Happy Valley

11 Aug

This is going to be my last post for a few weeks as I’m off to get married!

I’ve been trying to tie up loose ends before I go away and make sure I’ve done enough work lately to stop me feeling guilty for having a break! I’ve just fired off an abstract for a conference and really hopeful it might be accepted as I would love to do a conference paper soon. It was for a conference I initially discounted as I wasn’t sure how my research fitted in with their topic, but one of my supervisors helped me see how I could contribute, and I’ve realised I can be a little more daring (and shameless!) in adapting my work to make it a good fit.

So before I head off to my own ‘Happy Valley’ of Somerset, I would just like to share a bit of what I’ve been finding out about the original Happy Valley of Kenya.

I’ve always been a bit confused about how Maurice fitted in with the Happy Valley set, who were famous (or infamous) for their wild behaviour- drug taking, wife swapping, general debauchery etc. I assumed that even though he was a neighbour to these people in both Kenya and Cheshire he had very little to do with them. So I’ve been excited to find their names popping up in my research, telling me that Maurice did have some contact with them. So I’ll ease you into the topic with a few of the more sedate rather than scandalous characters that Maurice knew, and tell you a bit about their wildly unique lives:

Karen Blixen:

Baroness Karen Blixen moved to Kenya in 1914 to establish a coffee plantation with her new husband. Maurice visited her plantation in 1921, the year she separated from her husband Baron Bror Blixen. Maurice later bumped into the Baron hiding under another name nearby in Kenya to avoid his creditors. I was disappointed Maurice didn’t mention much of Karen herself; as usual he is much more interested in her crops and size of her shamba. Karen is best known for writing the book ‘Out of Africa’, a romantic tale of her love for Kenya and her experiences there. She would have a deep love affair with Denys Finch Hatton before his early death in a plane crash. She was forced to leave Kenya after coffee prices crashed in the 1930s depression, but the town of Karen in Kenya is named in her honour.

Denys Finch Hatton:

Denys Finch Hatton was the second son of the Earl of Winchilsea, and like many younger sons travelled to Kenya to establish an identity for himself there. He began leading big game hunting trips for other aristocrats travelling to Africa, including the future Edward VIII who was then prince of Wales. Maurice shared a cabin with Denys in 1924 and Denys wrote him letters of introduction and advice for his safaris in Sudan. He died in 1931 when he crashed his gypsy moth plane.

Beryl Markham:

Beryl was a British- born pioneer of early aviation and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This would have been a major interest in common with Maurice, but he first meets her in 1921 before her flying career took off. He describes her as a famous horse trainer, and she was the first female licensed horse trainer in Kenya. It is said she also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton, and had other loves including the Duke of Gloucester.

‘Chops’ Ramsden: No picture of this guy, he is a little mysterious!

On Maurice’s first trip to Kenya in 1920 he mentions being on the boat with John and Joan. He also mentions being motored around by ‘Chops’, who seemed to be one of the few settlers in Kenya with a car. It took me a long time to figure out who these people were, and I found that John and Chops are one and the same, and his full name was Sir John Frescheville Ramsdem, 6th Baronet. I found the reference in Frances Osbourne’s book ‘The Bolter’ about Lady Idina Sackville. She writes that Chop’s farm was not in the Wanjohi Valley (the Happy Valley), but in Kipipiri. Chops seemed to exist this way on the outskirts, dropping in on the hedonistic Happy Valley parties, but never being a fully immersed in their exclusive set. He had owned most of Huddersfield until, like Maurice, he started pouring his money into Kenya.

Baron John Carberry: No picture

An Irish peer. His third wife was June Carberry, a great friend of Lady Diana Broughton who had an affair with Lord Erroll prior to his murder. Maurice visited his coffee shamba in 1922, and had dinner with him in 1923. Also interested in planes- he was the first man to loop-the-loop over Ireland in 1913.

Jack Soames: No picture again

John Soames settled in Nanyuki in 1920, and Maurice looked over his coffee shamba in 1923. He embraced the Happy Valley spirit and is described by Frances Osbourne as a ‘voyeur’ who would drill holes in his guest’s bedrooms to watch them in secret. He was also called as a witness in Lord Erroll’s murder enquiry.

So here are a few surprising neighbours of Maurice. Hopefully there will be more stories to come as I keep reading the diaries. It’s certainly an eye opener looking into the Happy Valley crowd, but also slightly tinged with sadness as despite their naughty antics it seems to be a rather hollow existence. I would really recommend ‘The Bolter’ to anyone wanting to know a bit more.

I’ll be back in 2 weeks as Mrs Marden so watch this space!

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