Hartford's beauty was discovered by the Moor family almost 150 years ago, when they came by its vacant landscape in the early 1870s. Home to the family of John and Sir Frederick Moor, the last prime minister of old Natal, the property is now part of the greater Summerhill estate, former domain of Colonel Richards, a senator in the first Union government. These families endeavours left a rich mark on what the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal represents today.
Some 70 years later, Raymond Ellis founded his all-conquering thoroughbred enterprise on these historic acres, when any horse carrying his black and green silks was said to be as good as money in the bank. Such was their dominance that the Hartford horses carried off every major prize on the southern African turf. Their exploits compared with the mighty strings of England's Lord Derby, the Agas Khan and the Sheikhs Maktoum, Ireland’s Coolmore, France's Boussac, Italy's Tesio, or those of America's Phippses and Calumets.
On November 22, 1899, when this tranquil neighbourhood was suffering the ravages of the Anglo-Boer War, generals Piet Joubert (of Majuba fame) and Louis Botha, fresh from the skirmish at Willow Grange, camped on the koppie at the junction of the Hartford and Summerhill farms.
On Ntabanqumo, with its sweeping vistas of the ramparts of Giant's Castle, the decision which changed the course of the war was taken. Botha urged the push for Durban and its harbour, while the Krygsraad, sitting in Pretoria, elected the fall-back to the Thukela River, hence the great battles of Colenso and the mother of them all, Spioenkop.
Meanwhile back at Hartford, a quaint little drama all about horses, was playing out. The Boers had commandeered Sir Frederick Moor's horse and, in modern terms, that was like taking a farmer's Land Rover. His brother John took himself off - walking stick, tweed suit and Staffordshire bull terrier - to the foot of the farm to recover the horse. "It just isn't cricket" he protested to the general who, being a decent Greytown boy and unconcerned as to whether it was cricket or jukskei, reunited John with the horse - and for good measure, a spare. This reverencefor horses remains a fundamental aspect of life on the farms.
Shortly before he became the first prime minister of South Africa and just after Sir Frederick was knighted for his contributions to the establishment of the Union of South Africa, Louis Botha assisted the Moors in erecting a milking parlour. This became the foundation of the National Combined Dairies, modern Africa's biggest dairy business. Today the original dairy is preserved in the Hartford Chapel.
The old foaling barn, birthplace of many Hartford champions, is now the Sentinel Conference Centre, while George Richards' original dairy at Summerhill has seen the birth of the racehorses that gave the farm its record ten national breeders’ premierships.
The Summerhill farmstead hosted the British Royal family for a period of their 1922 visit and the endorsement of the Treaty of Vereeniging by the leader of the local Boer kommando, General Dawid Joubert, took place on its verandah in 1902.
The Summerhill Stallion Barn is a showcase for some of the finest thoroughbreds in the southern hemisphere. Among its most celebrated encumbents are the champion sires Northern Guest, Home Guard, Liloy and National Emblem as well as Kahal, Rambo Dancer and Muhtafal, the property of the Maktoums, the First Family of Dubai. The farm's work force and Hartford’s service complement is predominantly Zulu, whom history remembers as valiant warriors and gifted stockmen.
"We are keenly aware that we are custodians of one of Africa's most treasured legacies," says Hartford House's founder Cheryl Goss, hers being the most recent of the three families to have lived at Hartford. "In the process of preserving it, we hope to leave our own signatures behind for the generations that follow."