The Standard Bank of South Africa opened its first branch in Eldoret, Kenya in 1912.
By then the town had just been declared an administrative center and had been officially renamed to Eldoret after having previously been known as “64 “or “Sisibo”, because the town was located 64 miles away from the newly established Uganda Railway railhead, located at Kibigori.
The bank building was an unimpressive mud/wooden structure with something similar to a verandah but not quiet, and a tin roof to top off the rickety ensemble. JM Shaw a Scotsman from South Africa was appointed first branch manager along with one secretary and a bookkeeper/cashier.
When the bank’s large safe was delivered to Eldoret by ox-cart, it was offloaded at the wrong end of building. Due to its immense weight, the safe was too heavy to simply be moved again and the bank had to be rebuilt around it.
( Giving birth to the “popular” phrase “if the safe won’t move, the bank must move to the safe. `:)
But fate can be a shifty phenomenon at times and this was one such time.
Fortunately or unfortunately the new branch was opened in a room adjoining a Wild Wild West reminiscent bar called The Rat Pit.
The Rat Pit was the epicenter of all social activity within the town, a place occasionally frequented by the who’s who, who knew all the what’s what. Customers often cashed their cheques at the bank and didn’t have to go far to spend their money.
It was somewhat of a win-win for Shaw too, he lived in a round hut at the bank of the back and most mornings he would conveniently walk next door, albeit in slippers and pyjamas, have breakfast at the Rat Pit, and head back to his room and prepare for the day. Shaw remained in Eldoret till 1920 when he was promoted to become manager of the bank’s new branch in Nairobi.
From these humble beginnings Eldoret would go on to grow into a prosperous town. By 1924 the extension of the Uganda Railway from Kibigori had reached Eldoret opening new avenues for trade and growth. By 1928 piped water supply from the Sosiani River was installed and by 1933 an electricity generator plant had been installed by the East African Power and Lighting Company.
Today it is one of the largest and fastest growing towns in Kenya and is best known as the home of the some of the world’s legendary athletes.
Image Courtesy Nigel Pavitt - Kenya A country in the making 1880-1940