Keith Bowes travelled from Bath to share his researches on the former Emperor Haile Selassie, and specifically on the visits that he made to our area and his link with the explorer Wilfred Thesiger.
Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa, when his father was in the British embassy there, in 1910, so that the Emperor would have known him even as a small boy. In 1924 Haile Selassie came to visit Britain with a gift of two lions for the king, and invited Thesiger, by then at Eton, to return to Ethiopia, for his coronation. In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia, renaming it Abyssinia, and Haile Selassie appealed to the League if Nations. However, governments, including the British one, did not intervene. Large crowd met him on his arrival in London, sympathising with this exotic refugee, but it was said that Baldwin hid under a table!
He went to live in Bath, and later moved from hotels there to Fairfield House with his household of about 25 people. In 1937 Italian ‘black shirts’ slaughtered many local people but there was still no governmental aid, so he relied on people like the suffragette Sylvia Pankhust.
He visited Milebrook House, the Thesiger home, at least once in 1948, and later Walpole Hall and hosts Ronald and Noel Stephens. Photographs of the time show his apparel had changed from his signature capes to rather more British coats and caps. It was said that as his years of exile wore on he was visibly depressed. Another visit was to the Bible College of Wales whose founder, Rees Howells, had been interceding for Ethiopia since its fall to the Italian Fascists. Rees Howells and his family remained close friends with the Emperor until his death in 1975.
He met Thesiger again during WW2 when the latter was fighting in Sudan, and when he regained his throne he helped Thesiger in his plans for exploration. In 1948 he left his Bath house to the city and called his Ethiopian summer house ‘Fairfield’ in its memory. Sadly, from having been a progressive leader in his early reign, he lost touch with his people and was overthrown, and ultimately killed on the orders of the new regime.