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 Tag: Sir Frederick Moor

Golden Gates

Entrance to the Hartford Estate / Leigh Willson (p)

Entrance to the Hartford Estate / Leigh Willson (p)

"What was it about the thoroughbred that penetrated the soul of A.R.Ellis and his family"

Mick Goss Summerhill Group CEO

Mick Goss Summerhill Group CEO

I remember the first time I entered the Hartford gates, like it was yesterday. Here was the greatest private breeding enterprise in South African history, here was a driveway adorned with old flower pots dating back to the 40s, bearing the names of 48 gladiators, all champions or the next best thing. Bred, raised and trained at Hartford were the heroes of every major race on the South African calendar, their supremacy so marked that when he penned his treatise on the great private racehorse nurseries of the world, Sir Mordant Milner spoke of England's Lord Derby and the Aga Khan; of Marcel Boussac, the founder of the Christian Dior organisation in France; of Federico Tesio, the doyen of Italian breeders; he spoke of PhippsHancock and Calumet Farmin the United States; and of A.R.Elllis of Hartford. I was in awe. And as my brother Pat and I wound our way down that historic road to the steps of the region's most gracious homestead, we recalled the tenth of the Commandments against the coveting of "thy neighbour's house."

From the time I'd first fondled a Duff's Turf Guide on the potty as a three-year-old, I knew of the Hartford legends, and as my capacity for the game grew, I learnt that if there was a horse in the parade in the green, black and gold, it was as good as money in the bank. Mowgli, Cape Heath, Salmon, Panjandrum, Ajax, Magic Mirror, Master Polly, Magic Cloak, Magic Charm, Sentinel, Hat Trick, Fantasma, Albion, Lavonia, Fantastic, Famulus, Masham, Sybil's Nephew, Pussmoth, Preston Pan, Prestissimo, Visionary, Flaming Heath, Magic Link, Cosmonaut, Rudigore, Dazzle, Alyssum, Hey Presto, Royal Occasion, Derby Day, Alhambra, Wayfarer, Pinocchio, Pipes Of Pan, Miracle, Broken Spell, Gypsey Moth, Beacon Light, and Council Rock. The Durban July, the Summer Cup, the Met, the Gold Cup, countless Derbys, Guineas and Oaks, the Gilbeys and the Smirnoff Sprint; on the occasion of the Royal visit to South Africa, three King's Cups in three different centres; and anywhere from a 1000m to 3000m.

Many of our readers know the story of how Summerhill came to acquire its neighbour, Hartford, through a handshake exchange in the toilet in those bleak days of 1989. If you don't, it's a story of its own, and it's for another day. But the one thing that had always fascinated me was the story of Hartford's phenomenal success, and I spent a week with Graham Ellis drawing it all out when the handover took place. His father, A.R. (Raymond) Ellis' curiosity with horses was aroused by the presence on the farm of six Italian prisoners of war, who'd been captured during the 1940 Abyssinian campaign. One of these men was the ex head groom of the greatest European breeder of the era, Senor Tesio; and it was he that ignited the flame which found the motherload. His advice to the Ellises was "breed like you mean it", and they did. That year Raymond Ellis bought two young fillies at the National Sale, and stabled them in the garden across the way from the old stone house, built by the family of the last Prime Minister of the Colony, Sir Frederick Moor. Those that frequent Hartford House these days will know the stable as Suite 7, named for one of those two fillies, Preston Pan. She was something of a terror, and kicked the hell out of her companion as well as the stable divide, so she was dispatched to a paddock adjacent to the Hartford chapel, from whence she was trained for the duration of her career. Enigmatic though she was, Preston Pan was brilliant to the degree that she remains the only two-year-old filly ever invited to run in the Durban July, the continent's greatest horserace. Whatever she was as a racehorse though, she was even more as a broodmare. Of the 48 names that adorn the old pots on the driveway, no fewer than 18 trace their lineage to Preston Pan and her daughters.

What was it about the thoroughbred that penetrated the soul of A.R.Ellis and his family, that gave birth to this celebrated farm, to three champion trainers and five champion jockeys, all of whom resided at one time or another in homes and stables built by that handful of Italians?

In an oft-quoted response, Graham Ellis, one-time Chairman of the Durban Turf Club following a stint as trainer to the finest string in the game, reminded me that of all the species on earth, including us humans, the racehorse is the only one whose genetic history is tabulated right back to the original founding fathers of the breed. He recalled that the welfare of the thoroughbred had been in the hands of the British aristocracy for more than three centuries. From the outset, the sport was conducted as all sports should be, for the sake of the sport, and it was all about one nobleman beating another. Throughout this time, they selected their stock for the right reasons too, for their nobility, their grace and their presence, for their intelligence and courage, for speed, stamina, mental toughness and physical durability, all the traits we as a species would aspire to. And that's why the racehorse is the good Lord's greatest creation.

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Hartford House Moor Suite 1
(Photos : Sally Chance)

Moor Suite 1

Named for the Moor family, who occupied Hartford from 1875 to 1937, and in particular the two brothers, John and Frederick. John Moor was the member of parliament for Weenen County in the old Natal Colonial government, as well as a Senator in the first South African government, and was responsible for most of the development at Hartford. His brother, Sir Frederick Moor, was the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal prior to Union. He was the only man to emerge from the Union talks in 1908 with a knighthood, for his efforts in bringing about what we know today as the Republic of South Africa.

In its time, Moor has accommodated two Prime Ministers, the last of the colony of Natal, and the first of the Union of South Africa, General Louis Botha.

Of interest in this suite is the old marble bath, which was reputedly imported into South Africa from Malaysia towards the latter end of the 18th century, then found its way into the Durban Club, and eventually into this bathroom, together with the old church window installed alongside.

One of South Africa's greatest artists, the late Errol Boyley, is remembered throughout the manor house in numerous fine examples, several of which were included in the compendium of his best works. Errol was a great friend of Summerhill and Hartford, and, somewhat unusually for this committed landscapist, he also portrayed Cheryl Goss in two portraits which appear in this suite.

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View from Hartford's Ezulweni Suites / Sally Chance (p)

View from Hartford's Ezulweni Suites / Sally Chance (p)

By Michael Green

Not the way you would want to dine every day, but as an occasional treat, oh yes! (Review by Michael Green - former Independent Newspapers Editor)

About half a century ago, when I was a young journalist in London, I lived for a time at Miss Moor's Private Hotel in Craven Hill, Bayswater. I wasn't there for long; it was fairly expensive and I soon moved to more modest quarters

Miss Moor was rather a grand lady. She sent for  me on my first day at her hotel, checked on my appearance and manners,  and offered me a sherry as an introduction to London. I later discovered  that she was a daughter of the last prime minister of Natal, Sir  Frederick Moor (1853-1927), who held office before the Union of South  Africa was formed in 1910.

Sometimes a wheel turns full circle,  albeit very slowly. Recently I visited for the first time Hartford  House, the celebrated boutique hotel and restaurant near Mooi River, 160  kilometres from Durban. It was once the country home of Sir Frederick  Moor (and, presumably, of Miss Moore of the private hotel, one of his  seven children).

This gem of the Natal Midlands was built on  land granted by Queen Victoria to Frederick Moor's family in the late  19th century. Today it is part of a large estate embracing Summerhill,  the racing stud where many of South Africa's champion racehorses have  been born.

Hartford House itself has been splendidly preserved  and modernised where necessary. It is a stately story late Victorian  building with heavy sash windows, big rooms, high ceilings, brass  fittings, teak and mahogany cupboards.

In terms of accommodation  Hartford has 15 suites, but most of these are in additional more recent  buildings standing amid the garden's immaculate lawns. My wife and I  spent the night in the main building, in the Ellis suite, named after a  famous racing family who owned the property from 1939 to 1990, when they  sold it to the present owners, Mick and Cheryl Goss.

The  furnishings were intriguing. The suite had a very big bathroom with an  old-fashioned bath standing on its four feet more or less in the middle.  In a corner, however, was a modern shower. The brass taps at the two  hand-basins looked as if they had been installed by Sir Frederick  himself, but there was plenty of hot water. In the bedroom was a  fireplace and the widest double bed I have ever seen, one that would fit  those old hill-billy stories:  "When pa says turn, we all turn".

Victorian space and elegance, but with electric wall heating panels and  a television set and a refrigerator and a well-stocked bar.

It  is, however, largely the restaurant that attracts visitors from all over  the country, especially at weekends, when Hartford's 30 beds are all  taken. Meals are served in the house's capacious old dining room or on  its wide verandah.

We dined in the dining room and it was a  two-hour, five-course event. Hartford's chef is Jackie Cameron, a very  good-looking, trim blonde who is still in her twenties. She was a  student of Christina Martin, who died recently, and she has been at  Hartford for nine years, in which time she has earned great praise from  critics who know much more about food than I do. She appeared at the  start of the dinner to explain what we were having, and she later  returned to chat to the customers.

It is a set five-course menu  for dinner, and this is what we had: roasted tomato soup with coconut  sorbet; duo of trout with avocado, deep-fried seaweed, caviar, lavender  flowers and frozen apple;  shiitake crusted beef fillet with caramelised  red onions, pommes amandines and exotic mushrooms:  Midlands cheeses;   tart marshmallows. Pommes amandines are potato croquettes with an almond  flavouring.

It sounds a vast meal, but helpings are nouvelle  cuisine; you have room for all of them in the end. It is all delicious,  and quite adventurous for a conservative diner like myself.  I mean,  when did you last eat seaweed, or have coconut with your tomato soup? If  you tell them about special dietary requirements they adjust to the  situation.

Needless to say, all this is not cheap; Hartford House is not economy class. The dinner costs R370 a head. Breakfast the next  day is wonderfully varied and elaborate but this is included in the  hotel's B&B rate, which ranges from R550 to R2,030 per person per  day.

The dinner wine list is appropriately upmarket, with  imposing items at imposing prices. Wines by the glass are R40 to R65 for  reds and R30 to R55 for whites. Here are some of the prices for white  wine by the bottle:  sauvignon blanc R160 to R320 (the latter being  Shannon 2007, from Elgin);  chardonnay R160 to R390 (Springfield Methode  Ancienne, from Robertson).

And for reds by the bottle: cabernet  sauvignon R210 to R550 (Kanonkop 2008, from Stellenbosch);  shiraz R180  to R290 (Hartenberg, from Stellenbosch);  merlot (R190) to R430  (Veenwouden 2007, from Paarl). I ordered a bottle of De Grendel shiraz for R180 and we were very happy with it.

Almost all the wines on  the Hartford list are rated four or five stars in the Platter wine  guide.  Four stars means "excellent", five stars "superlative, a  classic". The wine glasses were beautiful, long-stemmed, wafer-thin, and  the service was first-rate.

There is plenty to do at Hartford apart from eating and drinking. By arrangement you can visit the  Summerhill Stud, which includes the stallions of the Rulers of Dubai.  You can ride horses yourself (but not the stallions). The estate has  splendid gardens, a swimming pool, tennis courts, conference facilities  and a chapel. Other attractions within reasonable distance include  fishing; a game conservancy;  a "wellness centre" offering body  treatments, facials and a sauna;  tours of Drakensberg sites such as  Giant's Castle and Kamberg;  hot air ballooning;  helicopter flights;   Zulu dancing.  Many of these activities are of course by arrangement.

I  would guess, however, that the biggest attraction is that elegant old  dining room and its superb haut cuisine. Not the way you would want to  dine every day, but as an occasional treat, oh yes!

Extract from Artsmart - Art News from KwaZulu-Natal


Winston Churchill in Laurenco Marques

Winston Churchill looks pleased with himself - dressed  in civvies astride a horse. And, he probably has every right to be,  after making a daring escape from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques, now  Maputo, at the height of the Boer War.
(Photo : Sunday Times)

"A unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times"

Farm tours at Summerhill Stud and Hartford House are popular items. Students of history, fans of racing and those who are mesmerized by the Midlands and the mystique of our sport, travel from as far afield as Johannesburg for the day, take in the tour and a bit of lunch at the nation's Number One restaurant, before they are back on the N3 northbound.

Others prefer to do it the leisurely way, and they check in for a couple of nights at Hartford. While we'd recommend the latter for its relaxation, we'd not want to deny you the pleasure, either way.

If you've done the tour, you'd know that in the summer of 1899, a young Winston Churchill was a visitor to the Moors of Hartford. We all know too, of his capture up the road from us, and his presence at the mother of all battles, Spioenkop. Remarkably, on Spioenkop that day (just 45 minutes from us,) and drawn together by dint of the peculiar attractions of our region, were five of the most influential people of the 20th century. Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of South Africa, (who together with Hartford'sSir Frederick Moor and his brother, John (the former a colonial Prime Minister, and the latter a senator in the first South African government, attended a class of just 10 students at Hermansburg Junior School;) Denys Reitz, former Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa and later a Field Marshall in the British army, he was there; our man, Jan Smuts, the man the world chose to write the charters for the League of Nations and the United Nations after the respective World Wars, and the man Churchill appointed as his successor in the war cabinet should anything have become of him, he was there. In the pantheon of great South Africans, you'd have Smuts up there with Nelson Mandela, who ironically was captured just to the south of us seventy two years later; Winston Churchill himself, later to become Prime Minster of England and arguably the greatest Englishman of all-time, he was on Spioenkop that day; and amazingly, the man who liberated India in 1947, Mahatma Ghandi, was there as a stretcher bearer.

Just recently, a unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times. It's apparently coming up for auction in England shortly, and there's been a bit of a story about it. It turns out the picture was taken in our immediate vicinity, after Churchill's escape from Boer custody.

From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India. In September 1898 he fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan, taking part in what is often described as one of the last true cavalry charges. In 1899, he resigned his commission, and was assigned to cover the Boer War for the London Morning Post.

In October that year he accompanied a scouting expedition in an armoured train near Ladysmith, in what was then Natal, but was captured by the Boers. Although he was a war correspondent, he was armed with a pistol when captured, so was treated as a prisoner of war and held in what had been the Staats Model Skool in central Pretoria.

Churchill managed to escape, and the Boers put a £25 price on his head. Travelling by foot and train - where he hid under coal sacks - he eventually reached safety, 480km away, in Portuguese-controlled Lourenço Marques. The escape made him a celebrity back in Britain and he was elected to parliament in 1900.


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.


ezulweni lake suites, hartford house, kwazulu natal, south africa

Ezulweni Lake Suites, Hartford House
(Photo : Felicity Hayward)


The Gosses, owners of Hartford House, humbly refer to themselves as "custodians of one of Africa's most treasured legacies". General Botha assumed command of the Boer forces here in 1899, and it was also home to the family of Sir Frederick Moor, the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal.

The deputy prime minister, Colonel Richards, established the world-renowned Summerhill Stud on the property, which today hosts stallions for the Rulers of Dubai. Aside from all this history, the Gosses also rightly revel in the beauty of this spectacular place... and so will you.

Spread across seemingly endless landscaped garden, the 14 rooms have been decorated with dark wood antiques from India and West Africa. Scraping my jaw off the floor, I surveyed the four lakeside suites which are nothing short of spectacular. I was especially taken with the aptly-named Siyabonga Suite ("thank you" in isiZulu) with its twin egg baths and private pool. The beaded chair, the wooden cow heads on the wall and the building materials are all locally sourced.

An emperor-sized round bed dominates the Inkanyezi Suite, while the Nhlanhla Suite ("good luck") combines Burmese antiques with bold green and rich red furnishings and a bright copper bath glints in the bathroom. Made entirely out of hay bales, this amazing example of sustainable luxury accommodation is so close to the lake it is practically floating.

Oh, and by the way, the restaurant I dined in (after my Swedish massage) was in the top 10 at the 2009 Dine Awards. Just go.

Rooms : 15 - four lakeside suites all king with bath and wet room; four garden/pool suites all with bath and shower; three standard kings with bath and shower and three twins with bath and shower.

Prices : R840 - R1555. Meals : Full three-course breakfast included. A la carte lunch and five-course set dinner.