Tudor times

Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Hatfield, originally Bishop's Hatfield, is in the Welwyn Hatfield district of Hertfordshire, in the south of England. It forms part of the Welwyn Hatfield constituency which also includes Welwyn Garden City and has been twinned with the Dutch port town of Zierikzee since 1953. Its MP is Grant Shapps (Con.). It is known as the town where the first production-line jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet was built and as the site of a tragic rail crash in 2000.

History

Saxon to Medieval eras

Dating back to Saxon times, the village of Hatfield was first known as "Hetfelle" and then became known as "Haethfeld" when around 970 King Edgar gave to the monastery of Ely. No records remain from this time until 1226 when Henry III granted the Bishops of Ely rights to an annual four-day fair and a weekly market. Old Hatfield retains many historic buildings notably the Old Palace, St Etheldreda's Church and Hatfield House. The Old Palace was built by the Bishop of Ely, Cardinal Morton, in 1497 during the reign of Henry VII and the only surviving wing is still used today for Elizabethan banquets. St Etheldreda's Church was founded by the monks from Ely and the first wooden church, built in 1285, was probably sited where the existing building stands overlooking the Old Town.

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.

Victorian Hatfield

The original town (now Old Hatfield) grew up around the gates of Hatfield House; the still-existing Eight Bells Inn is described by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist as a temporary resting place for Bill Sykes, on the run from central London after murdering Nancy. However in 1851 the route of the Great North Road (now the A1000 road) was altered to avoid cutting through the grounds of Hatfield House and this diversion explains the apparent discrepancy where Dickens describes Sykes as coming down the hill from the London road and finding the welcome sight of the Eight Bells Inn. Nowadays the Eight Bells is on a quiet cul-de-sac.

20th century development

The opening of the de Havilland airfield and aircraft factory prior to the Second World War resulted in further rapid growth of the town and, as the place of manufacture of the Mosquito, Dove, Heron, Comet and Trident, Hatfield is indelibly linked with the history of British aviation. The de Havilland Company - later Hawker Siddeley and finally British Aerospace - became the district's largest employer.

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.

Culture and recreation

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.

Places of interest

Transport

Situated in the south of Hertfordshire, Hatfield is to the north of London and separated from the city by the Green Belt. The town has excellent transport links with the nearest airport at Luton only away and Stansted airport also within easy reach. The A1(M) road and, a few miles to the South, the M25 make for easy access to Heathrow and Gatwick by car. The main railway link from London to York runs through the town and there is a 22-minute commuter service to London.

Hatfield memorial garden

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).

Famous Residents

  • Babe Ruth, a 1970s rock band came from Hatfield
  • Martin Carthy, Folk Musician - was born in the town.
  • Iain Dowie, Former West Ham player, QPR manager & BBC Pundit - was also born in the town
  • Guy Richie, Film director famous for, Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barells
  • Donovan, a famous folk singer came from Hatfield
  • Michael Birch, Founder of the large social network BEBO.

Nearby towns and villages

See also

References

Trivia

The British 1970s rock band Hatfield and the North was named after the first road sign on the A1 motorway going North from London.

Gallery

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