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: South African History

Alyssum Suite 9 at Hartford House

Hartford House Alyssum Suite 9
(Photos : Sally Chance)

Alyssum Suite 9

Originally known as the Garden suite, Alyssum and its neighbour were the first attempt by our previously unskilled Zulus at building with bricks and mortar. A fine effort, we're sure you'll concede.

Now named Alyssum, for the flower of course, the name also remembers one of the greatest of all Hartford racehorses. Alyssum (the horse,) excelled against the best of his generation at distances ranging from five furlongs (the human equivalent of a 100 metres sprint at the Olympics) to ten furlongs (the equivalent of the mile to humans), which exemplified not only his versatility, but also his abiding class.

Alyssum was one of the mainstays of the famous Ellis string of the 1950's, when the Hartford colours swept all before them on the racetracks of South Africa. Indeed, in owner-breeder terms, the Ellises have no parallels in South African racing history, and it was the great thoroughbred author, Sir Mordaunt Milner, who described their achievements in the same breath as those of Lord Derby, the Aga Khan and the Sheikhs Maktoum in the United Kingdom, the great European breeders, Boussac and Tesio, and the famous American stables of Phipps and the Hancocks.

There was a time when their supremacy was such that if there was a horse in the green and black silks on its way to the post, it was as good as money in the bank!

The furnishings in these suites are drawn from such diverse places as India and Morocco, while the teak flooring was part of the original dining room in the fabled Edward Hotel on Durban's Golden Mile.

hartford house logo

For more information please visit :


Hartford House Mowgli Suite 8
(Photos : Sally Chance)

Mowgli Suite 8

This suite was part of the original stables built by Italian prisoners of war in 1941, some two years after the Ellis family had acquired Hartford. It is named for one of the greatest and most courageous horses ever to look through a bridle, Mowgli, who was voted in the year 2000 as the best racehorse in South African history, ahead of the legendary likes of Sea Cottage, Colorado King, Hawaii and Horse Chestnut.

Mowgli achieved his fame as a racehorse by winning six Group One races in the space of twelve weeks, a feat never again achieved by a racehorse anywhere in the world. However, his badge of courage came courtesy of the fact that he suffered from a chronic breathing problem. As he lowered his head and neck for the final run for home, his epiglottis would shut down on him, limiting him to just a breath or two as he struggled titanically up the straightways of South Africa's most famous courses, several times causing him to collapse as he passed the post. There's no doubt he knew where the wining post was, and he knew when he'd reached it, with the rest of the field at bay.

Sadly, this great warrior was unable to extend his genetic influence on account of a fatal paddock accident, which cost him his life shortly after he returned to stud.

hartford house logo

For more information please visit :


Hartford House Preston Pan Suite 7
(Photos : Sally Chance)

Preston Pan Suite 7

The Ellis family founded their famous racing dynasty at Hartford in 1940 and, among several unique installations of their time, at the foot of the farm they built the longest herringbone-drained racetrack in the world, from whence they trained the winners of every major race on the South African calendar.

In the same year, they acquired their first two fillies, the most significant of which was Preston Pan, who went on to become not only one of the most accomplished race fillies of all time, but also one of the matriarchs of South African Thoroughbred breeding. Preston Pan spent her first night at Hartford in what then was the stables, (in this very suite) together with a companion, whom she terrorised through the night, not only inflicting bodily harm on her unfortunate stablemate, but also on the stable itself.

She was trained henceforth from the paddock which is today known as Chapel One (alongside the Chapel), and Preston Pan holds the distinction of being the only two-year-old filly ever invited to participate in Africa's greatest horserace, the Durban July Handicap.

Whatever her exploits at the races, Preston Pan was twice that as a broodmare, and a visit to the old flower pots that line the main driveway into Hartford, reveals the names of 48 national champions, among them no fewer than a dozen descending from this legend of the turf.

While they went about the renovation of Hartford when they first moved here in 1990, Mick and Cheryl Goss occupied this suite for about two years. By the time of their arrival, it had been part of the original Hartford House Hotel, founded by the Ellises some seven or eight years before. Whether it has anything to do with its connectivity with Preston Pan, the room is reputed to induce great fertility!

hartford house logo

For more information please visit :


Ubuntu - The Essence of Being Human / Channel 4 (p)

Ubuntu - The Essence of Being Human / Channel 4 (p)


Our countrymen have surprised themselves, it seems. There was so much apprehension in the world about our ability to stage a successful World Cup, we’d begun to believe it ourselves. That it’s been a resounding success, is evident from this article by the exalted American International Development Executive in the Public Health sector, Shari Cohen. Read it; it’s worth it.

"South Africa Rolls Out the Ubuntu in Abundance"

I went on a rant the other day regarding the cost of the 2010 World Cup versus all the critical needs South Africa is facing and whether or not the most vulnerable of this country would gain anything from having the World Cup hosted in their country. At that time, I also had some very positive things to say about our hosts for the 2010 World Cup and I wanted to share that side of the coin as well, because it is equally important.

To say that I have been blown away at the hospitality South Africa has shown the rest of the world would be an understatement. I think back on recent Olympics and struggle to remember much reporting in the USA of athletes from other countries. I remember when a Togolese guy won a bronze medal in kayaking and NBC reported it and I thought to myself, "where are all the other fascinating stories like this one… like the Jamaican bobsledding team." In today’s America, sadly, we have drifted so far towards being so US-centric that we only seem to root for the Americans.

Not so here in South Africa. I’ve been here since early May and each week I have become more and more impressed with the global embrace that South Africans have offered up to the world. On the way to the airport a couple of weeks ago, I heard a radio program that said each day they would focus on one country that would be coming to South Africa for the World Cup, and they would explore not only that country’s history in soccer, but also their politics, religion, and socio-cultural practices. On the television, I’ve seen numerous programs that focus on a particular country and its history of soccer and how the history of that country is intertwined with their soccer history. I’ve seen programs on India, exploring why India enjoys soccer but hasn’t really excelled at the global level… yet. And I’ve seen shows on soccer in Muslim countries. Maybe it’s planned, maybe it’s unplanned, maybe it’s by chance, but it is happening. It’s not just about South Africans showing off their varied and multifaceted culture to their global guests; it’s also about using this opportunity to educate South Africa on the rest of Planet Earth’s inhabitants.

As I moved through my work here in the provinces over the last six weeks, I had a pivotal meeting with the Board members of a rural NGO. They were explaining their guiding program philosophy of Ubuntu. No, not the Linux program. I’m talking about the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu that essentially says, "No man is an island."

I found a better explanation from Wikipedia :

Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008 :

"One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity."

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

To me, Ubuntu is the acceptance of others as parts of the sum total of each of us. And that is exactly what I have experienced during the lead up to, and the initial days of this World Cup. There is nary a South African citizen that I’ve met on the street, or in shops or restaurants or hotels, that hasn’t gone out of their way to greet me and make me feel like I am home. And I don’t mean that in the trivial, "Oh, aren’t they nice, homey people here…" sort of way. I mean real, genuine interest and questions. People seriously want to know where I come from. What it’s like where I live. How does it compare to where I am now. What do I think of South Africa? Oh yes, and what do I think of Bafana Bafana… The questions and conversations are in earnest. They are honest. And they are had with enthusiasm and a thirst to know more. South Africans are drinking deeply from the cup of humanity that has been brought to their doorstep. I would never imagine that an American World Cup or Olympics would ever be this welcoming to the rest of the world. And that saddens me for the state of my home country, but it also makes me feel the pride of the South African people.

I have been truly humbled on this trip. And while I have my gripes regarding development here, I cannot say one negative thing about how South Africa has handled its duties as host and hostess to the world. If I could say one thing to sum up being here during this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it would be that I’ve learned the value of Ubuntu, and that when found and offered in abundance, the world is indeed a better place to live in.

So, if South Africa accomplishes nothing more on the playing field, it will still have won as a host country. I am a cynic, no doubt about that. And yet I have to admit, I’m a little teary just writing this because I leave for home next weekend and I will be leaving a little piece of myself here in South Africa. I just hope I have learned enough to bring back a little piece of Ubuntu to my homeland, where perhaps with a little caring and a little water, it will take root as naturally as it does here, in the cradle of civilization. It’s funny, many people in America still ask me, "are the people in Africa very primitive?" Yes, I know, amazing someone could ask that but they do. And when they do, I usually explain that living in a mud hut does not make one primitive, however, allowing kids to sell drugs to other kids and engage in drive-by killings - isn’t that primitive behavior? I think it is. When I think of Ubuntu and my recent experiences here, I think America has much to learn from Africa in general, in terms of living as a larger village; and as human beings who are all interconnected with each other, each of us having an affect on our brothers and sisters.

As the 2010 Cup slogan goes, "Feel it. It is here." Well, I have felt it, because I am here. Thank you South Africa, for giving me this unexpected gift. I am humbled."


General Louis Botha / SA Military Museum (p)

General Louis Botha / SA Military Museum (p)


Hashim Amla’s outstanding knock of 129 in Dominica, West Indies, yesterday was not the only a century not out South Africans have woken up to this morning.

On the 31st May 1910, the Union of South Africa came into being, anointing a man with close ties to Summerhill and Hartford, as Prime Minister. That this farm is steeped in old history is well known, but it’s a lesser known fact that Louis Botha, the second Anglo Boer War’s most successful general, took command of the Boer forces at the foot of this farm.

Besides, apart from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord de Villiers, the only one man to emerge from the Union talks (which brought about the Act of Union) with a knighthood, was Sir Frederick Moor, who together with his brother, Senator John Moor were the founders of what we know as Hartford House today. Of course, Hartford has been through many changes in its life, and today it celebrates the fact that it ranks as the only world-class hotel on a world-class stud farm in the world, as well as being home to one of the nation’s top restaurants.

Aside from these two gentlemen, Summerhill itself was home to Sir Frederick’s deputy (when he was Prime Minister of the Colony of Natal), Colonel George Richards, which means that for the last years of its existence as a colony, Natal was ruled from these two farms.

Happy birthday South Africa.


hartford zulu dancers

Hartford Zulu Dancers
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)


For the last thirteen years, Hartford has championed the cause of Amasnamuva (performers), our Zulu traditional dance troupe, who begged the boss for an audition shortly after the opening of Hartford House as a boutique hotel. Having grown up in Pondoland, he’d seen more traditional dancers than most, and thinking that this might be more of the same, Mick Goss turned up for the audition on a Sunday morning with rather long teeth. Several of the troupe were tender young seedlings of eight and nine years of age, but turn up they did, beautifully regaled (at their own expense) in what it takes to perform this ancient art. They deposited their drums, girded with animal hides, on the flat turf in front of the hotel gazebo, and they beat them with garden hoses in a fashion he’d never encountered before. The remainder of these kids danced their socks off, and they were so good, Mick told them that henceforth, they’d be a permanent fixture for the pleasure of our guests every Saturday evening, weather permitting.

Until three years ago, they’d never ventured much further than Mooi River, but at the first opportunity, won the KZN Provincial Championships and the right to attend the National Championships, which they proceeded to win as well. Miraculously, this earned them a place at the World Traditional Dance Championships in Tokyo where, of 46 contesting nations, they finished third in the whole dam world!. A year later, they were in Hong Kong, and in their second place, they earned the title of Best Dance Troupe on the African continent. We fully expected them to take the World Championship in the United States this year, but sadly that contest was postponed because of that country’s financial plight.

It seems though, the word is out. Writing in “The Mercury” on Monday, Latoya Newman writes :

What was once a form of cultural dance used by a people to celebrate weddings, the inauguration of a King, winning a war, the birth of a child and more, is fast becoming an artistic dance expression that has crowds mesmirised the world over.

Over the years, Zulu dancing has evolved into a stage phenomenon which many dance schools and professionals have not only embraced on its own, but have merged with other dance forms of dance to create the ever popular "fusion".

Its popularity became more obvious on SA's Got Talent.

Kee-Leen Irvine, executive producer for Rapid Blue who produced the show said it saw about 100 cultural dance groups, many of then Zulu cultural items.

"The response from the audience, across cultures, to these items was phenomenal."

Beside the increasing interest in these forms of dance, what is also apparent is that over the years more and more people from other cultural backgrounds are embracing Zulu dance forms.

Xolani Majozi, theatre producer and compiler at K-Cap, an arts development company based in KwaMashu, said his group - which has toured the country and the world - is always well received.

"Whenever we do a theatre or musical production we make sure it is traditional, because of its appeal to the audience, especially international audiences. When you go overseas and you say you are doing a South African production, they expect to see Zulu dance.

"Umoja and IpiNtombi, for example, have toured in different countries and Zulu dancing has made those groups famous. Zulu dancing is being embraced across cultures.

Even if you look back at groups like Johnny Clegg and Juluka and Savuka, what made them popular was the Zulu element," said Majozi.

Professor Musa Xulu, a Durban-based ethno-musicologist and heritage consultant, said every society had some form of dance that became "folk" dance.

"From time to time people use these dance forms for commercial reasons and Zulu dance is no different," he said.

Xulu said Zulu dance was "perfected" in the hostels and mines with competitions that took place on weekends, especially in Durban.

"But at that time people danced for social reasons, like for courtship and so on. Over the past 15 years or so, a commercial element has started creeping in. Among other things, the "brand" Zulu has become a recognised brand across the world because of history," he said.

Xulu said today most dancers came from township areas because young people there have recognised "the gap in the market" and that if you had a Zulu dance product and added modern elements to it, you had popular dance. "It is a way to make a living, so it is commercialised."

Xulu said it was good that other people from different cultures were participating.

"Any art form grows a lot when people from diverse backgrounds enter it. If you look at pennywhistle music, for example, once Mango Groove embraced it, it became a world phenomenon. People from diverse backgrounds will come with different ideas," he said.

As is the case with the Surialanga Dance Company. Artistic Director Suria Govender said they embraced a fusion of cultures in their performances, which had travelled abroad.

She believes that not only will Zulu dance continue to grow in the arts, but that fusion (a mix of Zulu, Indian and other cultural dances) will also become trendier.

"It is an expression of our identity as South Africans. We are a melting pot of cultures and the arts is one way for us to see how we understand where we are at," she said.


silver spoon


I’m sitting in what is about to become my wife’s new bedroom, in a new house. “Hers” it became when we passed the budget for the third time!

The fold-away doors, all 8 metres of them, have given way to a World Heritage site. To my left lies Ntaba Nquno, where General Botha took command of the Boer forces in November 1899. His predecessor, General Joubert, hero of the first Anglo Boer War, had been wounded the day before at the Battle of Willow Grange, hence the change in O.C.

In the foreground lies one of the planet’s most enchanting valleys, and right here beneath this great hillside, lies the nation’s Champion Racehorse stud. Now I know what the British, the Zulus and the Boers were fighting so furiously about. This is God’s own, and they fought more ferociously for this territory than they did for any other.

Think about that. The British at the time, held dominion over two thirds of the earth’s surface, yet here is where the Empire engaged itself so earnestly, for its greatest military moments, as well as its worst. Since starting this note, I’ve had to walk across the courtyard at the rear of this house, and besides realising my wife got carried away with the size (our plans are simply jotted on the back of exam pads in this part of Zululand, so it’s easy to miscalculate), I also know that, for once in my life, I got really lucky. I married a genius.

The lakeside suites at Hartford House have long borne testimony to her creative talents. The occupancies tell us that, and the admiration of both the architectural and the decorating world confirm it. But “her” house is surely her finest moment.

That said, it really is larger than it should be, and perched beautifully as it is, it’s also a bit on the conspicuous side for a Zulu farmer who still comes to work in a Corsa bakkie, clad in khakis and veldskoens. So I’ve spent the morning planting trees to “hide” it a little!. Equally, this was not the time to be building, though it’s been a 2.5 year project for all the interruptions my management have brought on my builders in the time. You never want to be “splashing out” on a personal indulgence when there are others in pain. The timing was not good, though it might’ve been, had we completed it in 2007 when we first started. My team keeps saying, “purge your conscience, you’ve slaved for it”. I’m consoled only slightly. But it’s to them that Cheryl and I turn with our thanks. In our time here, they’ve run the hard yards with us, they made the sacrifices and at last, they’ve too, reaped their rewards.

Siyabonga, Bakhiti

Jonsson Family's 80th Birthday Celebration


The celebration by Summerhill this past weekend of the two most victorious racehorses of the past 50 years, Sentinel and Hear The Drums, coincided with the celebration of a quite remarkable triple 80th birthday for the Jonsson family.

In all its history since its establishment in 1875, only four families have darkened the front door to Hartford House, namely the Moors, who produced a Prime Minster and a Senator (1875-1937), the Jonssons, (1937-1939), the Ellises (the most successful private racehorse owner/breeders of their era), and the present incumbents, the Gosses. It was rare in the 1920s, for any family to remain intact from birth to 80, yet the Jonssons with their history of longevity, produced triplets which this weekend accomplished that milestone against all medical odds from those days.

Ben, Jeremy and Felicity showed us the ultimate honour in celebrating their 80th birthdays at their old home this past weekend, and each of them brings an enthralling tale to the table. Besides that, they’ve spawned a family of great diversity, spread across an enormous landscape, and despite their geographic spread, nothing has happened to diminish the calibre of their assembly. We were privileged to be of service to this unusual gathering, and sharing some wonderful yarns and a host of new insights on the history of our property.

“Benjy”, as he’s affectionally known to the racing fraternity of South Africa, served for many years as chair for the local executive of the Jockey Club of South Africa, and among his achievements in racing was his custodianship of the South African Jockey’s Academy. Under his stewardship, South African graduates of the Academy captured 17 of the last 18 jockey’s titles in Hong Kong, an extraordinary achievement unlikely to be repeated ever again.

Jeremy has been a mentor of ours ever since we made our first investments in the KZN Midlands 30 years ago, as the best property man in our area. Since then, we’ve never ventured investment here without either his or the counsel of his sons James and Andrew.

Not to be outdone by these two achievers, Felicity, the third of the triplets, married beyond our borders into the Wills family of cigarette fame, and in a second life she became the wife of Henry Douglas-Home, brother to the erstwhile Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Alec, but in his own right, famous for being the Royal Ornithologist.

As colourful a family as any to have occupied these historic acreages, this was a singular honour for the Hartford team: the tapestry of our lives has been enriched substantially, for which we give thanks.


British & Irish Lions vs Springboks / Lions Rugby/SA Rugby (p)

British & Irish Lions vs Springboks / Lions Rugby/SA Rugby (p)


You’ve already read that the Winery ofGood Hope is bringing one of the world’s celebrated sommeliers Mia Martensson, to one of Africa’s most celebrated restaurants next Saturday evening. There’s been a clamour for places at the inn, and we’re running short of accommodation quickly.

Enough of that though; it’s one of the biggest rugby weekends of the year, as South Africa take on the British Lions on Saturday 19th June at Kings Park in what the media have dubbed the “revenge series”. It was at Kings Park in 1997 that we witnessed the downfall of the Springboks at the hands of that year’s touring Lions, remember.

South Africa’s best morning read, The Witness is one of Hartford’s greatest admirers, and they have not let us down on the eve of this big event. Not only have they booked the hotel out for Friday evening, they’re also bringing with them one of rugby’s most famous television personalities, Dan Retief, who’ll be here to regale us with his stories and his predictions.

We’re sorry this one’s already a sell-out, but for those of you who are Hartford aficionados, we still have just a few places for the Friday evening before the Vodacom July when we’ll be hosting some of racing’s biggest names. That of course is a whole weekend affair which stretches from a wine evening with the fabled Waterford Estate on the Friday, a day in the Summerhill box at the Durban Turf Club’s Greyville racecourse on the Saturday for the “big one”, and then for “Racing's Biggest Day Out”, the Summerhill Stallion Day on the farm, which hosted fourteen different nations in attendance last year. Again, these events require prior booking, as they are invariably sell-outs, so if you’re wanting us to help you avoid the disappointment of missing out, please give us a ring as soon as convenient.