Muthaiga Country Club |File

Muthaiga Country Club |File 

 

Who would today imagine the leafy Muthaiga Estate of Nairobi as the first farm to supply Nairobi with milk?

I have been checking the story of some of these early entrepreneurs—and what drove them before I stumbled on some Muthaiga records.

The story of Muthaiga appears on the records in 1901 when John Ainsworth (the first sub-commissioner in charge) followed the railway to establish a new town at Mile 327,- the first name adopted by railway engineers for Nairobi.

Ainsworth, who was not liked by the bully railway engineers, started wooing settlers to come to Nairobi to give him some back-up. One of the earliest settlers who was lured by Ainsworth was Sandbach Baker.

He not only fenced some 5,000 acres of land including Muthaiga in 1901, but also started a small dairy industry there. His only other challenger was architect J.K. Watson of Donholm Farm, which specialised in butter.

In 1903, Baker’s wife Marie Vera, unable to make sense of the big farm leased 500 acres of the Muthiga land to other settlers.

The first, according to records, was James Archibald Morison, a retired Captain of Grenadier Guards, an infantry regiment of the British Army.

This is the man who would later buy the entire modern-day Muthaiga from the Bakers for 20 pounds an acre.

Morison was a real estate pioneer. He decided to subdivide Muthaiga into small plots, a task that was carried by a firm of architects, Henderson and Ward.

The title survey of the land was carried out by Mr J.C. Coverdale who discovered that Muthaiga was 754 acres and not 717 as the Bakers had thought.

After Mr Coverdale finalised the title survey of Muthaiga, the farm started a simple transformation from a dairy to a residential estate, thanks to the small plots which could no longer sustain dairy farming.

In 1907, Muthaiga grew to become a township with most of the farms being turned into residential plots.

However, it was not until 1928 that the area was absorbed into Nairobi Municipality.

Actually, and for many years, the main street in Muthaiga, Karura Avenue, was known as Morrison Avenue after the original settler.

Morrison was also a British Conservative Party politician and had in 1910 inherited Basildon Park where he build new cottages and pumping stations to supply it with water.

That is the experiment he brought to Nairobi and why he turned this estate into an affluent suburb.

Social ties

But there was something else about Morrison. After he retreated to Nairobi, he found that the government was hated and its officials never socialised with the farmers.

That is why he spared part of his land to build Muthaiga Country Club. But just as the Club was getting re-opened the first World War broke in August 1914 with British East Africa now fighting German East Africa.

A plan for Muthaiga as Henderson and Ward construed it hangs up to this day at the Men’s Bar at Muthaiga Country Club. It was at this club, then baptised Moulin Rouge of Africa that settlers made their happy valley escapades.

The plan shows the roads and plots as originally designed.

It was Mr Ward of Henderson and Ward firm who christened the area Muthaiga after a Kikuyu herb that stood near his plot.

One of the notable colonial writers, Elspeth Huxley, remembers in her works how Muthaiga became the first dairy farm in colonial Kenya.

It was at Muthaiga that the country’s first butter industry, the one that triggered the mind of Lord Delamere, to start a similar project in the Rift Valley was started.

That is how the Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC) , the predecessor to New KCC was born.

jkamau@ke.nationmedia.com

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