One does not, my dear, associate the Rastafarian religion with notoriously white, notoriously middle-class Bath – yet hidden in this World Heritage city, once visited by the likes of Jane Austin and the Romans, you will find one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Rastafarian Religion in Europe.
With heavy dreadlocks hanging around their shoulders, or wrapped up in colourful head scarves, the regular and joyful throb of drums beat amidst the occasional sweet waft of weed floating in the air, Rastafarian’s from Bristol, London and beyond recently met at Bath’s Fairfield House to celebrate the birthday of their most celebrated divine leader, Haile Selassie.
Bath has enjoyed it’s fair share of celebrities over the years but none have ever quite matched up to the day His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I swept into town. With royal lineage descending back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie I was of a royal pedigree simply unimaginable to most people.
There was great bewilderment in 1936, the year Haile Selassie arrived, Bathonian’s at that time would have only seen or imagined a black African King as part of a story in a picture book. His attire, an imposing, black, sweeping cape, alongside servants bearing parasols among his retinue was met with both astonishment and awe.
The Emperor, also known as: His Imperial Majesty, King of Kings and Lion of Judah, chose England as a place of exile after the Italian fascist Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, in a bid to colonise the country. In London, the Foreign Office decided it would be too dangerous to host Haile Selassie in the capital and suggested their ‘visitor ‘enjoy his ‘stay’ in the West.
Haile Selassie bought Fairfield House during his extended stay in Bath – which lasted almost five years. Today the property contains artefacts, furniture and memories of his life there, the Trust which runs the house also supports several charities, hosts art exhibitions and is currently raising much needed money to maintain this beautiful and historical Victorian villa.
I visited Fairfield House recently, with my son Felix, to experience the rich history of Haile Selassie, we were warmly welcomed by the Rastafari community who were there to commemorate the birthday of His Majesty. It was a joyous afternoon filled with music, sunshine, generosity, plenty of food and kindness – the people of Bath should be extremely proud of this unique and extraordinary piece of Bath, Ethiopian and Rastafarian history.
As poet Benjamin Zephaniah beautifully illustrated in this poem of Haile Selassie and his former home in Bath:
“This is the place,
This is the place, that the Emperor said would be African for countless moons,
This is the place,
This is the city that stretched forth its hands,
This is the house and this is the land,
And as long as the people of Bath live and breathe,
This is the place,
And would you believe…
That as Ethiopians were holding back Rome,
This is the place the Emperor called home.”
If you would like to help with fund-raising or volunteering at Fairfield House then get in touch with Trust Chairman, Steve Nightingale at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.houseofhismajesty.com.