Hatfield House is a country house set in a large park, the Great Park, on the eastern side of the town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire. An earlier building on the site was the Royal Palace of Hatfield. Only part of this still exists, a short distance from the present house. That palace was the childhood home and favourite residence of Queen Elizabeth I. Built in 1497 by the Bishop of Ely, King Henry VII's minister John Cardinal Morton, it comprised four wings in a square surrounding a central courtyard. The palace was seized by Henry VIII with other church properties. The nearby parish church of St Etheldreda's, in Old Hatfield once served the Bishops Palace as well as the village. It is now termed the Old Palace.
Henry VIII's children, King Edward VI and the future Queen Elizabeth I, spent their youth at Hatfield Palace. His eldest daughter, who later reigned as Queen Mary I, lived there between 1533 and 1536, when she was sent to wait on the then Princess Elizabeth, as punishment for refusing to recognise Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and his religious reforms. In 1548, when she was only 15 years old, Elizabeth was under suspicion of having illegally agreed to marry Thomas Seymour, the House and her servants were seized by Edward VI's agent Robert Tyrwhit, and she was interrogated there. She successfully defended her conduct with wit and defiance. Seymour was executed in 1549 for numerous other crimes against the crown. After her two months of imprisonment in the Tower of London by her sister Queen Mary, Elizabeth returned to Hatfield. The Queen Elizabeth Oak on the grounds of the estate is said to be the location where Elizabeth was told she was Queen following Mary's death, but is considered unlikely as Mary died in November. In November 1558, Elizabeth held her first Council of State in the Great Hall.
Elizabeth's successor, King James I, did not like the palace much and so gave it to Elizabeth's (and his own) chief minister Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, in exchange for Theobalds which was the Cecils' family home on the current site of Cedars Park, Broxbourne. Cecil liked to build and so tore down three wings of the royal palace (the back and sides of the square) in 1608 and used the bricks to build the present structure. Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, was three times prime minister during the closing years of Queen Victoria's reign. The city of Salisbury (now Harare) in the colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was founded in his time, and named for him. He is also known for often putting members of his family into the Government while Prime Minister. As his first name was Robert, this habit is sometimes said to have given rise to the popular expression 'Bob's your uncle' (meaning roughly 'It's all right, everything is sure to come off')
Hatfield House is a popular tourist attraction because it has so many objects associated with Queen Elizabeth I, including some gloves and a pair of silk stockings that are believed to have been the first ones in England. The library displays a 22 feet (6.7 m) long illuminated parchment roll showing the pedigree of the Queen with ancestors back to Adam and Eve. The Marble Hall holds the "Rainbow Portrait" of Elizabeth. The State Rooms house many important paintings, furniture, tapestries and armour. The richly carved wooden Grand Staircase and the rare stained glass window in the private chapel are among the house's original Jacobean features.
The Gardens, covering 42 acres, date from the early 17th century, and were laid out by John Tradescant the elder. Tradescant visited Europe and brought back trees and plants that had never previously been grown in England. The gardens included orchards, fountains, scented plants, water parterres, terraces, herb gardens and a foot maze. They were neglected in the 18th century, but restoration began in Victorian times and continues under the present Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury. During World War I, the grounds were used to test the first British tanks. An area was dug with trenches and craters and covered with barbed-wire to represent no man's land and German trench lines on the Western Front. To commemorate this, the only surviving Mark I tank was sited at Hatfield from 1919 until 1970 before being moved to The Tank Museum, Bovington. The Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association has placed its 'Troopie' memorial statue on the grounds of Hatfield House, due to the long association of the Cecil family with Southern Rhodesia.
The Victorian Kitchen is a fascinating glimpse into the past. This room forms the centre of a series of basement rooms designed to service the house. The Kitchen and its subsidiary rooms have been restored back to 1846, the year in which Queen Victoria made her first visit to Hatfield House. The Kitchen was in use from 1611 until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The fireplace is original. The range, however, has been reclaimed from a Cheshire castle in order to complete the feel of the Kitchen. Many of the items here are original to the House including all the copper, which has been restored to its former glory. A team of 25 staff worked in the Kitchen during the week of Queen Victoria's visit in 1846, under the supervision of Casimir Tessier, a chef from the Champagne region of France. The Kitchen would have often been the busiest, loudest and smelliest room in the House, a far cry from today's serene scene. The Still Room was the province of the Still Room Maid who, under the strict supervision of the Housekeeper, would make and store jams and preserves. She often made light meals, such as breakfasts, small sandwiches and occasionally jellies. She would have also been responsible for making tea, coffee and hot chocolate, all of which were fashionable during the Victorian period. The Pastry Room is a separate room that opens off the Kitchen. It was placed on the coolest, north-facing side of the House in order to aid the preparation of pastries, cakes and biscuits. This room would have also been used for the storage of dried goods, such as flour, sugar, and dried fruits. A small array of pastry cutters and other essential equipment can be seen in the cupboard. The Scullery was designed to service the Kitchen. The Scullery Maid would have been responsible for all the dirty jobs such as washing up all the pots, pans and dishes, as well as scrubbing the floors and surfaces throughout the Kitchen and its ancillary rooms. When she was not cleaning, the Scullery Maid would be preparing vegetables or plucking game birds.
The lift at Hatfield House was installed during the Victorian period by the Third Marquess of Salisbury, ever since it has been used to transport guests and latterly visitors to the various floors of the House. The lift is regularly checked and maintained but the years have left it a little sensitive. There is a strict weight limit for those travelling in the lift of 450lb, which is 32 stone or 204 kilograms. The total weight needs to include the disabled person, their wheelchair (if applicable) and the person travelling with them. Please note that the small lift located in the House cannot be used for prams, pushchairs and buggies. There is a good route for wheelchairs around the West garden and a plan can be picked up at the garden kiosk. Access to the shops, restaurant and lavatories is good. There is a separate adapted lavatory next to the Old Palace archway. Necessary helpers of disabled visitors are always admitted free of charge. Assistance dogs are welcome. To download the brochure detailing events and information, click here. Guided Tours are £40.00 per tour up to 30 people.
Location : Hatfield House, Hatfield AL9 5NQ
Transport: Hatfield (National Rail) next to House entrance. Bus Routes : local service to Hatfield station.
Opening Times Hatfield House: Wednesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 11:00 to 17:00
Opening Times Gardens + Farm: Tuesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 17:30
Tickets House + Gardens: Adults £16.00; Seniors £15.00; Children (5 - 15) £8.00
Tickets Gardens/Park: Adults £10.00; Seniors £9.00; Children (5 - 15) £6.00
Tickets Park Farm: Adults £5.00; Seniors £5.00; Children (3 - 15) £2.50
Tel: 01707 287010