My initial interest in Jomo Kenyatta, first President of Kenya, was inspired by his links with my family during the Second World War. I knew he had spent most of the war years working as a farm labourer at our family business in West Sussex. I remember my grandfather telling me many years ago that he had Kenyatta over to lunch when they discussed politics, among other things. I don’t expect they always agreed on everything, but my grandfather had obviously found him to be an interesting and intelligent man, and he was intrigued enough to find out what he had to say for himself. In fact, Kenyatta gave him a book he had recently written, called ‘My People of Kikuyu’ and he wrote inside the front cover: ‘To AG Linfield. With best wishes, Jomo Kenyatta. 17-4-42’ (Fig.1). The fact that my grandfather kept this book for over 30 years, before passing it on to me, surely indicates a certain respect for this man and his views, even though Kenyatta’s opinion of the British Empire was undoubtedly quite different to his own. I regret now not asking him what he thought about the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion and Kenyatta’s role during this colonial crisis.  

 My People of Kikuyu, 1942

Fig.1 My People of Kikuyu by Jomo Kenyatta, 1942 . Dedicated to AG Linfield.
Fig.1 My People of Kikuyu by Jomo Kenyatta, 1942 . Dedicated to AG Linfield.

Some years after my grandfather died, I decided to try and find out more about this fascinating man and his connections with West Sussex. It wasn’t difficult to collect together some simple facts which provided a basic outline of Kenyatta’s time in England. He originally came to this country in 1929 as official spokesman for his people, the Kikuyu, to try and redress their grievances against the colonial government. He remained here for much of the following 17 years, during which time he studied social anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) and wrote his acclaimed book ‘Facing Mount Kenya’.[1]

Fig.2 AG (Arthur George) Linfield in 1949
Fig.2 AG (Arthur George) Linfield in 1949

The outbreak of war prevented Kenyatta returning home, and in 1940, he came down to Sussex where he later found work at AG Linfield Ltd, market gardeners and growers, at Thakeham. During this time, he lived in the neighbouring village of Storrington, eventually marrying locally and having a son. He was something of a novelty to the local people, some of whom affectionately called him ‘Jumbo’. I also believe he travelled up to London now and again to continue his studies and meet old friends.

Whilst at university, an opportunity arose for me to do a paper on Kenyatta and his role in the ‘Mau Mau’ uprising. My studies significantly added to my knowledge and made me realise what a controversial figure he had become. It also gave me an understanding of the man himself – the long years spent in England must have been incredibly difficult and frustrating, requiring a dedication and resilience which were truly remarkable. Although this article is primarily concerned with Kenyatta’s time in Sussex, it would not be complete without due consideration of his reasons for coming to England in the first place and the role he played during the ‘Mau Mau’ crisis after he returned to Kenya in 1946.

Interestingly, until the recent publication of Professor Maloba’s political history of Jomo Kenyatta,[2] his years in Sussex have either been completely ignored or glossed over. Jeremy Murray-Brown’s biography of 1972 made a reasonable attempt to put the record straight,[3] but the author made some glaring mistakes, raising questions about the overall reliability of his version of events. For instance, he mentions that ‘in August 1940 Kenyatta took a job on a neighbouring farm’, ostensibly to avoid conscription and learn English farming methods, but he makes a flagrant error when he asserts that Kenyatta later ‘moved to the tomato houses at Lindfield’ – in fact, he has confused the Sussex village of Lindfield, which is near Haywards Heath, with the company name of Linfield’s, where, indeed, Kenyatta did work in the tomato houses, but they were situated at Thakeham. He had obviously failed to properly research this part of his life.

Kenyatta first became involved in politics in 1924 when he joined the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) and gradually climbed the ranks. By 1926, he was the general secretary of KCA and in 1927 was chosen to elucidate the Kikuyu land grievances before the Hilton Young Commission in Nairobi. On 17 February 1929, Kenyatta was sent to London as their official representative. Despite the reports of two Parliamentary Commissions which visited Kenya in the 1920s, the KCA still felt strongly that their grievances were not being properly addressed. By sending their official spokesman to the very heart of the British Empire, they now felt they possibly stood a better chance of obtaining concessions.

Fig.3 Frederick Caesar Linfield (1861-1939), Liberal MP
Fig.3 Frederick Caesar Linfield (1861-1939), Liberal MP

Incidentally, Kenyatta may even have met my grandfather’s uncle, Frederick Caesar Linfield (Fig. 3) who, as a Liberal Member of Parliament, was sent to East Africa in 1924 as a member of the first Parliamentary Commission to look into the conditions of the native population (known as the Ormsby-Gore Commission).[4] Frederick was particularly interested in colonial affairs, and even wrote his own Minority Report after returning to England. In this, he advocated setting up an Imperial Development Board paid for by the British Exchequer.  He argued that the Africans should have sufficient land upon which to grow food and cash crops rather than expanding European land ownership which worked against the interests of the indigenous people.

Unfortunately for Frederick, whilst he was away, a General Election in November 1924 saw the sitting Labour government defeated by the Conservatives, and he lost his seat – perhaps, not surprisingly, as he was unable to contest it. When the recommendations of the Commission were published in 1925, the Conservative government virtually ignored them, which was a great pity as they attempted to tackle some of the key injustices being felt by the native population. In his Minority Report, Frederick objected to a particularly repugnant practice whereby breaking an employment contract (‘desertion by a labourer from employment’) was treated as a criminal offence. This was a form of slavery in everything but name as it implied that the white farmer ‘owned’ the black worker during his hours of contractual employment. He wanted it to cease immediately.

Since colonisation in the 1890s, the deprivation of their land in ever increasing amounts was to become a major grievance for the Kikuyu. By 1904, large numbers of white settlers had been allocated farm areas in central Kikuyuland, and by 1905 some 11,000 Kiambu Kikuyu alone had lost 60,000 acres. Many were forced to work as cheap labour on the European farms, which was particularly degrading for a traditionally independent people. White settlement in Kiambu effectively blocked the possible expansion of the Kikuyu and closed the southern frontier. The closing of the frontier was of great importance in the 1930s, when population pressures, limited resources and opportunities led to a growing sense of despair among the people.

Their inability to redress their economic, social and political grievances through their political organisations (the Kikuyu Central Association was formed in 1920) only added to their intense frustration. Evicted Kikuyu were forced to migrate to the towns, where growing unemployment aggravated their problems and sense of injustice. Barriers were also erected to stifle African aspirations to advancement and to positions of prestige and status in the white market economy. Thus, the African was forbidden to cultivate cash crops like coffee, tea, sisal and pyrethrum. The role of the African was essentially limited to that of a low wage earner.

Throughout the colonial period in Kenya, the cultural traditions of the Kikuyu were also challenged by the whites. The Kikuyu had their own religion, superstitions and ceremonial circumcision or initiation rites; they also believed in the spiritual presence of ancestors. But the Europeans made little effort to understand Kikuyu customs and condemned them out of hand. The missions were a major source of Kikuyu resentment because they demanded a total transformation without compromise. But from about 1923, they increasingly questioned the aims and motives of the missionary churches and no longer blindly accepted their authority.

This was the background to Kenyatta’s visit to England in 1929, his objective being to take his people’s complaints to the very top. His trip was financed by a group of Indian merchants, who saw the potential of sending the articulate and persuasive Kenyatta to the centre of British politics. Unfortunately, perhaps not surprisingly at the time, Kenyatta found himself facing something of a brick wall; while there were plenty of people who were sympathetic and interested, the colonial office usually refused to even see him. Nevertheless, a meeting with Drummond Shiels (Under-Secretary of State for the colonies) in 1930 proved particularly prophetic; he argued that to ‘refuse to see or hear emissaries of the discontented’ would only drive them towards ‘violent methods’.[5] Kenyatta returned briefly to Kenya in October 1930, since the Indians were no longer willing to support him. Since he could do more in London than back home, the KCA raised enough money to send him back and he left towards the end of 1931, but this time he was to stay away for the next 15 years.

Kenyatta found odd jobs to finance his mission and lived as cheaply as he could, although there were also times when he was living in abject poverty. He continued to bombard the Colonial Office with petitions, all of which were ignored. It must have been thoroughly frustrating, with so little to show for his efforts. However, he achieved some success in 1932 when he managed to persuade the Carter Land Commission to offer compensation to those evicted from their lands by the settlers, although Africans were still to be barred from the choice highlands area.

In 1933, Kenyatta moved to 95, Cambridge Street, Pimlico (which now has a Blue Plaque), and it was during his stay there that Britain’s security agency MI5 started to take an interest in him because of the company he was sharing with communists and civil rights activists. They began to check his mail and snoop on his private life.

In 1936, he embarked on a course of social anthropology at the LSE under Bronislaw Malinowski, arguably the leading expert in his field in England at the time. Malinowski was struck by Kenyatta’s intelligence and true understanding of his people’s culture, and helped prepare his book, mentioned earlier, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’ which came out in 1938. The book was well-received and highly praised by Malinowski who regarded it as ‘one of the first really competent and instructive contributions to African ethnography by a scholar of pure African parentage’.[6] It was a pioneering achievement which helped to establish Kenyatta as something of a celebrity whom people wanted to meet and talk to. But more than that, its publication earned him his intellectual credentials and it gave him the authority to speak to the colonial authorities as an equal rather than a ‘semi-educated native’. The book was much more than a history of his people’s culture – it also skilfully used propaganda to attack the whole colonial system. His theme, as always, was that the Kikuyu had a well-developed and sophisticated cultural heritage of their own and had no need for the white man to interfere and impose his ‘civilising’ influence whilst systematically robbing them of their land and culture.

Kenyatta was now ready to return home, having at least done much to publicise the grievances of his people to the outside world. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Second World War put paid to his plans, and the world lost interest in African politics whilst the activities of Hitler and the Nazis dominated the world stage. Unable to return home, he was persuaded by his friend Dinah Stock, secretary of the British Centre Against Imperialism, to leave London and move to the relative safety of the country. They set out to stay with an academic friend of Stock’s, who was renting out the top floor of his house near the village of Storrington in West Sussex. They arrived at the home of Roy Armstrong, a Southampton University lecturer, who lived in the peaceful countryside on Heath Common, in Bracken Lane, some 2 miles to the east of the village. This heathland was, in many ways, a home from home to Kenyatta, with its spectacular views of the rolling South Downs, its bracken and silver birches, its woods and farmland. The similarities with his homeland were quite striking – he certainly felt comfortable here, and stayed throughout the duration of the war.

In 1996, I sent a letter to a local newspaper requesting information about Kenyatta and his time in Sussex. The most interesting response came from Roy Armstrong’s daughter, Jean who remembered him as their paying tenant during the war years. He was given his own area of scrub to clear where he successfully cultivated his own supply of vegetables and kept some chickens. Jean, who was a small girl at the time, clearly remembers her fascination for the sweet corn he was growing – it was the first time she had ever seen it! He also told her how it had to be grown in a block rather than a row to facilitate pollination. When I went to see her soon after, she showed me the site of Kenyatta’s vegetable plot, as well as the silver birch which was his ‘sacred tree’, through which he claimed to communicate with the spirits of his people during his more reflective moments. Mysteriously, perhaps, this tree survived the battering of the Great Storm in 1987, whereas all the trees surrounding it were brought crashing to the ground.

Fig 4 Mill House, in Mill Lane, Ashington (2019)
Fig 4 Mill House, in Mill Lane, Ashington (2019)

Soon after moving to Sussex, Kenyatta found a job as a farm worker in the local area. According to Jean, he was working at a nursery in Ashington when he became friendly with a family who were living at Mill House in Mill Lane. One day at the local tennis club, he met Edna Grace Clarke, governess to their children. They got on well, and Kenyatta would wander up to the house each day during his lunchbreak. Sadly, Edna’s parents were killed in an air raid in May 1941 – Kenyatta instinctively offered his help and sympathy and within a year they were married.[7] On 11 August 1943, their son Peter Magana was born in Worthing Hospital. He was named after Kenyatta’s grandfather.

Fig.5 Copy of Kenyatta’s Ration Book, issued on 7 July 1941
Fig.5 Copy of Kenyatta’s Ration Book, issued on 7 July 1941

By 1941, he had taken on a new job as a nursery worker (although he described himself as an agricultural worker) at AG Linfield’s Chesswood nurseries in the neighbouring village of Thakeham, where he was initially put to work tending the tomatoes in the glasshouses. The wartime urgency to produce as much home-grown food as possible meant that companies like Linfield’s had to devote all their energies to the production of vegetables, and indoor and outdoor tomatoes were their most important crop during this period. Supplies were no longer available from the Channel Islands or the Continent, so it fell to the British growers to try and make up the shortfall. After the agricultural depression of the ‘30s, Linfield’s brought all their land back into cultivation and essentially turned the enterprise into an intensive market garden. The shortage of manpower throughout the war years meant that Kenyatta would have done all sorts of different jobs during the four to five years he was employed there.

Although the firm of Linfield’s, using the Chesswood brand, later became well-known nationally as large scale mushroom growers, this crop was discouraged during the war because fungi were regarded by the Government as a ‘non-essential luxury devoid of food value’.[8] However, the War Agricultural Executive Committee allowed them to be grown in buildings which could not be adapted for anything else, so they continued to be grown where possible, and particularly in the old mushroom sheds where Jack Willmer was foreman, at Town House Farm. Jack Willmer’s son Derrick was a young boy at the time, and he distinctly remembers Kenyatta spending time at the nursery where he was employed to turn the mushroom compost by hand. Derrick also told me he thought Kenyatta was keen to learn as much as possible during his time at the family business, so he was happy to have a go at whatever jobs became available.

Fig.5 Panoramic view of the Linfield nurseries at Thakeham, as Kenyatta would have known them.
Fig.6 Panoramic view of the Linfield nurseries at Thakeham, as Kenyatta would have known them.

One of his jobs was to cook the beetroot before it was sold.  Syd Ede, employed by Paine Manwaring of Worthing, recalled a conversation with Kenyatta when he was working at Thakeham on one of the boilers.[9] He asked him about Kenya and what it was like.  ‘Well’, said Kenyatta, ‘it’s much like living here, really – except we have two summers!’

Kenyatta apparently got on well with everybody, and proved to be a helpful and kind worker, willing to come to the aid of anyone who needed a helping hand. He was well liked and universally accepted among the workforce. Another young boy at the time remembered Kenyatta coming to his father’s house where they shared breakfast during the morning break.[10] He had kept an old wages ledger which showed Kenyatta’s name among the employees. Sadly, as far as I am aware, there are very few surviving documents relating to his time at Linfield’s: all I have found, among a box of correspondence, is a letter sent to a Mr S.W. Randolph of Hatch End in Middlesex on 18 May 1943. It says:

‘Dear Sir

We understand from Mr. Kenyatta who works at the above Nursery, that you are looking for work of that description.

If you would like to come and see us, I expect we could fix you up.

Yours faithfully,

A.G. Linfield Ltd.’

I heard some years ago that one of his fellow workers had some photographs of him, but after she died, they could not be found. Fig. 7 shows a photo of Kenyatta allegedly taken in his garden where he is apparently destroying a wasps’ nest.

Fig.6 Kenyatta allegedly destroys a wasps’ nest in his garden at Heath Common c1942
Fig.7 Kenyatta allegedly destroys a wasps’ nest in his garden at Heath Common c1942

Kenyatta was something of a novelty in the Storrington area, but he soon settled into Sussex life and was well known in the village and surrounding area. He was definitely an extraordinary character – flamboyant and gregarious, a showman who delighted in mimicry and whose powers of imagination would hold an audience spellbound as he pretended to stalk and kill a lion. He was quite often to be found in a local pub in the evening, and the Anchor in Storrington was apparently one of his favourites.

Another of my correspondents in 1996 vividly remembered going on a country ramble; she was quite close to Kenyatta,

‘when a snake or adder suddenly appeared in our path. I suppose Jomo recognised it as dangerous and killed it with one swipe of his rather special walking stick, which he always carried’.[11]

No doubt his exceptional talents helped him to persevere through the long years of frustration and disappointment which he must have endured in England, trying to put the case of his people to a largely unreceptive governing class. He never gave up, and despite numerous setbacks, somehow or other he always managed to keep his dream alive. No doubt, the peaceful Sussex countryside and its close resemblance to his homeland must have been a comfort as well as a reminder of his single-minded purpose. He managed to keep cheerful throughout his wartime exile, a man convinced of his destiny and confident that one day the aspirations of his people would be realised. It was only a matter of time.

Roy Armstrong’s privileged background, which included public school and Oxford, did not prevent him from taking a keen interest in social issues and he was dismayed at the serious hardship and suffering that occurred during the depression years of the 1930s. His passionate belief in the value of education to enable people to improve their lives and make informed decisions naturally led him to get involved with the Workers Educational Association (WEA), of which he became the unpaid West Sussex organiser in 1932. Attracted to the Heath Common area of Storrington in the late ‘20s, Roy and his wife Sheila decided to make it their home and in 1930 purchased their first plot of land, to which they added several more until they eventually owned 11 acres. This was close to where Vera Pragnell was conducting her social experiment known as ‘The Sanctuary’, which attracted many intellectuals and idealists. In 1933, after building a timber-framed bungalow, Roy embarked on a much more ambitious project when he started ‘Highover’, a crescent-shaped brick-built property with a large balcony and wonderful views towards Chanctonbury Ring. They had many friends from all sorts of political persuasions, including extreme left-wing groups, and not surprisingly, with the outbreak of war and the arrival of Kenyatta, the security service began to take an avid interest.

The National Archives hold an interesting collection of intelligence reports on Kenyatta, starting in early 1940 soon after his arrival.[12] Much of it appears to be driven by the colonial government in Kenya who wanted to know the people with whom he was in contact. Major-General Sir Vernon Kell, head of MI5, wrote a letter to the Chief Constable of West Sussex asking for assistance in the surveillance operation. M15 were particularly keen to ascertain the exact relationship between Kenyatta and Armstrong, as well as other associates whom they regarded as communists. One document, dated 3 May 1940, says:

‘Armstrong has definite Communistic views and until about four years ago small meetings were held at his house. He has resided at ‘Highover’ for about six years and his political views are well known. He does not appear to be engaged locally in any Communist activities.’

 With the onset of war, the WEA were asked to help the army by supplying classes on political awareness and other topics for the vast numbers of soldiers in the country. Interestingly, Armstrong’s permit to lecture to the troops was suspended through the intervention of M15, although it was later restored. Armstrong always assumed it was because of allegations that he was a communist and security risk, which he always denied (in fact, he says in a letter ‘… I have never been regarded – even during my Labour Party days – as anything but a rather woolly liberal’[13]). What he hadn’t realised, of course, was that it was his association with Kenyatta which had made him a subject of interest rather more than his political leanings. Kenyatta was under surveillance and his mail intercepted throughout the whole of his time in Storrington.

The colonial government in Nairobi were particularly interested in Kenyatta’s correspondence with people in his home country, and Kell ensured that copies of all his letters were passed on to the Kenyan Police. In a letter of 21 May 1940, Kell informs the Commissioner of Police in Nairobi where Kenyatta is living, his occupation and the name of his landlord who is ‘on the fringes of Communist activity’.

To supplement his farmworker’s wage, Armstrong found Kenyatta some part-time work as a lecturer in the WEA, and he mainly talked about colonial issues and the injustices of the colonial system. One of my correspondents remembered a meeting which took place at the White Hart, Queen Street, Arundel when Kenyatta was introduced by Arthur Johnson of Coldwaltham, a local NUPE organiser.[14] On this occasion, his lecture was about India and its struggle for independence. On another occasion, on 24 June 1942, his theme was ‘What does Europe want of Africa?’[15] (Fig.8). His line, as usual, related to land, oppression and the hardship and misery of the native peoples.

Fig.7 Diary extract showing details of the WEA Garden Meeting on 24 June 1942 when Kenyatta spoke of “What does Europe want of Africa?” (see footnote 9). The abbreviations ‘A.R.W.’ (Air Raid Warning) and ‘A.C.’ (All Clear) are stark reminders that this was wartime.
Fig.8 Diary extract showing details of the WEA Garden Meeting on 24 June 1942 when Kenyatta spoke of “What does Europe want of Africa?” (see footnote 9). The abbreviations ‘A.R.W.’ (Air Raid Warning) and ‘A.C.’ (All Clear) are stark reminders that this was wartime.

Interestingly, like his landlord, Kenyatta also lectured to British troops under the Forces Educational Scheme, starting in February 1942. In September 1943, South Eastern Command approached MI5 and asked whether there was any objection to the renewal of Kenyatta’s Certificate of Employment as a lecturer to the troops. On behalf of MI5, Hilary Creedy replied that Kenyatta was ‘pretty unsuitable for lecturing to the troops’ but as he had already been given a certificate which had been renewed before, ‘I do not think we can begin objecting now’. He did not think Kenyatta would make any subversive comments in his talks but ‘he may very well present a very biased view on affairs in East Africa to his audience.’ Creedy suggested sending someone along to one of his lectures to see what he had to say.

This wasn’t the first time a request had been made to West Sussex Constabulary that someone should attend one of his lectures. On 25 February 1941, the Chief Constable filed a report to MI5 describing a WEA lecture which Kenyatta gave at Wisborough Green. It reported that during his hour-long lecture on anthropology, Kenyatta espoused no political views and during question time afterwards he stuck rigidly to his subject, with no attempt to promote any political party ‘whether subversive or otherwise’.

Kenyatta was fairly isolated from his Pan-African colleagues during the war, although he kept in touch, especially with George Padmore and T. Ras Makonnen. Towards the end of the war, Kenyatta was able to spend more time renewing acquaintances, particularly in Manchester where Makonnen was running a number of restaurants. Makonnen even paid a visit to Kenyatta in Storrington on one occasion, and rather amusingly, somehow managed to persuade Kenyatta to part with his chickens.

1946-50 Nationalist leader

In September 1946, Kenyatta sailed from Southampton, leaving behind Edna and their child at Storrington. Once home, as the unquestioned leader of the new nationalism, he soon became fully immersed in Kenyan politics. He had spent nearly seventeen years abroad, mostly in England, campaigning for his people, during which time he wrote a powerful critique of the whole British occupation in Kenya. When he returned home, it was only natural that he was given the leadership of the new Kenya African Union (KAU), a nationalist association which sought to incorporate all the tribes in Kenya. Therefore, he was not solely concerned with the grievances of the Kikuyu.

His immediate concern was to build up mass support for the aims of the new party: freedom of speech; universal franchise; equal rights with Europeans; to ‘defend’ all Kenya Africans; and to ‘fight’ for African education, labour, housing and freedom of the press. Obviously, after repeated failure to gain concessions before the war, he now realised that show of strength was the most likely way of achieving reform. So he embarked upon the most intensive political effort of his life: building up the strength of the KAU.

In these early post war years, he secured his Kikuyu base first and then worked from it. An early attempt was made to extend his political message to the independent schools. Kenyatta spent much of his time touring the country, addressing meetings, and attracting audiences of some twenty to thirty thousand. These enormous meetings exemplified his personal magnetism and charisma as a leader; he stirred the very emotions of his audience often to a fever-pitch which threatened to explode into action. Yet he always had full control over the situation; essentially, he was an orthodox nationalist leader who wanted to avoid violence as far as possible. Kenyatta’s primary objective was to show the colonial authorities the dangerous consequences of ignoring the new nationalist movement. However, this is not to deny that he was probably prepared to tolerate a certain amount of violence, should the government not come to its senses and fail to grant concessions to the nationalists.

As for Edna, she had always known that when the time came, her husband would return to Kenya without her to lead the drive towards independence. She appears to have remained at ‘Highover’ for a while, working as a nursery governess, perhaps hoping that Jomo would fulfil the promise he made to Dinah Stock to forward the royalties from his book ‘Facing Mount Kenya’ to pay for Peter’s education. But nothing materialised and eventually she decided to move away, to find more suitable employment with live-in accommodation where she could raise Peter and get him educated. She eventually took up a teaching post at a rather unconventional boarding school called Pinewood in Hertfordshire, which had some 50-60 children from families working abroad.

1950-61 Kenyatta and the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion

Kenyatta’s alleged involvement with the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion during the 1950s has effectively tainted his reputation ever since. Although the meaning of the term remains obscure, we identify ‘Mau Mau’ with ‘the militant nationalism and the violence that characterised the politics of central Kenya before and during the early years of the Emergency’,[16] which was declared by a frightened government in October 1952. It first made its appearance in 1948, and it was officially proscribed in 1950.

It is important to realise from the start that the phenomenon of ‘Mau Mau’ was restricted to one tribe, the Kikuyu, not surprisingly because they were the most seriously affected by colonisation among the various tribes in Kenya. They had most to complain about; but their many attempts to redress their grievances through the machinery of the colonial state had always failed. The failure of Jomo Kenyatta to gain any concessions after World War II allowed the militants to come to power, and the result was the tragedy of the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion: with the enormous loss of 13,547 lives (of whom 13,423 were Kikuyu alone).

A typically European interpretation of ‘Mau Mau’ – especially among the colonial government, the missionary leaders and the white settlers – was that it was a fanatical collective madness. Such people were convinced that Kenyatta was the mastermind of a secret tribal cult, led by unscrupulous extremists who stirred up the primitive masses to further their own ambitions. For L.S.B. Leakey, ‘Mau Mau’ had the evil power of ‘turning thousands of peace-keeping Kikuyu into murderous fanatics’.[17] The widespread use of oathing and oathing ceremonies were taken by Kenya’s Europeans to signify an irrational rejection of modernity; due to their primitive intellect, the Kikuyu were considered unable to adapt to rapid change. In reality, ‘Mau Mau’ was the logical outcome of years of mounting frustration and deterioration of life conditions. Allowed no outlet, these frustrations boiled over into violence – all European values were turned upside down, and the tribe found ‘its mystical unity in the re-formed figures of the past.’[18]

In effect, ‘Mau Mau’ evolved out of the repeated failure of the Kikuyu political organizations to gain any reform through the constitutional channels of the colonial government. The men who formed the backbone of ‘Mau Mau’ were the young militants who became increasingly impatient with the lack of progress, especially after the Second World War. It was reinforced when Kenyatta and the other main Kikuyu political leaders were arrested in October 1952.

Kenyatta’s responsibility for ‘Mau Mau’ has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Was he a moderate forced to take a militant line by the extremists, or was he committed to violence or the threat of violence to gain reform? Certainly, there needs to be a firm distinction drawn between his responsibility for ‘Mau Mau’ and the position bestowed upon him during the rebellion. But far from being responsible for ‘Mau Mau’ Kenyatta could hardly have supported it even. Its inherently tribal orientation not only threatened to destroy the solidarity he had helped to build up among the Kikuyu but also the years of hard work he had put into building an all-tribe nationalist movement. The fear of domination by a single tribe threatened to break apart the all-tribal unity which Kenyatta sought to pitch against the colonial government.

It is this consideration, I think, which explains Kenyatta’s open condemnation of ‘Mau Mau’ on a number of occasions in 1951 and 1952; many of his opponents said he had his tongue-in-cheek. But he feared that a violent tribal confrontation would destroy what he had already achieved, and his condemnation of ‘Mau Mau’ was probably a warning to the militants to step into line. In all probability, he was not fool enough to believe that an individual tribal revolt could achieve anything like as much as a rationally conceived confrontation which included all the tribes of Kenya. Events proved him wrong; but he was not to know that they would. Kenyatta wanted to coerce the colonial authorities into granting concessions; solidarity among the Kenya Africans was a crucial weapon in his armoury. But a rebellion among the Kikuyu would be easily suppressed, and would lead the government to take immediate action against the nationalist movement as a whole; in effect, extinguishing what he had achieved, and setting back the nationalist movement by years. These were probably his fears.

Unfortunately, Kenyatta lost the initiative to the militants. The evidence tends to suggest that ‘Mau Mau’ evolved from the militant infiltration of Kenyatta’s all-tribe KAU by the old members of the KCA and the young militants of the ‘Forty group’, who were simultaneously leaders of the new underground movement. In the early post-war years, it was a highly select secret organisation with limited membership. But with the failure of KAU to gain any reform, it underwent a dramatic transformation beginning in 1950 into an underground mass movement. By 1950, the young extremists had given up all hope of finding compromise with the Europeans, and despite his hold over the masses, Kenyatta lost the initiative to the less patient militants. He was powerless to prevent the tragedy of ‘Mau Mau’. In effect, the government was a major precipitant of ‘Mau Mau’ by failing to grant concessions when it was absolutely necessary.

Kenyatta’s position in the movement is a very interesting one, because whether he liked it or not, he was the acclaimed leader of ‘Mau Mau’. Oaths were administered in his name and he was claimed to possess divine powers. But he was elevated to this position by the militants who administered the oaths. In effect, he was the figurehead and not the real driving force behind the movement. Kenyatta was a name to be used because he was the most widely known and revered of the Kikuyu nationalists – he had shown his magnetism as a leader at the vast meetings he addressed, and he was surrounded by a mystical aura. So, with or without his approval, he was the ‘leader’ of ‘Mau Mau’ even after his detention.

Even though Kenyatta must have condemned the violence of ‘Mau Mau’ because it essentially involved the horrors of a Kikuyu civil war, he was still regarded as the spiritual leader of the movement. But there was no central direction of operations; ‘Mau Mau’ became the rebellion of semi-educated or illiterate peasants who expressed their frustrations in almost indiscriminate violence. It was not so much directed against the European settlers than against Africans considered to be loyalist to the government. While only about 95 Europeans were killed by ‘Mau Mau’ terrorists, nearly 2000 ‘loyalist’ Kikuyu lost their lives. It would seem that the embittered Kikuyu were more incensed towards the loyalists among their tribe than the people who were directly responsible for their adverse conditions. The tragedy of ‘Mau Mau’ is that it need never have happened – an enlightened government would have seen the folly of continuing to suppress all African aspirations, which made some sort of revolt inevitable.

Of course, in a state of confusion and with no central leadership, it was only a matter of time before the British Army defeated ‘Mau Mau’. By 1956 the rebellion was over; more than 11,000 Kikuyu had been killed by the security forces. But all had not been in vain; the revolt ensured that change was inevitable in Kenya. The complacency of the colonial government was shattered beyond repair. In 1961, Kenyatta and the other detainees were released; three years later he was President of an independent African state: The Republic of Kenya.

1961-78 Kenyatta the Statesman

Soon after his release, Kenyatta once again set about building the bridges of national unity. As a tribally diverse country, his first imperative was to unify all the tribes of Kenya to fight against the colonial government’s desire to put off the inevitable. Soon he would be back in London again, attending the Kenya Constitutional Conference.

It was during these negotiations that he took time off in October 1963 to revisit old friends in West Sussex. He visited Roy Armstrong at his wartime home in Bracken Lane, Heath Common, Storrington, arriving in two flagged Rolls-Royces, with his cabinet and bodyguards! The Armstrongs had no idea he would be paying them a visit, and were quite astonished when their former tenant appeared at the front door with his considerable entourage. Roy had been out pruning some of the rampant rhododendrons in his garden, and had a large makeshift bandage wrapped around his left hand where he had cut himself (Fig. 8). Politics was apparently not one of the subjects they covered.

Fig.9 Roy Armstrong and his former tenant meet for the first time in 17 years, October 1963. Armstrong’s main claim to fame was the foundation of the inspirational Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton, West Sussex in 1970. His acclaimed ‘History of Sussex’, first published in 1961, has never been out of print.
Fig.9 Roy Armstrong and his former tenant meet for the first time in 17 years, October 1963. Armstrong’s main claim to fame was the foundation of the inspirational Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton, West Sussex in 1970. His acclaimed ‘History of Sussex’, first published in 1961, has never been out of print.


Arthur Johnson of West Chiltington, who knew Kenyatta well during the war years and who lectured with him on anthropology and colonial administration, stated that he ‘could never believe that he was responsible for those atrocities in Kenya’. His wife said: ‘We remember him as he was here. We thought he was a very friendly and very nice charming man who was very fond of children and of animals.’[19] Mrs FW Eddolls, in charge of Linfield’s canteen during the war, also said how she found him to be ‘a very nice and likeable chap’ and how she would be very pleased to see him again.

Fig. 9 Kenyatta and his entourage at his wartime home, October 1963. R. James Gichuru, defence minister; Mr Konuke, bodyguard/secretary; Jomo Kenyatta, Prime Minister; Dr. Njoroge Mungai, health minister and his personal physician; bodyguard (name unknown); Charles Njonjo, Attorney General.
Fig. 10 Kenyatta and his entourage at his wartime home, October 1963. R. James Gichuru, defence minister; Mr Konuke, bodyguard/secretary; Jomo Kenyatta, Prime Minister; Dr. Njoroge Mungai, health minister and his personal physician; bodyguard (name unknown); Charles Njonjo, Attorney General.

Kenya gained its independence on 12 December 1963, and exactly 12 months later on 12 December 1964, Kenya became a republic within the British Commonwealth with Kenyatta its first president. He had come a long way from his days as the friendly, helpful nursery worker at Linfield’s nursery! His first act was to welcome the anxious whites to remain in the country.

Despite the nine years he had been kept in detention by the colonial government, he was able to forget his own suffering and offer the hand of reconciliation. Kenyatta was a pragmatic politician, much less of an idealist than many of his Pan-African colleagues, and he knew the importance of maintaining stability in Kenya if foreign capital was still to be invested in the new state. Despite the years of violence of ‘Mau Mau’, Kenya soon became a model of harmony and stability. Foreign investment boomed and the economy flourished.

During 1965, my uncle, Jim Linfield went on holiday to Kenya with his family to stay with his brother-in-law, who had a farm there. During their visit, they were all ‘summoned’ to Nairobi to meet the President and I have a signed photograph of them with Kenyatta (Fig. 10). It is dated 11 November 1965. Jim’s brother-in-law, Bill Luckin, jokingly remarked ‘we’re in trouble now!’ when the invitation came, but everything went smoothly and they had an enjoyable day. Kenyatta also invited them to his home, as he wanted to show them round his farm, but at the last moment the visit was cancelled due to a political crisis in Rhodesia when renegade Prime Minister Ian Smith announced the Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain.

Fig.10 (L to R): Jim Linfield, President Kenyatta and Bill Luckin at State House, 11 November 1965
Fig.11 (L to R): Jim Linfield, President Kenyatta and Bill Luckin at State House, 11 November 1965

 Kenyatta guided his nation for fourteen years. Although there were several scandals, and he was supposed to have amassed a large fortune, the people of Kenya remained loyal to him and grateful for the lifetime of devotion he had given to the cause of their freedom. His legacy was enormous: when he died on 22 August 1978, he left behind a prosperous and peaceful nation, and certainly one of the most stable of the newly independent African states. Although Kenya has unfortunately experienced some recent internal disturbances, the situation appears to be resolved, at least for the time being. Now Kenyatta’s son Uhuru, born in 1961, is President – unfortunately, his reputation has been tarnished by allegations of his possible involvement in the bloodshed and serious violence that marred the last elections.

For many years, a memorial has been in the planning stages to celebrate Kenyatta’s life at the place of his birth, Gatundu, some 30 minutes north of Nairobi. As yet, however, little material progress has been made and it is probable that several more years will pass before the project comes to fruition.


The overall picture I have gained about Kenyatta during his wartime years in Sussex is something like this: he was respected as a popular and good lecturer and I have found little evidence of any racism against him. My cousin remembers him as a very cultured and intelligent man who loved children and animals. It would seem that he was generally accepted by his fellow workers and the local people; of course, there was a war on at the time, and everyone was preoccupied with the national effort to defeat the Nazis. Kenyatta was undoubtedly a charismatic figure who earned the respect and even affection of the many local people with whom he came into contact.

As for Kenyatta’s personal involvement with the ‘Mau Mau’ rebellion, I feel that the evidence speaks for itself. He was essentially a nationalist leader who had spent decades pursuing a peaceful and patient policy to obtain concessions for the people of his homeland. But his apparent lack of success in the face of protracted opposition meant that he lost the initiative to a younger generation of militants unimpressed with his gradual approach and also more determined to achieve change as quickly as possible. As the unquestioned leader of the new national movement and with a charismatic presence, he was effectively elevated to the position of leader of ‘Mau Mau’ whether he liked it or not.

The tragedy of ‘Mau Mau’ is that Kenyatta had long predicted the dire consequences of ignoring the aspirations of the African, but the authorities chose to disregard him. They really should have listened.


 Maloba, W.O. Kenyatta and Britain: An Account of Political Transformation, 1929-1963, Springer International Publishing AG, Switzerland (1st ed. 2018)

Murray-Brown, Jeremy Kenyatta (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1972)

Zeuner, Diane (Ed.) Building History, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum 1970-2010 – the first forty years, published by Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, Chichester PO18 0EU (2010)

Rosberg, Carl G.  and Nottingham, John The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya

Wepman, Dennis Jomo Kenyatta (1985)

Leakey LSB, Defeating Mau Mau (1954)

The Mushroom Journal, May 1983.

Comment on Corfield Makerere College, Kampala (Nov. 1960)

Arnold, Guy Kenyatta and the Politics of Kenya (1973)

Worthing Herald, October 1963

West Sussex County Times, March 5 1976

Cox, Richard Kenyatta’s Country (1965)


With many thanks to the many people who provided information for this article and, in particular, to Jean and Ian MacWhirter, who also supplied the photographs of Jomo Kenyatta’s visit to the Armstrongs in 1963, during the Lancaster House Conference, and the illustration of his ration book in Fig. 5.

Copyright © Lin(d)field One Name Group, 2nd revision October 2019     (1st published in 2010, revised 2014).


[1] Kenyatta, J. Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. London: Mercury Books, 1938

[2] Maloba, W.O. Kenyatta and Britain: An Account of Political Transformation, 1929-1963, Springer International Publishing AG, Switzerland, 1st ed. 2018

[3] Murray-Brown, J. Kenyatta, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1972

[4] Report of the East Africa Commission, April 1925: National archives catalogue Ref: CAB/24/173

[5] Wepman, D. Jomo Kenyatta, p.61, 1985

[6] Kenyatta 1938: Preface, xiii–xiv

[7] England and Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005. Q3 Chanctonbury, Sussex Vol. 2b p.957 (11 May 1942; the ceremony took place at Chanctonbury Register Office).

[8] History of the MGA (1945-1980), by FC Atkins OBE in The Mushroom Journal, May 1983, p. 164

[9] In conversation at Worthing Library (5 March 2011) at the opening of a photographic exhibition on the Worthing Glasshouse Industry

[10] Henry Laker (1935-2001) in conversation. His father was Ernie Laker, a long-time employee of the business

[11] Mrs Marjorie A. Vincent of Cissbury Avenue, Findon Valley, Worthing in a letter dated 12 June 1996. She and her late husband saw Kenyatta quite often at W.E.A. meetings and events.

[12] National Archives, reference KV 2/1788. Description: ‘Jomo KENYATTA, alias Johnstone KENYATTA: Kenyan. These files cover the early political career of the Kenyan political leader, Jomo KENYATTA’.

[13] In a letter from Roy Armstrong, dated 25 February 1980, to Roger Fieldhouse, Department of Adult Education and Extramural Studies, University of Leeds

[14] Mr Frank Penfold of Burpham, near Arundel in a letter dated 6 June 1996. He also recalled that his relative, General Bernard Penfold of Selsey, was seconded to train Kenya’s new army.

[15] Mr Michael Loader of Mill Road, Steyning in a letter of 3 July 1996. Fig. 8 is taken from his father’s diary for 24 June 1942, which shows details of the WEA Garden meeting and is signed by Kenyatta

[16] Rosberg, Carl G. and Nottingham, John The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya Intro. p.xvi

[17] Leakey LSB, Defeating Mau Mau, p. 43

[18] Comment on Corfield Makerere College, Kampala November 1960, p. 37

[19] Kenyatta invited to West Sussex, in Worthing Herald, 1963


  1. I believe that Jomo Kenyatta lodged for a short while with my grandparents William and Esther Gander in Ashington. Their house was called Honeymead.

    1. Thank you for getting in touch, Suzanne and providing the information that Kenyatta may have stayed with your grandparents in Ashington.

      Do you have any further information which might help to clarify why he would have stayed with them? Do you know when? We know that he originally came to West Sussex with his friend Dinah Stock towards the end of 1939 because Dinah was an old friend of Roy Armstrong and she knew he was letting out the top floor flat at his home in Heath Common, near Storrington. As far as we know, this was where he lived until he returned to Kenya in 1946, (and from 1942 with his English wife Edna).

      Soon after coming to Sussex, I believe he took a job at a nursery in Ashington but I have been unable to discover which one. I thought it might have been Ashington Nurseries, but I have found out since that this was not the case. Your grandparents didn’t own a nursery, by any chance? If he stayed with them for a while, I wonder why? Certainly, by early 1941 he had taken a job at AG Linfield’s Chesswood nurseries in Thakeham.

      Please don’t think I am doubting your claims, but if we could just find a plausible reason behind his decision to stay with them, it would start to make some sense. It may be that he needed to vacate his flat in Storrington for a while – perhaps to enable some visitors/friends of his to come and stay?

      If you are able to shed any further light on this matter, that would be fascinating.

      With best regards

  2. Hi, I am John and a tour driver in Kenya but my wife is British.
    Have always been fascinated about Jomo Kenyatta our first president, and if he worked for your grandfather at his farm, I would like to visit the farm and just feel a connection with him and just say that I visited the farm that our first president worked at.
    It is my hope these few words get to you.
    I know it is a difficult time to explore now, but this can happen when the country allows and when I am here in Britain with my family and would really appreciate if I got a reply from you.

    Thanks and Regards

    John Njuguna Waithera

    1. Hi John
      Thanks for getting in touch and expressing your interest in Jomo Kenyatta and where he worked during the Second World War.
      When he started work at AG Linfield Ltd in 1941, the family business was essentially an enormous market garden which had to produce as much food as it could to help replace the food imports which were no longer available because of the war. He spent his time working there doing many different jobs – wherever he was required – including working in the greenhouses to tend the tomato crops.
      After the war, the firm became major producers of mushrooms under the brand name of Chesswood Mushrooms. In 1980, the family sold the business to RHM and there have been various changes of ownership ever since. The current owner is Monaghan’s of Ireland, who bought the company in 2011 and they have virtually wiped out all the remaining greenhouses and various buildings that Kenyatta would have known. It is more like a factory now and all their activities are focused on growing and packing mushrooms, and there is no market gardening enterprise or any farming activities. A lot of land has been sold off since 1980, and the Abingworth site (an old dairy purchased in 1944) is covered with new housing.
      Maybe if you visit, I may have time to show you the site as it is today. In the meantime, I attach an article about the business – bringing it up to date – which you may find useful for background information. I also attach a photo of the nursery from the top of the hill showing the panoramic view that Jomo would have recognised in 1945 – and another taken more recently showing roughly the same view today. This shows you how the whole scene has changed. However, the geographical features – eg the South Downs in the distance and the shape of the landscape have not changed – and Jomo would be familiar with the scene today.
      I hope this is of some help to you!
      With thanks and best wishes

  3. Thank you, Sir Malcolm Linfield for this most fascinating account of Jomo Kenyatta’s time in the UK and West Sussex in particular. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it and have shared it with fellow Kenyans. Jomo Kenyatta’s time in the UK has largely remained a mystery so this is a real eye opener!

    1. Hi Alex

      Thank you so much for your recent note of appreciation for the article I wrote on Jomo Kenyatta’s time in England, in particular his time in West Sussex during the Second World War.

      His connection with my family and his time working at the family horticultural business has always fascinated me – it has been a real pleasure to be able to bring this story to a wider audience because so little had been written previously about his time here, and what little had been was riddled with errors.

      I am especially pleased that the article has proved of value to yourself and the other Kenyan people you have told about it.

      With best regards

  4. Thanks for this comprehensive article shedding light on Kenyatta’s Sussex years. I first knew he’d lived in Storrington when visiting the museum there. Having been in Kenya just after the attempted military coup in 1982, I was drawn to a small display on JK & expressed my surprise. The lady on duty explained that it was her family that JK had stayed with & she had supplied the items in the glass case. I still find it amazing that he lived in Sussex for 17 years, had a family here & lectured for the WEA & yet so little is known about it. I really enjoyed the article, thanks for filling in the gaps.

    1. Thanks for your kind remarks, Lucy.

      In October 2019, Jean (Roy Armstrong’s daughter) and myself were very lucky to meet up with Peter Kenyatta and his sister Kristina Kenyatta Pratt when they paid a visit to Storrington to see some of their father’s old haunts. They came complete with a film crew to record the occasion, and included visits to the house where he lived on Heath Common and the site of the nurseries at Thakeham where he worked between 1941-46 before returning home to Kenya to lead the fight for independence.

      Jean and I joined them for lunch in the Moon public house in Storrington, where Jean was later interviewed by Peter Kenyatta in the garden. I was later interviewed by Peter at the Anchor, one of his father’s favourite watering holes.

      Both Jean and I had a very enjoyable time and it was a privilege to be able to contribute something to a new national archive being created in Kenya as a memorial to their founding father. Both Peter and Kristina were charming and very friendly – Peter had lost none of the skills he would have honed during his time at the BBC as he proved an excellent interviewer.

  5. Please could you get in touch with me by email Malcolm. Jomo was a close friend of my grandfather and best man at my grandparents’ wedding in Brighton in 1942. I have lots of photographs of him in Sussex before and during the war including the full sequence of the wasp nest incident taken by my grandfather.

    1. Dear Karen

      What a surprise! Thank you so much for contacting me about the photos you have of Jomo Kenyatta in Sussex – I am, of course, very excited to see what images you have. As you would have read in my article, I didn’t think any had survived and I had virtually given up hope of finding any at all.

      I hope you enjoyed the article I wrote about Jomo. I was lucky a few years ago to meet Peter Kenyatta and his sister Kristina Kenyatta Pratt when they paid a visit to Storrington to see some of their father’s old haunts. They came complete with a film crew to record the occasion, and included visits to the house where he lived on Heath Common and the site of the nurseries at Thakeham where he worked between 1941-46 before returning home to Kenya to lead the fight for independence.

      I look forward to hearing from you! You no doubt have some very interesting stories to tell.

      With best regards

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