Creating a tradition destined to endure was the Christmas present that Major Charles Harding Newman Ringer gave what was then known as the East Africa Protectorate when he opened his little Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi in the year 1904.
Then and now, the Norfolk has been totally and inescapably an integral part of the country's history. One could, without fear of correction, say that had there, in fact, been no Norfolk Hotel, there might never have been the capital. It was at the Norfolk that all new arrivals to the East Africa Protectorate gathered, then men with the money, ambition and foresight to later found a Colony, for Kenya as a country has only existed since 1920 when it was renamed after its highest mountain.
By this time, Kenya was one of the world's most promising hunting grounds for the Big Game Hunter, an entirely new resort from the winters of the northern hemisphere for the rich, the adventurous and those in search of a different life from the Old and New Worlds. But it was, nonetheless, a hard and Spartan life for new arrivals, no place, in spite of its warm and sunny climate during most of the year, for any but those in the sturdiest of health. It was a country of arid deserts, dense primeval forests, and mile upon mile of 'bush country' where water of any kind was hard to find. It was a country of fever and few remedies. The medicine chest was carried by the travellers' porters as were any other refinements they thought they might require. And although porters were easy enough to find and employ for long cross-country safaris, their behaviour, for those unaccustomed to the African way of life, was hard to tolerate or understand. When the hotel was finished in 1904, and for many years afterwards, if people were asked their first impressions of Nairobi, they would invariably answer 'dust!'. The red dust of the plains enveloped everything. Passengers, who arrived by train, disembarking at Nairobi Station, were covered in fine dust, red like the Masai country they had racketed through, for in spite of topees, boots and spine-pads, the dust inevitably penetrated everything.
The Norfolk, with its cool resting rooms and hot and cold baths, was civilization in the bush. With nothing in front of it except the papyrus swamp with the frogs (and sometimes the lions) and nothing behind it but barren, open land, the white railings of the hotel's perimeter spelt civilization and comfort for those early settlers and sportsmen who would start to build the nation...