Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

Filtering by Category: Mooi River Accommodation

WINTER SNOWS AND THE PROMISE OF SPRING

The first signs of Spring
(Photos : Leigh Willson)

It’s cold in Mooi River, make no mistake. Although the mercury only dipped as far as -2°C this morning, it’s been much colder this winter. With the remnants of recent snowfalls still visible on the Giant, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Spring was still a way off.

But if you take a trip to the hidden corners of the Hartford gardens, and look really carefully, you’ll see the first buds and blossoms on the peach and plum trees, the daffodils pushing their way through the frost-hardened earth, the primulas and snowdrops nodding their dainty blooms in the breeze, camellias, poppies, primroses – all the signs of Spring which is actually just around the corner!

Unveiling of South African “Horse Memorial”

british war horses

British War Horse Hospital
(Illustration : Fortunino Matania)

A memorial to horses, mules and other animals killed in service during human conflicts and particularly the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, is to be unveiled at Weston Agricultural College near Mooi River in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, on 31 May 2009. The memorial is apparently one of only four in the world: the others are located in Port Elizabeth, Argentina and Britain.

Weston Farm and Weston Common were the site of the British Army’s Number 7 Remount Depot, in service from 1899-1913 and used during the South African War of 1899 -1902. It also served during the 1906 Bhambatha Rebellion. An estimated 30 000 horses and mules are believed to have been buried on the farmlands in the area, with thousands of these graves located on the farm where Weston Agricultural College, one of the area’s leading high schools, is situated.

Weston College farm manager Warren Loader, a military history enthusiast, and Jeannine Tait, history teacher and museum curator, believed that it would be fitting for military – and public – recognition to be given to animals lost in battles fought in this and other regions.

The Horses

“The memorial is not only in recognition of the thousands of British Army horses who arrived at Weston Remount Depot to be broken in and/or recover from the weeks-long sea and train journeys that brought them here, but also pays tribute to the thousands of Boer horses who served loyally alongside their masters during the Anglo-Boer,” says Paul Tait, Weston’s Principal.

Mounts for the British Army were brought to South Africa from Argentina, and suffered terribly during the sea voyage, with an estimated 13 000 dying before they even landed in Durban. Mules also paid a vital part in the war, and were imported for military purposes from America for the first time, also suffering terrible losses. Of 150 000 mules purchased, some 50 000 perished. Animals injured during battle were brought to Weston to recover from their wounds.

Boer mounts were hardy non-Thoroughbreds that could live off meagre grazing and travel for many miles a day. An assessment of the Boer ponies by an English source, concluded, “He is a hardy, in some essential respects a disease-proof, animal; his life has been largely spent in the open. Limited fare has rendered him both economical in use and an excellent forager...He is docile, hardy and wary, but small and frequently plain; he is light in both body and limbs, which leaves the impression that he is not up to the weight of the British soldier, although he mostly carries a man whose body weight is greater than that of the average mounted British soldier.”

The Memorial

Evidence of Weston’s history can be found daily, with horseshoes, buckles, bottles and other artefacts being unearthed all the time. The memorial has been designed in a horseshoe shape, mounted by an obelisk-shaped monument created out of old horseshoes found on the farm. The inverted horseshoes of this centrepiece are in keeping with the tradition at a cavalryman’s funeral, where his boots are reversed in the stirrups on his horse. The structure is topped with a specially crafted bronze statue of a horse that is the work of Weston old boy and acclaimed Midlands artist, Kim Goodwin. The monument is backed by a Wall of Remembrance where plaques commemorating the animals lost in the battle will be mounted. A box containing some bones of horses buried on the farm will be placed within the Wall of Remembrance.

The entire monument will be surrounded by shells donated by the Natal Mounted Rifles, one of the regiments to be present at the unveiling, which takes place on Sunday 31 May at 2.10pm. This is the exact time when the ceasefire between Boer and British was signed in 1902, when the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was agreed.

Weston College will host the consecration ceremony, assisted by the Cavalry Association, representing traditional mounted regiments, and the Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR) and Umvoti Mounted Rifles (UMR). Regiments have been invited to display their Colours and flags of the day will be flown at half-mast. A mounted Guard of Honour will be in attendance.

Fun Day

The unveiling of the memorial will be the highlight of a public open day at Weston, starting at 9am, with various horse-related activities such as dressage and carriage-driving displays, tent-pegging by the UMR team, battle re-enactments by the Dundee Diehards, pony club demonstrations, talks by battlefields' tour guides and historians Ken Gillings and Maureen Richards, tours of the College (including its museum and significant heritage sites on the property), plus static displays by the Society for Preservation of Militaria and others. A commemorative booklet will be on sale on the day.

Weston’s Long History

In the 1800s, the town of Mooi River as we know it today did not exist. Instead, the village of Weston, laid out in 1866 and named after Martin West, the first Governor of Natal, was the centre of human settlement, with a store, a post office, a pound and a hotel.

At the end of 1898, mounted troops from Pietermaritzburg were sent to Weston to protect their horses from the deadly horse sickness that flourished in warm, wet conditions. In mid-1899, the 18th Hussars, the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, and a brigade of the RFA from Ladysmith were sent to camp at Weston to avoid the enteric fever that was rife in Ladysmith. When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in the latter part of that year, the Imperial authorities established a Remount Depot on the thousands of hectares of commonage near Weston, with the land being leased to the War Department.

Many of the original wood and iron buildings built for the remount depot remain in use. Three are provincial heritage sites – the officers’ mess, the commanding officer’s house, and a house built for doctors and nursing quarters for staff at Mooi River’s 600-bed, tented hospital. A 200-horse stable block, panelled stables for officer’s horses, old feed sheds and the original toll-house/post office (built in 1854 and today the farm stall), are in daily use. Some of the original red-brick College buildings were built in 1914.

Weston Agricultural College, its museum and the Horse Memorial are on the Midlands Meander tourist route, and as such are open to the public.

Weston Agricultural College

The College has a long-standing reputation as a learning establishment, with pupils combining an excellent academic education with hands-on farming experience in a genuine, sustained agricultural setting. As an operating farm, Weston is entirely self-sufficient and there are numerous farming enterprises underway on its 1200 hectare extent, set within a region with a rich farming heritage (dairy farming, cattle, potatoes, mealies, and world-class equine stud farms are just some of the agricultural enterprises that the area is known for). Surrounded by such a strong sense of history, many pupils become keen military history enthusiasts and trips to nearby battlefields are enjoyed. Horsemanship, too, continues to play a leading role, with the school producing many polo players of note.

A Memorial Ball will be held on Saturday 30 May at the college. The gate-fee for Sunday’s entertainment and the unveiling of the memorial is R5 per person.

Should you require further information, contact the school on +27 (033) 263-1328.

DRAKENSBERG BOYS' CHOIR

   
DRAKENSBERG BOYS' CHOIR

"Could this be the best Boys Choir in the world?"

We’re fortunate at Hartford House in the many visitors that travel thousands of miles to visit us, and the tapestry of cultures they represent. People come from across the world to stay at the “jewelled buckle” of the KZN midlands, some of them connoisseurs of the arts and music, others with uninitiated curiosities of what this spectacular part of the world has to offer.

However, the one thing they all have in common, once they’ve made their first pilgrimage to the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir (an enchanting 45 minute drive into the Champagne Valley), is that this is an irresistible option for all comers. Even the Viennese, who have a proprietary interest in protecting the status of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, concede that the diversity and the talent on display, at times, eclipses the lofty standards set by their own, and for those who are with us on a Wednesday during school term time, this is a must.

To most of our guests, we recommend an early breakfast and a drive over the Drakensberg through the gloriously coloured cliffs of the Golden Gate National Park, and then to Clarens, a village not much bigger than Mooi River, but unmistakably the art capital of South Africa. Clarens is home to more than thirty art galleries, and is the starting place for most of South Africa’s young artistic talent. It’s in the bottommost most corner of the south eastern Free State, and apart from being one of the great journeys of South Africa, it’s a convenient distance back to the Boys Choir, whose shows start at 3:30pm. These exhibitions are generally over by 5pm, and it’s a comfortable meander back to Hartford, in time for a shower or a lazy bath, before dinner. Some dinner too, in a national Top Ten restaurant.

And then, if you’re with us through Saturday evening, we have another surprise for you.

www.dbchoir.co.za

FORT DURNFORD, ESTCOURT

Major Anthony William Durnford / Fort Durnford (p)

Major Anthony William Durnford / Fort Durnford (p)

Strategically positioned atop a dominant stand overlooking the old military post at the Bushman’s River drift, the allegedly “haunted” Fort Durnford is a must visit for Hartford House guests exploring the Estcourt region.

The position was first occupied in 1847 but following the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873 and the resultant fear that abounded within the British outposts, was later fortified. Fort Durnford, as it stands today, was constructed in 1874 by Major Anthony William Durnford of the British Colonial Engineers in order to protect the Estcourt townspeople from possible Zulu attack. Today it houses the Estcourt Museum.

Fort Durnford was designed as a substantial stronghold, built in a rectangular shape from local sandstone. The walls are two feet thick and rise approximately thirty feet in height with two square towers and heavily barred windows throughout. The windows were originally fitted with heavy iron shutters, turning on hinges spiked to the walls.

Upon entering the Fort, a stone paved hall gives way to the heart of this bastion, with guard rooms, barracks and storerooms. Leading from a side passage which was used for the movement of prisoners and was originally closed by a grille, there are doors to a vaulted powder-magazine and offices.

An underground water tank lies buried beneath the paving of one of the rooms, and two "secret" tunnels lead from the remains of a pit hidden beneath the ground floor of the North-West tower. It is believed that one tunnel heads North-West towards the military post at the drift and the other North-East, exiting from the hillside. These tunnels would have been vital for the safe movement of supplies and for stealthy escapes.

The Fort Durnford museum has many interesting artifacts on display including fossils, Iron Age and Stone Age relics, old wagons and models depicting the historic Natal battles. The museum also showcases one of the largest birds’ egg collections.

Fort Durnford is open from Monday to Sunday, 09h00 - 12h00 and 13h00 - 16h00 and entrance is free, although there is a “donation box” which aims to assist in the maintenance of this significant monument of South African interest.

If you plan to set off early, the Hartford kitchen will gladly prepare a delicious picnic basket for your day's adventures.