Mombasa Club, which turns 120 years in October, embodies the history of not only the coastal tourist town, but also that of the region.
It is here where the Queen of England stayed when she attended Kenya’s independence celebrations in 1963.
The club, established in 1897, was frequented by British civil servants and railway employees who were working for the British East Africa Protectorate. It is fondly referred to as “Chini Club” by its members, since one has to drive down a hill to access it.
The club is located next to the historical Fort Jesus, with its walls mirroring those of the fort – they are wide since they are not made from blocks.
During the earlier colonial days of its operation, the club strictly admitted membership only, with even celebrities being turned away.
Mr Edward Rodwell, the celebrated coast writer who died in April 2002 at 95 and who was at one time a chairman of the club, writes in his book – The Mombasa Club – that the club’s exclusivity during the early years was strictly enforced and did not excuse even the Prince of Ethiopia.
The book gives an account of the club’s operations since it was established.
The grandson of the Emperor of Ethiopia who had travelled in the company of the commander in chief of the East India Squadron, wanted to become a honorary member but his request was turned down. “The club committee had been asked if the prince could be made an honorary member, but the committee said that such a move was against the constitution of the club. The club lawyers held to this principle,” Mr Rodwell writes.
But today, the club has become popular with Mombasa residents who identify with its historical ambience, says its chairman Maina Njanga.
“We hold corporate events as long as the company is introduced by a member. There are two squash courts, snooker, two conference rooms, where interested parties can enjoy themselves. The location is perfect for professionals especially advocates as it is near the courts,” he said in an interview.
“We also offer accommodation to guests who enjoy beautiful views. Some rooms overlook the iconic Fort Jesus while others give a beautiful view of the ocean,” said the chairman.
Mr Njanga said the club holds the only sea water swimming pool in Kenya which is filled with water from the Tudor Creek.
Other historical aspects of the club are the Navy and Army trophies that bedeck the walls, which were handed over to the management by ship captains who docked at the old Mombasa port.
A gazetted monument, the club still maintains wooden floors, balconies and staircases, similar to those in buildings within Mombasa’s Old Town.
The architecture echoes a marvel of the culture with ornamental doors.
The club also hosts one of the oldest libraries in Kenya.
Just like other clubs in the country that were set up in the colonial times, women were not allowed to join and those who worked there were restricted from some areas.
“There is a member who once resigned from the club after a woman passed by a bar that was strictly for men,” said a worker at the club.
At the time of restrictions on women, a bell would be rang at 7pm to warn them that their time was up and they were expected to leave. The restriction has been lifted.
During his visit to Mombasa in 1907, Winston Churchill who later served as British Prime Minister, also spent nights at the club.