THE EARL AND THE EMPEROR
Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Monday 23 July, from 12 noon
For the first time in over three decades the Ethiopian flag will be flying from the roof of Dunham Massey on 23 July.
The date marks the birthday of the late Emperor Haile Selassie, who was to become a lifelong friend of Roger Grey, 10th Earl of Stamford.
Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 – 1974. In 1936 he became concerned about the rise of fascism worldwide as Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. He made a speech to the League of Nations warning of the threat of fascism, but was ignored and went on to spend 5 years in exile in England from 1936 – 1941.
Roger Grey was a member of the local League of Nations’ branch and was sympathetic to the plight of Ethiopia, so in 1938 he invited the Emperor to stay at his home, Dunham Massey. The Emperor visited for four days and it ignited a lasting friendship, which continued for the rest of both their lives. Roger flew the Ethiopian flag from the roof of his home when the Emperor visited, and each year on his birthday until he died.
Charlotte Smithson from Dunham Massey explains: “Ultimately this story is one of human empathy. Roger was moved by the Emperor’s words, and in turn we’re moved and inspired by Roger’s compassion and deep sense of equality. It’s an aspect of Dunham’s heritage we feel is important to celebrate.
Roger Grey was passionate about encouraging the concept of peace – especially amongst young people – so we wanted to echo this in our telling of the story. Alongside Manchester based music enablers Brighter Sound, we have been working with a group of young volunteers from South Manchester who will tell this special story through drama and their own music here at Dunham on 23 July.”
Gareth Bibby is Brighter Sound’s project coordinator: “We know that His Majesty introduced Roger to Ethiopian jazz, so this has been a strong influence to the music our young musicians are creating” explains Gareth. “Haile Selassie’s moving words to the League of Nations have inspired some of the lyrics written by our talented MCs”.
Marcus Hercules, the project’s drama leader says: “As someone who has grown up in the Rastafarian faith, this is a momentous occasion for Dunham Massey as it opens its doors to celebrate this friendship and reflect on the generosity shown by the Earl towards the Emperor. Roger showed great support and heart whilst some ridiculed. Blest is the man who stands for what is right in the face of adversity. Telling this story with the Lion of Judah flag flying overhead on His Majesty’s birthday will be a great privilege”.
Also on 23 July, Manchester music venue Band on the Wall will be presenting locally raised and internationally renowned poet Lemn Sissay MBE at Dunham Massey.
Lemn Sissay says: “For me Ethiopia is one of the greatest countries on earth, as is England. It seems correct that an Emperor and an Earl should be such close friends. As an Ethiopian and an Englishman I am honoured to speak at Dunham Massey and shall read a poem that last I read – for the first time – in Addis Ababa a few months ago. We should use each opportunity to show the magnificence of Ethiopia and its people”.
Music will also be provided by Beating Wing Orchestra which will play in Dunham Massey’s beautiful gardens. The band is made up of refugees, asylum seekers and local musicians, who collectively produce music that is a fusion of rich international sounds. The band will also share poems written in partnership with Musicians without Borders by victims of torture, who now live in and around Manchester.
A traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony will be performed by ladies from Salford’s Ethiopian community – it is traditional for such a ceremony to be performed by women.
As preparations for the event continue, Charlotte Smithson sums up: “We’re really looking forward to 23 July. We wanted to continue Roger’s tradition of extending the hand of friendship across cultures and this event epitomises and celebrates that. The National Trust is very much about bringing stories to life, so they can be passed down to future generations and not be lost or forgotten. We hope this event will be a very vibrant way of doing just that”.
The outdoor theatre performances will take place at 12.30pm and at 2.30pm on 23 July in the Inner Courtyard at Dunham Massey.
Lemn Sissay will introduce the first performance at 12noon and do a poetry reading. The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony will take place from 11.30am.
The Beating Wing Orchestra will perform in the gardens at Dunham at 1.30pm and 3.15pm.
For details call 0161 941 1025 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org