…this was no ordinary sculpture though; it was the work of Verrocchio, a student of Donatello’s and mentor of Leonardo Da Vinci, entitled ‘Pitta and the Dolphin’.
— Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO

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Mick Goss

We were lucky with the people that went before us at Summerhill and Hartford. Like us, they loved these properties, the climate and the people of the neighbourhood. Besides their immense contributions to the politics and the business affairs of the day, their signatures are everywhere to be seen in the architecture, the sculptures, the trees and the personalities of the farms.

The Moors of Hartford, for example, initiated a habit as long ago as 1875, of giving to one another on wedding anniversaries, a garden ornament or a piece of statuary. Both they and Col. Richards at Summerhill, built manor houses becoming of their ministerial statuses, and at Summerhill the old “war horse” planted trees to commemorate great events. Few visitors these days know it, for example, but when they walk down the old deodar lane outside the farm office, it’s what the history books dubbed the Avenue of Nostalgia that they traverse. Planted by General Dawid Joubert’s troops and the farm staff to commemorate the end of hostilities in 1902, it marked the Boer commander’s attendance at the Deputy Prime Minister’s residence to acknowledge the Treaty of Vereenigning. The Norfolk pines that adorn the main garden were the gift of George V’s sister-in-law, Princess Alice, on the occasion of the Royal visit, while three groves of oak trees recall the arrival of Col. Richard’s various wives, all imported from the Motherland.

The Moors were grand people with grand ideas, and so were their successors at Hartford, the Ellises. After all, John Moor founded the biggest dairy and meat-processing businessed in Africa; the Ellises, who owned much of what is Durban North these days, established at the quarry on Umngeni Road, what became the largest brick manufacturing entity in the land. And when it came to their farms, they were no less grandiose in the homes they built, the gardens they sculpted, the places of worship and the stabling and dairy facilities they erected nearby. But the real manifestation of their sense of place and occasion, rests in their grand pergolas and gazebos, the great round pond which has hosted many a wedding in more recent times, and the ancient bronzes that punctuate the beauty spots of their floral masterpieces.

Italian prisoners of war, taken in the Abyssinian campaign of 1940, were sent to South Africa for what turned out to be a fairly benign incarceration. The spectacular engineering of the Chapman’s Peak drive in Cape Town and the classic lines of the Italian church near Epworth Girls School outside Pietermaritzburg, are a few examples of their craft, while the six men who served their time at Hartford, where no less productive. The trainers’, the jockeys’ and the stud managers’ homes and the old racing yard that greets you at Hartford’s main gate, are all evidence of a time of ingenuity, as is the main racetrack, many a racing man’s idea of the finest piece of private turf on the continent.

Yet, as enduring as any legacy they left behind, is the fact that it was one of these Italian gentlemen that inspired Hartford’s entry into the racing game. The man was a former head lad of the world’s foremost breeder of that era, if not of all time, SenorFederico Tesio, and in striking the touchpaper for Raymond Ellis, he encourage him “to breed like you mean it.”

Which he did, establishing a breeding operation that merited a chapter in Sir Mordaunt Milner’s treatise on the establishments of the world,, alongside Lord Derby, the Aga Khan and the Joels in England, France’s Marcel Boussac, Tesio himself, and BradleyHancock and Woodward in the United States.

That this man had come to love Hartford as much as anyone, is apparent from his advice to Raymond Ellis in the wake of Cape Heath’s famous victory in the Kings’ Cup (the commemorative celebration of KingGeorge VI and Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 Coronation visit) that he should devote the proceeds to the purchase of a piece of statuary. This was no ordinary sculpture though; it was the work of Verrocchio, a student of Donatello’s and mentor of Leonardo Da Vinci, entitled “Pitta and the Dolphin”; apparently his home village had been bankrupted by the ravages of the war (not that it takes a world war to bankrupt an Italian municipality!) and they were selling off their works of the Old Masters.

There are only two known copies of the original cast, one the focal point of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza Senorina in Florence, the other right here in the Italianate pond that marks the front door to Hartford House. While it is said to have cost Raymond Ellis the equivalent of a couple of farms in our valley, it’s a proud tribute to the great warriors that followed the war years, Mowgli, Panjandrum, Alyssum, Salmon, Preston Pan, Magic Mirror, Master Polly, Council Rock, Cosmonaut, Beacon Light, Broken Spell, Ajax, Magic Charm, Lavonia, Derby Day, Wayfarer, Royal Occasion, Miliza, Hey Presto, Lampoon, Dazzle, Rudigore, Magic Square, Fantastic, Magic Link, Fantasma, Pipes of Pan, Flaming Heath, Gypsy Moth, Jury Man and Magic Charm, all of those, and many more at a time when any horse in the black, green sash, sleeves and cap on its way to the start, was said to be better than money in the bank. As much as anything though, it is a compliment to that little Italian maestro who’d imbued the Hartford story with his own infectious brand.

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