Bath and the King of Kings

Haile Selassie is greeted outside the 'Royal Baths' in 1936.
Haile Selassie is greeted outside the ‘Royal Baths’ in 1936. ©Bath In Time

Bath has been called home by many people over the centuries but one of its more recent residents had more than a ‘Mr’ to his title.

Haile Selassie 1, King of Kings, Lion of Judah and Emperor of Ethiopia, spent his exile in Bath.

Those four years – 1936 to 1940 – and his subsequent return in 1954 to be Granted the Freedom of Bath – are commemorated in a special ‘House of his Majesty’ exhibition currently running at the Central Library above Waitrose until November 16th.halie salasse

Haile Selassie (1892-1975) was the heir to a dynasty that traced its origins by tradition to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The Rastafari movement regard him as the returned messiah of the Bible.

In 1935 – following the Italian invasion of his country, the Emperor went into exile after taking his case to the League of Nations and making a historic speech at their Geneva headquarters.

He needed a home and to plan his future as an exile and Bath seemed to suit his mood. For £3,500 he bought a 14 room Victorian villa called Fairfield in Newbridge Hill.

It offered 2.2 acres and plenty of privacy in a respectable neighbourhood until he was able to return to Ethiopia in 1941.

The Emperor's gift being received by the Mayor of Bath, Alderman William Henry Gallop, in 1954.
The Emperor’s gift being received by the Mayor of Bath, Alderman William Henry Gallop, in 1954. ©Bath Record Office

The Bath connection was not at an end as the Emperor returned in 1954 for a state visit to England and when official business was over came back to Bath to receive the Freedom of the City.

In return he gave Bath a pair of mounted elephants tusks which were subsequently stolen in the 1980’s.

In 1958 he gave Fairfield to the city and it was converted into an old people’s home and an estate of sheltered housing was built in the garden. It is now used as a residential meeting centre.

An organisation called Friends of Fairfield House has been formed to negotiate with the Council to transfer the house to community control and use. The group is cross-community and made up of Bathonians, Rastafari and Ethiopians – reflecting the various interest groups.

Crowds waiting to greet the Emperor in Abbey Churchyard in 1954.
Crowds waiting to greet the Emperor in Abbey Churchyard in 1954. ©Bath In Time

Anyone who can help with time, money, material or expertise is asked to email stevefairfieldhouse@gmail.com or visit the website at www.houseofhismajesty.com

Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974 in a Marxist uprising and died in captivity a year later.

Many of the images used come from the collections held by Bath In Time www.bathintime.co.uk  and l am also grateful to Bath Record Office   www.batharchives.co.uk  

The Virtual Museum would love to hear from anyone with memories of Haile Selassie and his connections with Bath.