The small village of Nottingham Road was originally a military fort set up to protect local farmers from the indigenous San people who used to raid the area for cattle. Today Nottingham Road is a popular tourist destination located in the heart of the famous Midlands Meander tourism route. There are a multitude of various craft outlets and cottage industries within the Nottingham Road area ranging from hand-made leather goods to home-made preserves. The first white settlers in the Midlands were the Voortrekkers, who began leaving the area when Britain annexed the Boer Republic of Natalia in 1843. They often sold their farms to the newly arrived British settlers. By the 1850s there were few of the original Voortrekker families left in the district, although many farm names of the area still have an Afrikaans/Dutch origin. The first British settlers in Nottingham Road were members of the King/Ellis family: John King and his wife Janet (nee Ellis), their three-year old son James and a three-month old baby daughter Helen, and Janet’s brother James Ellis and sisters Helen and Elizabeth. They arrived in Natal in 1849, attracted by the Byrne Immigration Scheme, one of many schemes that tried to lure settlers to the largely uninhabited interior of KZN. Each adult male paid ten pounds, which covered the cost of the sea voyage from England to Durban and gave every man twenty acres of land. Many found their allotments were infertile and totally unsuitable for farming, leaving them the choice of returning home to England or purchasing better land for themselves.
The allotments of John King and James Ellis were, like many others, too small and stony to be viable for farming. Disappointed, the families were lucky enough to have their own private means and so were able to retain ownership of the land (eventually selling the allotments for a profit) and stay in Natal while they sought better farmland. At last they were able to find a property near what is now Nottingham Road known as Wilde Als Spruit, owned by Petrus H. Potgieter. The property was bought by Janet King, her brother James Ellis and her three sisters, and was re-named after places in their native Scotland, namely Lynedoch and Balgowan. Before leaving Scotland, the families had been closely connected with the properties of Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch of Balgowan, whose estates were Balgowan, Lynedoch and Blairgowrie. When John King acquired a farm in 1858, it was named Gowrie, and it was on this farm that the village of Nottingham Road was established. Potgieter was apparently very kind to the new settlers who had purchased his land, offering them sound advice and bringing the family and their effects from Pietermaritzburg. It took two or three trips to bring everything up to the farm but eventually the family were in place by May 1850, living rough under a large waterproof tarpaulin set upon wooden poles. This remained their home until a wattle and daub structure was built, with an annexe of sods for the kitchen. They lived here until a stone house was completed in 1856.
The fledgling community was on the very edge of civilisation as they were the only white people in the area, and they were troubled by Bushmen who came down from the Drakensberg to steal cattle and horses. Raiding parties consisted of between four to fourteen men, some mounted on horses, some with firearms or poisoned arrows. By 1853 the desperate farmers wrote to the Acting Governor of Natal, requesting protection from the raids. The government decided to create a ‘buffer zone’ by establishing a small military outpost in addition to a “pensioners’ village”, west of the existing settlement, and 13 000 acres of commonage was allocated for the village of Fort Nottingham, which was proclaimed in 1856. Thomas Fannin of the Dargle laid out the village with twenty-two acre plots the same year, but forgot to include road access in his plans, and in 1863 the village was re-surveyed by a Dr Sutherland. The military force which was supposed to protect the farmers and their property comprised a small detachment of troopers from the Cape Mounted Riflemen, who set up a temporary tented camp, but presumably their boredom (apparently they didn’t see a single Bushmen during their stay), led to lack of discipline, and they were replaced by another small detachment, this time from the Natal Mounted Rifles. They in turn were replaced by a permanent force from the 45th Foot, the Sherwood Foresters from Nottingham in England, who were instructed to set up a permanent fort. Their fort and some of the early buildings can be seen today at the Fort Nottingham Museum.
Until 1875, Fort Nottingham was described in the deeds office as Nottingham after the Sherwood Foresters’ hometown, but its name was changed to Fort Nottingham to avoid confusion with the village of what is today Nottingham Road, which grew up around the railway line. The line reached the site of the future Nottingham Road station by the end of 1883, and the station was constructed where the line and road to Fort Nottingham intersected. Before the station opened it was called Harrison’s Camp after the railway contractor, but then became known as Karkloof Station until late 1887, when its name was changed to Nottingham Road Station as the locals complained that it was too far from Karkloof to be so called. The railway transformed the area, with farmers being able to get goods to and from Pietermaritzburg with ease as well as having a daily postal service. The Nottingham Road Farmers Association was formed in October 1887, in what was known as The Railway Hotel, where the present Notties Hotel is today. The hotel soon became the centre of social activity for the area, which became increasingly popular as a holiday destination, with its fresh, cool air and lovely countryside.
Rosetta In 1895, farmers from beyond Nottingham Road petitioned the colonial government for a station closer to their properties and those in the Kamberg. By 1897 the station, built on the line between Nottingham Road and Mooi River, was erected near what was known as the “Meshlyn road drift”. The station was initially called Springvale after the farm where it was situated, but became referred to as Rosetta Station after one of the original homesteads in the area, Rosetta Farm, just a little way up the Kamberg Road. In the meantime, the crossing at the drift became unnecessary with the construction in 1896 of the Meshlyn Bridge, which is still in daily use for access to the Kamberg and Connington. Mooi River Mooi River has been known by three names in its time. The Zulus called it Mpofana or “place of the eland”, the Dutch called it Mooi or “pretty” because of its picturesque, riverside setting, while the first official name of the settlement in the 1800s was Lawrenceville, after Alexander Lawrence, owner of Grantleigh Farm where the Mooi River station was built in 1884. The commercial hub of the town grew up around the station and railway line, although the first settlement was further east, near what is today Weston Agricultural College, where the road to the interior crossed the Mooi River. An inn, Whipp’s Hotel, was built at the ford in 1853 for those whose journey was interrupted by flooding or who needed to rest. The hotel changed hands and became the Lake Hotel, another popular country retreat for the well-to-do, until it burned down a century later in 1959. The Helen Bridge was built at the crossing in 1866. It was named […]
One of the main tourist attractions of the Midlands is fishing, especially for trout, either in rivers or stocked trout dams. This thriving industry started on the farm Boschfontein, near Balgowan, in the late 1880s. In 1882, John Parker, who lived on the Tetworth farm north of Howick, wrote to the British publication The Field, asking for advice on how to introduce trout to the area. In response to his query, Sir James Maitland of Howicktown Fishery sent him a gift of 10 000 trout ova, but none survived. Undaunted, Maitland sent another 10 000 ova the following year, but these also died. However, trout-fever had struck, and in 1889, Cecil Yonge, a member of Pietermaritzburg’s Legislative Council, obtained a government grant for funding to introduce trout and salmon to Natal’s waters. Yonge and two partners formed a committee to manage the process and Boschfontein was selected as the site for the first trout hatchery. In 1890, many of the 30 000 imported ova hatched successfully, and in May of that year the first 1500 fry were released into the Bushman’s River, to be followed by the Umgeni and Mooi rivers. This process continued each year until most of the province’s suitable rivers were stocked. In the 1909 book, Trout Fishing in Natal by Hedley Salmon, Natal is already described as “the angler’s paradise”. Fly-fishing becomes a tourist attraction Even in the early 1900s, trout fishing was a significant tourist attraction for the Midlands, with entire families and their households packing up to visit the area. They travelled by horse-drawn transport and stayed at hotels such as the Nottingham Road Hotel. Nearly a century later, trout fishing is still a major attraction – and business […]
Legend has it that there has been an inn situated here since 1854. While the actual building we know today is not as old, there could certainly have been on this site a “Notties” inn or a tavern for the soldiers stationed at Fort Nottingham, who were supposed to protect the area from bushmen who were stealing local livestock. Situated at the crossroads where the road to the interior met the road to Fort Nottingham, it would have served the horse-drawn coaches that travelled the area before the railway line was constructed. The first recorded facts about the hotel we know today indicate that the land for the Notties Hotel was bought by George Orwin in 1889, following the death of landowner James Ellis and his sister Janet King, the land being sold by the family to pay off the siblings’ estates. The price received for the land, the princely sum of 125 pounds per acre, was extremely high for the time. Presumably it was the favourable location that drove the price so high. Orwin erected the Railway Hotel, as it was first named, to serve the station that was built at the tiny Nottingham Road settlement. Local farmer and settler Charles Smythe writes in his diary, “July 12th, 1882: The railway has at last commenced, and there is a large staff of men on Gowrie busy putting up buildings and beginning the earthworks. The station is to be just at the crossing of the road to Fort Nottingham, about two miles from Strathearn.” The railway line finally reached Nottingham Road at the end of 1885. The station was initially called Harrison’s Camp after the contractor (prior to the station’s opening), before being called Karkloof […]