VALE Royal Abbey is the most beguiling and yet probably the least known historic setting in Cheshire. The place has fascinated me for over sixty years, a boyhood adventure to wander Sandiway golf course and sneak into the forbidden and forbidding precincts. Embellished in their telling we had heard the blood-curdling tales of ghosts and headless monks and at the faintest of shadow, or echo on timeworn cobbles, we were off, not stopping until we had passed the grinning stone carvings of Monkey Lodge.

Later, as a reporter and then editor of the local Northwich Guardian, I penned many an article about the uncertain fate of Vale Royal, centuries of history, its very survival often hanging by no more than a gossamer thread. Stories engrained in folklore, the mightiest monastery of England endowed by one king and razed to the ground by another.

Then came generations of the Delameres, an ancient landed family rooted in Cheshire since William the Conqueror. The most remarkable of them all was the 3rd Baron Delamere. Small in stature and yet a mountainous figure he sacrificed Vale Royal to shape and found a nation and a dynasty thousands of miles away.

Now largely forgotten in his native land and denounced in his adopted country, he left a legacy that would become Kenya, the backdrop to one of the most enduring murder mysteries of all time, its impact felt nowhere greater than in Cheshire. It is specifically from the Cheshire perspective that I have brought together this account focused on Vale Royal, the Delameres and their neighbours and friends, the Delves Broughtons, a family ensnared in notoriety due to the 11th Baronet and his wife, a scarlet woman who went on to become the eighth Lady Delamere of Vale Royal.

Finally there are astonishing recent events surrounding the tragedy of the 3rd Baron Delamere’s great-grandson who twice escaped the gallows charged with murder in Kenya.

On the subject of Kenya, it is important within context to briefly understand its evolution: From 1895 to 1920 the country was a British protectorate known as East Africa. It became Kenya Colony in 1920 and upon full independence, in 1964, the modern Republic of Kenya.

I wish to acknowledge three outstanding books I have particularly used for source material, Elspeth Huxley’s two-volume work White Man’s Country; James Fox’s White Mischief; and Leda Farrants Diana, Lady Delamere, and the Lord Erroll Murder.