Built between 1837 and 1840, this century old building exudes character and charm and her story is almost as colourful and lengthy as that of the old wagon route leading up to the then “Transvaal”. In 1840 it was a “Voortrekker Farmhouse” and in 1855 it was known as “Stevens Pub” or “Stevens Canteen”.
The hotel officially opened on 05th June 1991 after being bought by Nick and Gill Barstow in December 1988. The underlining criteria even then, according to Gill Barstow, was its personal touches that permeated through the guest journey. These words till today are often spoken by the worlds most renowned hoteliers, which reflect on the incredible vision held by the hotel in its early days by its first proprietors. Its first few years were based on expansion of services and a wonderful food offering that was well supported by the locals. The midlands is known for its exceptional, organic food and offering on which the hotel grew.
Prior to the Barstow’s, the hotel was owned from 1971 by Sally and Dr. James McCall. Sally, who still visits the hotel to this day, often comments to the staff that the purchase of the dilapidated and neglected farm and building was simply because of its wonderfully benign and reassuring atmosphere. Sally, at a fit age of 92 (2019) only orders the hotels delicious scones when she visits, which she laughingly always claims is her recipe passed onto the hotel in 1971. Sally confidently tells us that the farm was originally owned by a “Mr Stephens” and for this reason was known as “Stephens Post.”
The hotel was a Posting House between Pietermaritzburg and Ladysmith, so can be assumed that it predates now Curry’s Post.
History tells us a story that in the early 1860’s an attempted “Highway Robbery” was to be staged against a Captain Lucas, who was returning from Ladysmith with a consignment of 10,000 pounds in gold pieces. While changing horses at Halliwell, he was warned of the coming robbery due to take place at the bottom of the steep dip shortly past Halliwell, where today the turnoff at Giverny Cottages exists. Captain Lucas, loaded gun in hand, raced at full speed down the hill to “run the gauntlet”. The story tells that two of the robbers were trampled under-foot and another two managed to scramble on board before fallen backwards off the carriage under gun fire and galloping horses. Captain Lucas arrived safely at Pietermaritzburg with all gold intact.
After Mr Stephens owned the “hotel”, it was sold to a Mr. James Buchanan, who was a Scottish immigrant and blacksmith. He quickly setup a “smithy’s forge” and it became know as Rommelkop. Mrs Buchanan, formerly Elizabeth Dow, was known for her incredible horticultural skill. It is spoken word that she laid out many of the current hotel terraces and the water garden just off the now hotel parking. It’s also believed she started the orchard where today a few old stumps of the old lemon trees are visible and new ones, grown from the original trees, now exist. Their son later built a business and home at 118 Main Street in Howick, and the decedents of this family are still in Howick today, often passing Halliwell for a visit and one of Sally’s famous scones. They sold the farm and say it fell into disrepair and neglect for almost 30 years before being bought again. The family mostly left South Africa to be found throughout the world, but their legacy remains in the form of Buchanan Street in Howick today.
Fast forward again to 1971, the arrival of Sally and her husband. They were determined to make the old farm their home and return the space to its former glory. One of their best finds, was the old arched doorway that was found in a demolishers yard. The rounded frame is distinctive and believed to have come from an old hotel in Pietermaritzburg. The doors are the original doors from the old Stephen’s pub. The old iron lock remains with its old iron lock and brass escutcheon plate bearing the Royal Coat of Arms and the letters “W.R”. This dates the reign of William the 1V who came to the throne in 1830 and was succeeded by Queen Victoria.
Sally lovingly tells us the story of how the old farmhouse needed a staircase to reach the top floor. She recalls finding one for sale in the old Blackhurst Home in Ridge Road in Durban. The house was under the demolishers hammer. They bought and collected it in a 5-ton truck and to everyone’s relief this prize possession finally reached Halliwell. Sally often jokes about how the trip up was done by sending scouts out to check for cops while the oversized staircase came chugging up to Halliwell. This imposing feature today is an exceptional example of a bygone craftmanship that fits the current building beautifully.
The Barstow’s (Nick and Gill) played a massive hand in cementing the foundation of the hotel today. Their keen eye and undying passion for the property saw them collecting old Oregon pine doors and huge sash windows from demolished Maritzburg homes to be fitted to the hotel. The building has seen an eclectic mix of modern comforts mixed with fine antiques, lovingly collected over the years. The Barstow’s created the Bridal Suite on the top floor of the main building which never existed in the original building. This was originally the honeymoon suite and credit is very often passed to Gill Barstow’s keen eye on design, comfort and exceptional attention to detail. The room, undoubtedly, according to testament of past staff who new Gill, has the best view in “The Inn”.
In 1999 Mr and Mrs Bones purchased the Inn from the Barstow’s but in “quick” succession of a few years sold it to Mike and Jane Uys in 2002. Mike and Jane Uys, passionate about equestrian space, opened the “Halliwell Rest Home for Horses” who today still neighbour the hotel caring for many horses who share parts of the hotel space with its uninterrupted views of the Karkloof Valley.
In November 2017 Mike and Jane sold the hotel and the property on which it is situated to Joe Segers. Joe, a hotelier by trade, was first introduced to the hotel and the Uys’s when at the tender age of 26, was the general manager of the Imperial Hotel in Pietermaritzburg.
“I loved the hotel back then. Every few weekends I would find a reason to escape to the hotel to enjoy the natural space it offers and its’ pure comfort and natural existence. It’s a rare, intimate space, that I am proud to be imparting a piece of the future back into the hotel to cement further years of growth from an incredible past.” Joe has been restoring many aspects of the history into the guest experience, while growing the Old Inn into the future to keep it as current and comfortable as possible for the modern traveller, while retaining its rich heritage.
Joe’s passion for the hotel is contagious. If you get to enjoy a personal tour of the property with him, ensure that you do. His ghost stories and experiences are well document and shared.
In an age of constant change, the original charm and added love of all the owners over the years sees this great property still standing solidly with permanence. Make this a permanent or short stop for Sally’s Scones should you be on a scenic drive up Curry’s Post Road or the N3 up to Johannesburg. You cannot but love the space, both for its views, but more so the love that all its owners and visitors past and present have bestowed on this beautiful piece of history.