Perhaps the most famous local historical landmark is Hatfield House, seat of the Cecil family, whose history is not only closely interwoven with that of the town but also of Tudor times. Princess Elizabeth Tudor was confined for three years in what is now known as "The Old Palace" in Hatfield Park. It was here in 1558, whilst said to be sitting under an oak tree in the Park, that she learned that she had become Queen following the death of her half-sister, Mary. Records show that within a few days the young Queen Elizabeth held her first Council in the Great Hall (The Old Palace) of Hatfield.
After the Second World War, Hatfield was designated as a "new town" under the New Towns Act 1946 (and the earlier Abercrombie Plan for London in 1944), forming part of the initial Hertfordshire group with nearby Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth. It retains "new town" characteristics including trees and open spaces that were outlined in the original design.
The closure of British Aerospace in 1992 had a serious impact on the area. Production of the HS146 (by now known as the British Aerospace 146 'Whisperjet') was transferred to Woodford in Cheshire. An early bizjet, the DH125, was also developed here although mass production took place at Hawarden in Cheshire. Some components of wind turbines were also developed here prior to the airfield's closure. The vacated premises and surrounding grounds served as a film set for almost all of the BBC/HBO television drama Band of Brothers, which followed on from significant use of the site in the filming of the Steven Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan.
However, with Hatfield Business Park and the University of Hertfordshire - formerly Hatfield Polytechnic - already established and expanding and the redevelopment of the airfield site taking shape, the town's future remains promising. The population of Hatfield has expanded to over 30,000 and is still growing.
A large section of the airfield site was purchased by the University and the £120 million de Havilland Campus, incorporating a £15 million Sports Village, was opened in September 2003. The university has closed its sites at Watford and Hertford; faculties situated there have been moved to the de Havilland Campus. The university maintains its campus at St Albans, which houses law students.
In addition to the new university campus, part of the former BAe land was also due to be the site of a £500 million new hospital to replace the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn GC. Controversially the project has now been cancelled and the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital is also under threat of closure.
The university is looking to expand its Nursing and Physiotherapy departments to accommodate and utilise the extra facilities available to it. Redevelopment of Hatfield town centre is also being planned. This will involve the construction of 275 flats and retail units and is forecast to start in 2009. Welwyn Hatfield Council Welwyn Hatfield Times, news report, May 2008 Hatfield Town Centre Redevelopment has now been granted planning permission subject to a section 106 legal agreement.
Hatfield's aerospace and military production history remains today mainly in the form of name only — streets such as Comet Way and Mosquito Way; pubs such as the Airfield and The Harrier; the previously mentioned university buildings along with the massive A1 motorway junction (named Olding's Corner), the land being gradually turned over to retail, offices and housing.
Hatfield has one swimming pool, two sports/leisure centres, a nine screen cinema, a factory outlet shopping centre situated above the A1(M) called The Galleria and two supermarkets - ASDA in the town centre and Tesco at the northern end of the town.
The area contains the site of a fatal rail crash on October 17, 2000. The incident brought track maintenance deficiencies to public attention, to the severe detriment of Railtrack, the company established to manage rail infrastructure, and set in motion the events that led to its insolvency. It is five miles (8 km) north of Potters Bar, scene of a later fatal train derailment. There is a small garden beside the East Coast Main Line that was built as a memorial for the crash victims: it can be accessed on foot from the Great North Road (A1000).
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