Hartford's beauty was discovered by the Moor family some 130 years ago when the land was granted to them by Queen Victoria in the mid 1870s. This property, which was home to the family of Sir Frederick Moor, the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal, is now part of the greater Summerhill estate, the former domain of Colonel Richards, who served as Sir Frederick's deputy and as a senator in the first government of the Union of South Africa. The families's endeavours left their 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 - and any horse carrying his black and green silks was as good as money in the bank, so they said! Such was their dominance that the Ellis horses carried off every major prize on the southern African turf. Their exploits compare with those of the mighty strings of England's Lord Derby, the Agas Khan and the Sheikhs Maktoum, France's Boussac, Italy's Tesio, or those of America's Phippses and Calumets.
On November 22, 1899, when this tranquil and beautiful landscape 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 foot of Hartford and Summerhill. On Ntabanqumo, with its sweeping vistas 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 battle 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, a true colonial gentleman, 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 love of 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 modern Africa's biggest dairy business National Combined Dairies. 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' dairy at Summerhill, another pillar of the National Combined Dairies, has seen the birth of numerous champion racehorses.
The Summerhill farmstead hosted the British Royal Family for a period of their 1922 visit and the acceptance of their copy of the Treaty of Vereeniging by the local Boer kommando, took place on its veranda.
The Summerhill Stallion Barn is a showcase for some of the finest thoroughbreds in the southern hemisphere. Most of them are the property of the Maktoums, the First Family of Dubai, who rank among the world's most successful owners of the modern era. The farm's labour force is predominantly Zulu. History remembers them as revered 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; the Gosses being the most recent of the three families to have lived at Hartford. "In the process of preserving it, we will leave our own signatures behind for those who follow."