Blue plaque on iconic Bath building linked to UWE Bristol project is fit for an Emperor

Issue date: 23 September 2019


Fairfield House in Bath where Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie once lived, has unveiled a blue plaque that is funded by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The Emperor's grandson Prince Micheal Mekonnen revealed the plaque during a ceremony on Sunday 22 September.

The blue plaque was born out of research carried out by UWE Bristol academic Dr Shawn Sobers, who undertook an AHRC-funded project called 'Ethiopian Echoes on a British Landscape'. His work breathed new life into Fairfield House, making it an intercultural hub that organises debates, exhibitions and the formation of an internet radio station Imperial Voice.com. It also raised awareness about the building's historical importance through various public talks and academic papers.

When Mussolini's Italian fascist regime invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the Ethiopian royal family settled in Bath to campaign for international support. The Emperor lived with his family in Fairfield House, a Grade II listed building, from 1936-40 before returning home to reign for another 30 years.

Today he is still worshipped as God incarnate by the Rastafari movement, which has its origins in 1930s Jamaica.

During his time living in Bath, Emperor Selassie received a warm welcome from local residents, and this generosity was reciprocated when he gave Fairfield House to the city as a gift to be used for elders of the city. Today the building is used as a day care centre by the Bath Ethnic Minority Senior Citizens Association (BEMSCA).

On Sunday morning, Prince Mekonnen also unveiled a second blue plaque on the Tropicana building in Weston Super Mare. While living in the UK, the Emperor regularly visited Weston-super-Mare, where he enjoyed swimming in the open-air pool. Although invited to, he never jumped the queue and would happily chat with other visitors.

Both plaques were created to honour the time the Ethiopian King spent in the South West. Other dignitaries, including the Lord Mayor of Bath, Councillor Gerry Curran are to attended the openings.

Dr Shawn Sobers, who is Associate Professor in Lens Media at UWE Bristol as well as a Trustee of Fairfield House CIC, said: "This was a significant day for both Bath and Weston-Super-Mare, and a long overdue acknowledgement that an important world leader made then west country his home. We look looking to continuing this partnership with Weston, and other sites in the UK that the Emperor had connections with."

Malcolm Nicholson, Weston-Super-Mare's Town Clerk, said: “We are honoured to have this association of our town with the royal family of Ethiopia, and grateful to Dr Sobers and the trustees of Fairfield House for linking up with Weston Town Council to recall this important time in history.”

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