African Seeds

Paxtu - Baden-Powell's home at Nyeri, Kenya


MAKING their way to the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri visitors are faced by this signboard, fixed to a pepper-tree at a turn of the drive. The Outspan has a lot of visitors: those who stay there while visiting Nyeri on duty or business, those who stay there for a holiday, those who use it as their base before going on to the world-famous "Treetops", and those who go there especially in order to see "Paxtu" itself, the last home of Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Movements.

B-P first visited East Africa - each of the present countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - in 1906, and he recorded his impressions both in words and pictures in his book Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa, published in 1907.

He did not come here again until late in 1935 when he carried out inspections of Scouts at rallies organised throughout the country. He then visited his old friend, Major E. Sherbrooke Walker, M.C., who had been B-P's first private secretary after the founding of the Boy Scout Movement and who still has in his possession the first Scouter's Warrant ever issued. After numerous adventures Erie Walker had built the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri and the still more famous Treetops.

B-P once again fell in love with the "wonderful views over the plains to the bold snowpeak of Mount Kenya", described after his visit in 1906, and so when ordered by his doctor to rest in the winter of 1937 it was to Nyeri that he came.

`When he left us', wrote Erie Walker in his book Treetops Hotel describing B-P's departure from Kenya in 1938, `Lord Baden-Powell was getting on in years. (He was, in fact, 81). "The nearer to Nyeri, the nearer to bliss", he said, "I am coming to spend the rest of my life at the Outspan."

'And he asked us to build him a cottage before he came back for what he said was to be the third and last time. He picked a site in the garden. "What", he said, "will it cost to build a little house with a sitting-room, large veranda, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two fireplaces?"

`I made a rapid calculation. "Twelve hundred square feet at ten shillings per square foot", I replied, "comes to six hundred pounds". (Would that we could build for that cost now!)

`He accordingly took up shares in our little company to that value, for which we built the house, furnished it, and made him a private garden, gay with flowers, and with a fountain and bird-bath in front of the veranda. He had a discussion as to what he would call the cottage and thought of a number of names. Finally he said: "I named my home at Bentley `Pax' because we bought it on Armistice Day after the First War. I think I will call my cottage here `Pax', too."

`After that it was always known as "Paxtoo", or "Paxtu".'

B-P. and Lady B-P had celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their wedding in 1937 and Scouts and Guides all over the world had subscribed for a present for them.

`We have utilised part of the Silver Wedding gift from Scouts and Guides', wrote B-P in The Scouter for May, 1938, `in building for ourselves a cottage at Nyeri. We have named it "Paxtu", since it will be a second "Pax" to us, and a permanent reminder of the generous goodwill of the Movement.'

In October, 1938, he came back to Nyeri to live in Paxtu, and never left East Africa again.

The cottage remains very much as it was when he first had it built, though the old makuti roof has been replaced by an iron one, and the garden which in recent years had got out-of-hand was rather drastically tidied up in 1964, but the fountain and bird-bath remain. The cottage is now joined to the main block of the hotel with a series of apartments.

A description of the house was given by B-P in a letter to the actor, Cyril Maude, in 1939:-

`We sit here in incessant sunshine (with showers to water our garden) and never since we came, four months ago, have we failed to have brilliant sunshine for a breakfast on the veranda. I enclose a photo of the shack we had built for us and we find it in every way excellent. Sitting-room in the centre with the whole front open, with folding glass doors. On each side of it a bedroom with dressing-room, bath, cloak-room, etc., and servants' pantry at the back, with a covered way to the hotel 200 yards away, whence come all our meals. We have hot and cold water laid on, with electric light and heating, a delightful garden (much grown up since the photo) and a glorious view across the forest and plain up to Mount Kenya with its snowy top.'

For the last twenty years, until Miss Corbett's death in 1963, the house has been lived in by B-P's old friend Jim Corbett, author of Man-eaters of Kumaon and other well-known books, and his sister Maggie.

In 1964 Kenya Scouts and Guides subscribed for a seat which has been placed in the garden in front of the house, and which bears the inscription

"This seat was given by Kenya Scouts and Guides in memory of Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, their Founder, who lived here from October 1938 until his death on 8th January, 1941."
At the same time the signpost on the entrance drive and the carved cedar plaque (illustrated on this page) on the house itself were given by the Kenya Boy Scouts Association to keep the Founder's memory green, and to direct the countless visitors who come from every part of the globe to visit the Founder's last home and his grave in the near-by cemetery.

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Text and picture from `Paxtu': Baden-Powell's Home at Nyeri, Kenya, a pamphlet published by the Kenya Boy Scouts Association, c. 1965