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: Midlands Accommodation


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.


Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Life in Africa really is a paradox. Every evening at home, we tune into Sky channel to catch up with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. The talk is quite depressing, and if it’s not war, it’s the financial crisis. On the other hand, we look at our guests at Hartford House and we see people from England, California, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australia, and we’re heartened that they take such trouble and travel so far to visit us. Truth is, more than ever, international travellers are looking for value destinations these days, and with the Rand trading in the vicinity of 10 to the dollar, you get no better bang for your buck than here in South Africa in general, and at Hartford especially.

In the last fortnight, we were honoured with the visit of an octet of some of the world’s top businessmen, who flew in from three different countries on three different private jets, and while the nature of their visit was private to the degree of their remaining largely anonymous, they proclaimed Hartford one of the best hotels in the world. Coming from people who can obviously afford to stay anywhere at any price, this is as rich a compliment as any hotel could wish for. It says something for our people, where they come from, and where they still have go. Hartford is very much a work in progress as far as its people are concerned, and the exciting thing is, we’ve still got so much to learn and so much to give.

At least one of them though, the celebrated anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, broke (excuse the pun!) his veil of secrecy when his account of their African pilgrimage was posted on YouTube (click here to watch). Here’s a man who’s traversed the length and breadth of the planet, spoken to kings, queens and presidents, yet had the time to reflect on his “Zulu” experience.

We have some treasured friends in residence as we write, one of whom, Angus Gold, is the personal emissary of the Rulers of Dubai. Angus was instrumental in bringing about Sheikh Hamdan's substantial investment in bloodstock at Summerhill two decades ago this year, and he is one of our firmest friends. Our lives light up when he gets here, and his departure leaves something of a hole, though for those who’ve had to stay up at night, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Also aboard at the moment is a legend of the South African business environment in Freddy Hirsch, arguably South Africa’s best known dealer in spices. Freddy is here as the guest of Eskort Bacon factory, celebrating his 80th birthday, and he’s in remarkably good shape. He survived a primary school education in the company of another of our great friends and horse racing colleagues, Graham Beck, (who’s lived life to a degree few of us could imagine,) and Freddy’s built a business empire of astounding proportions. Interestingly, the founders of Hartford, the Moor family (who spawned the last Prime Minister of the Colony as well as a Senator in the first South African government) were also co-founders of the Eskort Bacon factory and what is now known as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent. The visitations by Arnold Prinsloo, CEO of Eskort, and his cohorts are something of a homecoming for us.

ABE SEGAL : Tennis Legend and Raconteur

Abe Segal / Tennis Week (p)

Abe Segal / Tennis Week (p)

We were privileged this week to have as a guest at Hartford House  Mr Abe Segal, South African tennis legend and raconteur.

Abe has recently launched his autobiography entitled, “Hey, Big Boy!” which offers readers an “unfettered, unadorned, unabridged and largely unedited" insight into the "rambunctious, boisterous, funny, informative and chaotic" memoirs of Abe Segal himself.

The following extract from the Evans Report by Richard Evans has a closer look at Abe Segal and his memoirs, “Hey, Big Boy!”

”Well, what about Big Boy’s book? It’s a fun read and opens up a large and well decorated window on an age that today’s tennis pros can barely believe ever existed. It was an age of traveling on a shoe string; receiving hard cash under the table and hoping that some of the rich patrons of the country clubs in which many of the tournaments were played invited you to stay at their mansions. Many did because, as Segal points out, there were a lot of rich wives who were bored with their rich husbands and liked nothing better than a passing dalliance with a virile young tennis player.

And then there was the movie star set. Frequently accompanied by the man to whom the book is dedicated, Lew Hoad, Abe became friends with a whole host of stars from Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, to whom he seems to have taken a distinct dislike, to Richard Burton and Peter Ustinov, whom he obviously adored.

Abe was the son of poor Polish Jewish immigrants and much of the early chapters are taken up with an account of how he climbed out of poverty by virtue of his winning personality and talent with a racket. Eventually he would meet and marry the beautiful Bermudan, Heather, who came from an altogether classier background and whose English friends obviously bored Segal to tears.

One of his best stories concerns the upper-crust dinner party Heather dragged Abe to in London. Ustinov was starring in a West End hit "Stop Light" at the time and the guests were soon bemoaning the fact that tickets were absolutely impossible to come by. "How many do you want?", asked Segal suddenly, making his first contribution to the conversation of the evening.

"Five, actually," somebody sneered. "But how do you think you’ll manage that when we’ve exhausted every avenue?"

So Abe excuses himself and calls Ustinov at the theatre.

"Peter’s on stage at the moment but will call back," he told the snickering, disbelieving guests on his return. Sure enough, an hour later, the butler came in to announce, "Mr Ustinov on the line for Mr Segal."

Unable to resist mimicking a ticket tout’s accent, Ustinov spoke to Segal in loud Cockney. "Ow many tickets you lookin’ for Saturday night, guv?"

Not surprisingly, Abe says he could have kissed him.

But there are stories for every taste, some of them a little crude; some of them downright scary. With Heather and his Australian doubles partner Warren Woodcock in tow, Segal got himself mixed up with a bunch of Chicago hoods and was actually present when the order was given for someone to be "taken out."

Any doubts about what they had heard were removed next morning when the newspaper headlines read: "Two Men Found in Back of Bullet Ridden Car."

Perhaps it was a good thing that Segal, always on the look out for a witticism, had introduced himself to some of the more notorious gangsters with: "I’m Abe Segal, no relation to Bugsy in case you’re wondering." Evidently they weren’t.

The tone and style of this book are in total contrast to the best selling and beautifully written "A Handful of Summers" penned many years ago by Gordon Forbes, the player with whom Segal enjoyed most success on a doubles court. Perhaps because of that Forbes does not feature as much as one would have expected and certainly not nearly as much as Segal himself did in Forbes’ tome.

But Segal is especially good on Herbie Flam, the troubled American player and Art ‘Tappy’ Larsen, another of that post war generation who played and behaved in ways unimaginable today. There are Dick Savitt stories, too, and revelations about Fred Kovaleski being a CIA agent. Others relate to his close friendship with Sol Kerzner, who built Sun City in Boputhatswana and made Abe the Director of Tennis before going off to develop Paradise Island in Nassau. And then there was Stan Getz and racing driver James Hunt and Sean Connery who wrote the introduction.

Segal was a good friend of Mark McCormack’s, too, and, at Mark’s request, became coach to Betsy Nagelsen for a time before she became Mrs. McCormack. But, throughout the book, Lew Hoad, one of the greatest players ever to pick up a racket, is never far away. In later years, before Lew died of a rare blood disease at the age of 59, Abe spent a great deal of time at the Campo de Tenis that Lew and his wife Jenny used to run in Mijas on the Costa del Sol. For years the picturesque club was the meeting point for stars of stage, screen and sport who liked to sip Rioja at Lew’s bar and party under the palm trees after a little tennis. Those were the days, Big Boy.”

Emanzini Suite 11 at Hartford House

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

Emanzini Suite 11 / Hartford House (p)

We are blessed on our farms with an abundance of water, with numerous underground springs spread across the length and breadth of the property. The word Emanzini means “at the waterside” in Zulu, and this suite takes its name from its proximity to the swimming pool, the Wellness Centre and the springs. . “The Springs” was also the name of the farm in East Griqualand on which Pat Goss snr. founded his renowned racehorse breeding enterprise in the 1930’s.

Emanzini was one of the first exercises in building with bricks and mortar for our previously unskilled Zulus, who in our opinion, made an excellent job of what seemed like an impossible task when we first set out.

This suite fronts onto the old wisteria pergola, which dates back to the foundation of the Manor House, in 1875. The Moors, who were the first occupants of Hartford as we know it, initiated a habit of giving to each other a plant or a piece of garden statuary or ornamentation on wedding anniversaries, and the pergola was one of the first of these. Since then, the Ellises and the Gosseshave perpetuated this rather quaint habit, and most of what you see in the garden today came about as a result.


Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

Church Bell / Neil Gould (p)

"For whom the bell tolls..."

We have as guests at Hartford House a rather rare species, in the form of a church bell ringer. Commander John & Mrs. Anne Ford have been clients of Summerhill for more than a decade now, and they’re residents, in their normal lives, of a small village called Blakesley in Northamptonshire, UK. They’ve kept mares with us for throughout this time, and they make an annual pilgrimage, having a deep and lasting affinity for this part of southern Africa.

However, it is in another of her capacities that we pen this note, as Anne teamed up with a compatriot from the same village in a bell-ringing exercise at St.George’s Cathedral in Cape Town last Sunday. Her fellow campanologist was no less than the Honourable Gillian Foster, wife of yet another very long serving client of Summerhill. Alec Foster has been associated with us for just about all of the thirty years we’ve been in business at Summerhill, first as a client of Mick Goss’ law practice, and for at least the past two decades, as a keeper of his mares on the farm.

At this time of year, our friends come in every shape and size and from every corner of the world, yet this was an unlikely duo, in an unusual exercise at the southernmost tip of what the civilized world still calls the “Darkest Continent”.

Could this be the Great Trek?

the great trek

The Great Trek?
(Hartford House)

Anyone visiting Summerhill this week could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a pilgrimage. While there will no doubt be others who pitch randomly, already we are expecting visitors from several different directions of the world.

The English are here in force, headed by Sir Bruce and Lady Hester Martin, Stuart and Adele Silvey, Commander and Mrs John Ford, while the Welsh, who lowered the English flag at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, are represented by the Mercers and the Dawsons of Usk Valley Stud Farm. Gold Circle are here with an Mpumalanga delegation on Thursday, local trainers Mike Miller, Garth Puller, Dennis Drier and their respective spouses were here on Monday.

Riding legend Michael Robertsand his wife Verna were diners at Hartford the same day. Summerhill stalwart Steve Sturlese was accompanied by his racing manager, Peter de Marigny and his newly acquired son-in-law, top jockey Brandon Lerena, whilst shipping supremo, Brian Roux, Arthur and Vynettevan der Heijden and Standard Bank will all have darkened the portals of the farm before the week is out.

No wonder we know so few people in the neighbourhood! Yet we wouldn’t trade it for anything: these are the people that bring the colour to our lives.

Hartford House is PUMPING

hartford veranda restaurant

"The home of good conversation, fine wines and classic horses."
(Hartford House)

Living by its slogan “the only world class hotel on a world class stud farm in the world”, dinner on any evening at Hartford House in January and February is a cosmopolitan affair. Adorned with candles, its great colonial verandah is alive with the conversation of as many as six different tongues, though a gathering at the Summerhill table of Australians, British, French and South Africans, demands one universal language. It’s about horses, of course (who might have guessed?) and it’s this time of year when the horse nations of the world converge on us, and Hartford fondly remembers its other slogan “the home of good conversation, fine wines and classic horses”.

Naturally, there’s many a pilgrim who’s been magnetised by the space, the peace, the tranquillity, the beauty of our countryside, and of course, the culture of the only people on earth whose name is known to every airline pilot, “Z” for Zulu.

Guests this evening, include Jonathan D’Arcy and Simon Vivien from Australia’s time honoured auction house, Inglis & Son, here on their annual African sojourn; Xavier and Natalie Bozo, prominent French breeders, Patrick Mitford-Slade, whose connections go back to the great English stallion Petingo; National Spirit’s breeders, Dr Allen and Robyn Bechard, and a rotation of delegates from the Summerhill team. We use the word rotation intentionally: with the best will in the world, we could not dish up an “A” class repertoire, lunch-in-and-dinner-out, day after day as times demand, without a fresh contingent to carry the cudgels.


Kerryn Ackerman, HD Ackerman, Shirley Lavarack and Dave Lavarack

Kerryn Ackerman, HD Ackerman, Shirley Lavarack and Dave Lavarack


For adherents of the horse business, it’s probably appropriate, especially as we speak of ladies, to mention Shirley Lavarack (née Kruger) first in this despatch. By any measure, Shirley is the giant of the bookmaking fraternity, and to our knowledge, she was the first lady in history to be awarded a bookmaking license. Generous by nature, as most bookmakers are, Shirley is a larger-than-life character of our sport, and her extended success in the business is a tribute to the way she’s managed her life.

Her son-in-law is none less than the revered cricketer, H.D.Ackerman, at 35 still good enough to leave a proper impression on the youngsters that dominate the game these days. Of course, he comes from a lineage of cricketers, his father Hilton being one of the most gifted players this country’s produced, and between Shirley and her husband Dave, who is a bookmaker as well, HD and his lovely wife Kerryn, we’ve been graced with their presence at Hartford House last week, where they were enthralled by the tour of Summerhill and they raved about the best meals of their lives. Travelled as they are, that’s telling you something.

(Photos kindly supplied by Kerryn Ackerman)


Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon / dusi.co.za (p)

Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon / dusi.co.za (p)

Excitement is building in the Kingdom of the Zulu as final preparations are underway for the staging of the 2009 Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon come 15th, 16th and 17th January. 

This world-class canoe marathan between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, on South Africa's East Coast, attracts around 2000 paddlers and another 2000 - 3000 seconders, helpers or supporters.

Add this to over 120 accredited media, nearly 1000 volunteers, thousands of litres of Powerade energy drink, thousands of Hansa smiles, millions of litres of water, tens of thousands of spectators and you have the "Worlds Greatest Canoe Marathon - the Hansa Powerade Dusi."

But things didn't always happen on such a grand scale.

The origins of this unique event go back some 57 years to the 22nd December 1951, when eight men set off from Pietermaritzburg's Alexandra Park on the first Canoe Marathon to Durban. They were pioneers: Ian Player, Miles Brokensha, Ernie Pearce, John Naude, Basil Halford, Willie Potgieter, Fred Schmidt and Denis Vorster.

These eight explorers did not know it at the time, but their adventure would in the future evolve into what has become the world famous, Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Deep in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, where the Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi River, the raging waters are compressed into a churning mass of whirlpools and boils... and this was not the only challenge these intrepid adventurers would face.

One of them, Ian Player, would become the only finisher that year despite having being bitten by a Night Adder!

In his canoe made from wood and canvas and carrying all his own supplies, weighing in at 70lb laden, it took the famous conservationist six days to complete the 140 kilometer journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

The following three Dusi Marathons were all held on a non-stop basis and the winning time was reduced to 1 day, 3 hours and 28 minutes. In 1956 it was decided that due to the grave dangers in navigating the torid waters at night, the race would be held over three stages. This has been the procedure ever since.

The credit for having pioneered this great canoe race must go to Ian Player, who also went on to claim victory in 1953 and 1954, but it is not generally known that the first trip down these two rivers was made as long ago as 1893 by two Pietermaritzburg men, William Foley and Paul Marianny, who covered the distance in a mammoth seven days.

To all guests and friends of Hartford House participating in this year's Dusi, we wish you great strength and enjoyment of a truely African experience.