How Bath gave shelter to ‘The King of Kings’

How Bath gave shelter to ‘The King of Kings’

Bath’s five-star Macdonald Bath Spa Hotel –  behind Sydney Gardens – is a building with a long and colourful history. Famous people as diverse as Winston Churchill and Joan Collins have slept under its roof. At different times – and periods of history – of course!


MacDonald Bath Spa Hotel

Churchill came during the war when the hotel was requisitioned by the Admiralty. Ms Collins stayed more recently – in the 1990’s – when the building had reverted once more to its luxury hotel status.

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Another view of the hotel.

However, this particular story revolves around a royal personage who came to Bath with his family  – as refugees. It was the start of his exile – and he lodged in the hotel while searching for a more permanent  home in the city.


The Emperor and hunting party in Ethiopia before the Italian invasion drove him into exile. It was taken on the Addis Ababa to Djibouti railway line in the early 1930s just after he’d been officially crowned as Emperor.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. A King of Kings, the Lion of Judah and descendant of the House of Solomon – made homeless by the Italian invasion of his homeland.


The family photo was probably taken at Fairfield House in Bath in the late 1930s.

The anniversary will be marked by a special presentation to the hotel of a photograph of the Emperor with Dr James Carpenter, the then Mayor of Bath, which was taken on the hotel steps in 1936.


The Emperor and Mayor of Bath on the doorstep of the Bath Spa Hotel back in 1936. © Bath in Time

A specially framed version will be presented – on May 5th – by Prince Michael Mekonnen, the grandson of His Imperial Majesty – and will go on permanent display in the hotel foyer.


The Emperor came back to Bath to receive the Freedom of the City and presented the Mayor of Bath with mounted elephant tusks. The ivory has since been stolen! © Bath in Time

A brief talk about the Emperor’s stay at the hotel will be given by Keith Bowers who is also the author of a new book called Imperial Exile. The book is the first full account of the Ethiopian Emperor’s experiences as a refugee in Britain.


Author Keith Bowers with his new book – Imperial Exile.

 Keith is a former BBC executive producer and has taught at the University of Addis Ababa. He now lives in Bath. His previous book was Viewing History, an eyewitness account of decisive world events.

I spoke to him – at the MacDonald Bath Spa  Hotel – this week.

Many of the Bath photographs in that interview come from the files of Bath in Time – please visit on

The book is already on Amazon available for pre-orders.



According to the blurb…


The first full account of the Ethiopian Emperor’s experiences as a refugee in Britain

: uncovers new details about Haile Selassie’s epic struggles while living in the spa city of Bath 

: unveils the tensions in the UK government about how to deal with its famous exile

: reveals how the Emperor was forced to pay income tax after losing his Head of State status

: highlights the British public’s fascination with the Imperial refugee fleeing Mussolini’s troops

: contains interviews with eyewitnesses, including Princess Seble Desta who was with her grandfather in exile.”

Meanwhile – on May 2nd –  a special Open Day is being held at Fairfield House in Bath which became the long-term residence of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia during
his exile in the UK from 1936-40.


Fairfield House – the former home of Hailee Selassie during his exile.

The Open Day will provide a chance to discover more
about the fascinating history of the house and the Emperor’s life in Bath.

According to

The House and garden will be open from 2pm.
From 3pm-4pm First guided tour plus talk by Keith Bowers, author of the new book Imperial Exile
4.30pm-5.30pm Second guided tour plus talk by Keith Bowers.
Light refreshments available, including Ethiopian food and coffee.

You will find Fairfield House at 2 Kelston Road, Bath BA1 3QJ – View Map


Bath and the King of Kings

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 or visit the website at

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  and l am also grateful to Bath Record Office  

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