If you weren’t around in the late 1800s and the early part of the twentieth century, you’re most likely to remember Hartford, the farm, for the exploits of its famous racehorses. In 1939, the late Raymond Ellis and his family acquired the property as a country retreat, a refuge from their beachfront hotels and property holdings in Durban.
Moor Family Reunion at Hartford House

Moor Family Reunion at Hartford House

Inspired by the encouragement of a former head groom of the great Italian racehorse breeder, Senor Tesio, Raymond Ellis established one of the world’s most storied breeding and racing enterprises on the property. From there he bred, raised and trained the winners of every major race on the South African Turf calendar, an achievement saluted in Sir Mordaunt Milner’s celebrated treatise on the great thoroughbred breeders of the world. The Ellises in turn were succeeded by the nation’s most successful breeders of the modern era, Summerhill Stud, of which greater estate Hartford now forms part.

Rewind a hundred and forty five years, and we discover the arrival of the Moor family, British migrants to South Africa in conjunction with the Byrne settlers, who found their way to Richmond, some 40kms South West of Pietermaritzburg. They were attracted to this neighbourhood in an attempt to avoid the Byrne valley’s windless stench of decaying cattle carcasses, following a disease akin to the “Rinderpest”. They arrived at the property to find two abandoned wattle-and-daub rondavels under thatch in what became the gardens of the Hartford manor house. History tells us that the property had previously been gifted to the Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, for the deliverance of the victory at Blood River, and one of these rondavels built by him, (these days the Chef’s office,) remains standing outside Hartford’s now fabled kitchen.

According to the title deeds, as long ago as 1875, the Moors initiated a habit of giving one another on wedding anniversaries, a piece of garden ornamentation or statuary, a tradition which has been honoured by the successive generations of Jonssons, Ellises and in the most recent 40 years, by the Goss family. The manifestation of these expressions of enduring love is evident in the old gazebo on the front lawn, the wisteria pergola on its eastern edge, the great round pond, and the magnificent bronzes that grace the waters of the Italianate pond in the main driveway. Most recently, as part of their ongoing respect for the practice, the Goss family have erected as fine an example of a kitchen potager as you’ll find in the Midlands, as well as the Tijnhuis, a popular watering hole for the hotel’s guests and its friends in the neighbourhood.

Garden Ornamentation and Statuary at Hartford House

Garden Ornamentation and Statuary at Hartford House

While brother Frederick (later to become “Sir Frederick” for the role he played in bringing about the Union of South Africa as Prime Minister of the Colony of Natal,) was busy politicking, John Moor got on with most of what visitors remember as the early development of Hartford. An enterprising man of discerning taste, he built one of the Midland’s most gracious homes of raw brick and sandstone, and in tandem with it, he founded on the property the beginnings of the Eskort Bacon Factory and NCD (originally the Natal Creamery). The latter project came about in conjunction with brother Frederick, the Simmons family of Bray Hill, and another Prime Minister in the form of General Louis Botha, who headed up the first Union Government in 1910. Converted by the Gosses into a chapel some 30 years ago, the dairy’s prior history is betrayed by the tethering rings that adorn this quaint building’s historic walls.

Eskort and NCD rank to this day among the biggest meat processing and dairy concerns in continental Africa, and they remain thriving entities in large part thanks to the energies of the remarkable John Moor, whose 17 year chairmanship of the Eskort board is celebrated with fondness and admiration in their commemorative publication marking their 100 years in business. Besides these monuments to his talents, John Moor’s public-mindedness committed him first to the role of member of parliament in the Natal legislature, and subsequently elevated him to Senator in the first Union government.

As if destiny decreed it, Hartford remains a beacon of excellence in the annals of South Africa’s iconic institutions, these days for its place among the top boutique hotels and restaurants not only in South Africa, but across the world. For what it has contributed to the fabric of this country’s development, Hartford stands proud today as a monument to the seeds of excellence the Moor family laid down in the 1870s.

As a tribute to their great ancestor, the various scions of the Moor tribe were reunited at Hartford a fortnight ago, theirs the legacy of a dignified, energetic visionary, as well as the burden of ensuring its longevity into the next century.

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