotel into the hands of his sons, Tubby and Jack. Ambitious, shrewd, charismatic and
often likened to the Kennedy brothers, they stood at the centre of Kenya’s burgeoning
business development with their fingers on the pulse of the heartbeat of the newly
independent nation; and they were the prime movers of its growing tourism trade.
The Block brothers decided to demolish the New Stanley and rebuild it, though they
kept the whole operation a secret from their father, who now rarely left his cottage at
The Norfolk Hotel. The rebuilding of the New Stanley cost half a million pounds, it rose
to nine floors (Nairobi dwellers were amazed to find that they could see Mount Kenya
from its roof), it boasted 284 beds, it was impossibly (if impractically) opulent, and it was
the largest and grandest hotel that East Africa had ever seen.
When he finally saw it, Abraham Block hated the new hotel. ‘Look at that white elephant
my sons have built,’ he said. But, typically, for its Grand Opening in 1959, he insisted
that Mayence Tate be flown out from London to feature as the Guest of Honour.
Mayence Tate and Phyllis Newman
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