The history of Hatfield can be traced back over a thousand years to 970 AD when King Edgar granted 40 hides of land to the monks of Ely. A century later the Domesday Book records ‘Hetfelle’ (derived from the Saxon Haethfeld, meaning heath-
Soon after his appointment as Bishop of Ely in 1479, Cardinal Morton commenced the building of the Bishop’s Palace, of which only the West Wing remains, now used as a regular venue for Tudor banquets.
In 1538 the Manor of Hatfield became the property of the Crown and Henry VIII’s children all spent time there. It was, however, his younger daughter, Elizabeth, who had the closest association with Hatfield as she was confined there for some three years and reputedly it was, while sitting under an oak tree in the Park, that she received news of her accession in 1547. Records show that Elizabeth held her first Council in the Great Hall (The Old Palace) of Hatfield.
In 1607 King James I indicated a strong desire to acquire an estate known as Theobalds located in the south of the County, which was owned by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and the King’s Chief Secretary and Lord High Treasurer. Naturally Cecil agreed to an exchange and thus acquired the palace at Hatfield. He immediately set about building Hatfield House, the completion of which virtually coincided with the death of the 1st Earl in 1612. However, the great House and its surrounding Park have remained the principal home of subsequent Earls and Marquesses of Salisbury for over 400 years.
The existence of the Great House has brought numerous visitors to the town over the centuries. These have included British and foreign royalty, government ministers, particularly the latter part of the nineteenth century when the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was Prime Minister on three occasions. Other historic figures to visit Hatfield have included Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens. In fact, it was during his last recorded visit in 1667 that Pepys wrote “and so to Hatfield, to the inn next my Lord Salisbury’s house, and there rested ourselves and drank and bespoke dinner, and so to church, it being just church time. Did hear a most excellent good sermon…”
Its strategic location on the main road leading from London to the north brought steady growth in trade to the town which was well served by a selection of alehouses, coaching inns, not to mention its well established brewery, that prospered until its closure in 1920. Major changes took place in the mid nineteenth century with the arrival of the mainline railway in 1850 which coincided with the beginnings of a development to the west of the existing town, to become known as “Newtown”. Over the following decades the railway played an important role as Hatfield served as an interchange for three branch lines to St Albans, Hertford and Luton and Dunstable.
The new settlement on the western side of the railway also provided homes for many of the new railway workers.
The years following the end of World War 1 were a period of the growth in Newtown with new shops and housing and in 1927 further opportunities opened up with the building of the Barnet-
The immediate post-
As road traffic increased during the 1970s measures were taken to alleviate the problems experienced along the stretch of the Barnet-
Shortly after these developments the aircraft factory, the town’s major employer that had earlier become part of the British Aerospace Group, closed and this inevitably had a serious effect on the town and the workers. This site has now been developed partly as an Industrial Park to provide alternative employment opportunities and also has provided new housing to meet a growing demand. As we moved into the twenty-
With the dawning of the twenty first century plans were drawn up to redevelop the town centre but progress stalled with the downturn in the economy during the past decade. Fortunately, as conditions have improved this development is now beginning to take shape and it is the fervent hope of the whole community that this will now come to fruition and reinvigorate this vital part of the town.
The Old Palace, Hatfield House,
The New train Station opened in 2016
Hatfield train Station in the 1950’s
Woolco Dept. Store part of the New Town development
Hatfield birth place of the Comet.
Comet 1 prototype (with square windows) at Hatfield, Hertfordshire in October 1949
This is photograph ATP 18376C from the collections of the Imperial War Museums
Hatfield Town Centre 2016
Copyright Hatfield Local History Society. March 2016