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Hatfield House in Hertfordshire is a really spectacular Jacobean house with some beautiful gardens and park. The house is perhaps best remembered because Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been sitting beneath an Oak tree in the grounds in 1511, when she was first told that she had acceded to the throne.
Local people use the park frequently for family days out, picnics and walks. The grounds also host a variety of Craft Days, Car Rallies, theatre and country shows.
~~A Brief History~~
Hatfield House started out as Hatfield Palace, built in 1485 by the Bishop of Ely. Henry VIII took it over and used it chiefly as a residence for his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. During the reign of Queen Mary, Elizabeth found herself a virtual prisoner in Hatfield Palace, but this came to an end when she became Queen.
Robert Cecil was given the Palace by James 1, and Cecil pulled down most of the Palace in 1607, to build the present day Hatfield House. The main designer was Robert Lyminge, but the plans were modified by the advice of several others, including, Inigo Jones. The gardens were elaborately planned with fountains and a lake devised by a Frenchman and rarities brought from abroad by the famous plantsman, John Tradescant.
I am writing about the park area of the grounds first, as this is where I have spent most of my time with my children over the years. The park covers 1000 acres - it has woodland trails and as well as huge fields for running around and kite flying, and is a safe place for the children to play as well as the perfect location for picnics. There is a children's play area hidden away in the woods, and many picnic tables. Dogs are welcome.
We have often spent a whole day in the park, just relaxing and picnicking in the beautiful surroundings. For a bit of a change, you can look around the shop which sells garden plants, you can admire the ancient banqueting hall and the courtyard with the model soldier exhibition, drop in to the restaurant, or stroll around the gardens. All of this is included in the entrance price for the park only.
The gardens date from the 17th century, and are very peaceful. You can wander around the formal gardens, in and out of hedged squares and hidden alcoves with benches hidden away. There are several fountains set in the middle of the scented gardens, lovely to walk through or to sit on the benches and watch the world go by. Children also love to play hide and seek in the gardens, or to try to tickle the fish in the fountains. Walled gardens and pergolas, together with lovely statues and sundials make this garden very special, and a lovely part of the visit.
The West garden is always open to visitors, but the East garden is only open for one day a week, and costs extra. This garden is really a must for the serious gardener or historical garden enthusiast -containing elegant parterres, topiary and rare plants - but the ordinary visitor will be happy with the west garden and the park.
~~The House ~~
A visit to the house is less attractive to the family with small children, but a very impressive visit nevertheless. There are the opulent rooms that you can expect in most stately homes, with beautiful paintings, lovely dining rooms and filled with historical atmosphere, paintings, tapestries and armour.
Although all of the rooms are beautiful to look at and maintained very well indeed, the most impressive room for me was the Long Gallery, running the entire length of the front of the house and making an enormous impact.
I would recommend a 'park only' ticket for a first visit. In the summer there is plenty to explore as long as you are mobile. It is the perfect to picnic, in lovely surroundings, with beautiful views, in perfect safety.
House, Park & West Garden:
Adult £10.50, Senior £9.50, child (5-15 years) £5.00,
Family (2 adults and up to four children) £27.50
Park & West Garden
Adult £6 (no Senior concession), child £4.50
Adult £3, child £2 - under 5's free
Open only on Thursdays during the Visitor Season 11 am to 5.30 pm (last admissions 5 pm). Extra charge of £3.50 per person
Park & garden season tickets (£36, child £18) are valid for a year from date of purchase.
At a recent wedding in St. Albans I was looking for something to see on the way back. I had seen that Hatfield was close by so I persuaded my parents that we should see it on the way back. My Dad was keen, but my Mum agreed reluctantly - think she would have preferred it if we had stopped off at a nice country pub for lunch!
Hatfield House was originally Hatfield Palace and was built in around 1485 by John Morton, a minister to Henry VII and Archbishop of Canterbury. The palace was taken over by Henry VIII who used it to house his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. Under Mary I, Elizabeth was kept under house arrest at Hatfield. Elizabeth was in the grounds of Hatfield when she heard of Mary's death and her accession to the throne. The line "this is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes", was probably really said by her and is not just a Hollywood invention! Not much of the original palace remains. The banqueting hall does though and is now used for functions.
Hatfield House was built in around 1611 by Robert Cecil, minister to James I and the first Earl of Salisbury. Cecil was the son of William Cecil, who was Elizabeth's Secretary of State and who had been present at her first Council meeting which was held at Hatfield Palace. The house cost the equivalent of over £5 million in today's money.
The house has stayed in the Cecil family for 400 years and has passed in direct descent from Robert Cecil to the current owner, Robert Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury.
The house is located (strangely enough) in Hatfield! The house is located off junction 4 of the A1(M) and is signposted from this road. There is plenty of parking available at the house. The nearest station is Hatfield, which is opposite the entrance to the house, and the train here from London takes 25 minutes.
The house is not open all year. It opens from March until the end of September. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays (except bank holidays). During the week you have to take a guided tour but on the weekends you are free to walk around the house yourself. The house is open from 12 until 5.
The house is not really a cheap option for a day out. The tickets are £10 for an adult, £4.50 for a child and £9 for a senior. Plan what you're doing before going as it costs more to buy a park ticket and then upgrade to the house as well, than it does just to buy a full ticket in the first place.
The house is accessible for disabled visitors throughout, although not necessarily for those in electric chairs as these might be too big for the lift. The disabled parking is directly outside the house.
On entering the house you make your way first of all into the Marble Hall. Prepare to be amazed! This room is completely beautiful. The walls are panelled in wood, much of which is elaborately carved, there are tapestries, the ceiling is painted and gilded and there are lots of portraits. This is where I start to get excited. I am completely fascinated by portraits and Hatfield House has some of the country's finest. In this first room there are portraits of William Cecil and Robert Cecil, but the main attraction is the Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I. I won't give a full lecture on the portrait but it is one of the most famous of the Queen. If taking others with you to the house ask them to guess how old the Queen was when the portrait was painted. Most will say in her 20s so you will amaze them when you tell them that it was painted in 1601, when Elizabeth was 67!! It is the epitome of Tudor propaganda. It is called the Rainbow Portrait as she holds a (faded) rainbow representing peace and the eyes and ears on her dress represent the fact that she knows exactly what is going on in the country. Having studied this picture a lot is was amazing to see it for real - simple things excite me!
Next is the Grand Staircase. This is a beautifully carved staircase dating from the time of the house being built. The carving is amazing, with cherubs and lions and even Robert Cecil's gardener carved into it. This is followed by King James' Drawing Room - which means more portraits so I'm a happy bunny! The main attraction for me was another portrait of Elizabeth, the Ermine Portrait. This shows the Queen in black, wearing many pearls, a symbol of her virginity. There is also an ermine shown wearing a crown round its neck, another symbol of purity as it was believed that the ermine would rather die than dirty its white coat. Other portraits in this room include Mary Queen of Scots (ironically on the same wall as the cousin who executed her!). In the centre of the room is an marvellous fireplace which was sculpted by Maximilian Colt, who also designed Queen Elizabeth's tomb. In the centre of the fireplace is a state of James I, designed to impress the king - I think I'd be impressed if someone built a statue of me for a visit to their house!
The Chinese bedroom is off the Long Gallery. You can't go into this bedroom you can just see it through the doorway. This room was decorated in the 19th century so doesn't hold as much interest for me. The Long Gallery is a long panelled room which would have been used for exercise when the weather was bad. There are some precious objects on display here including a hat and gloves which supposedly belonged to Queen Elizabeth - again watch me get over excited!
The next room is the Winter Dining Room. This room has some beautiful tapestries. My favourite part of the room was the dummy boards. These are wooden boards with figures painted on them. Historians aren't completely sure what these were for but it was probably partly for 'company' if you were at home alone and partly to make it look as if there were others there if someone was planning to break in. In between the Dining Room and the Library is a case with a scroll showing the pedigree of Elizabeth I. I was like the proverbial kid in a sweetshop! This remarkable document shows the family tree of the Queen right back to Adam and Eve (I think there may be some imagination involved somehow!). I could have stood in front of this studying it for ages, but other people couldn't see as I was blocking the case so eventually I moved on! The next room is the Library. This contains more than 10 000 items but as great as the books are they weren't the main attraction for me. Over the fireplace was a mosaic portrait of Robert Cecil which was really beautiful. The other main attraction for me was some of the archives in the room. Hatfield holds many important historic documents, including letters from Elizabeth I. Time for me to get excited again!
From this room you go down the Adam and Eve Staircase. This isn't as elaborate as the other staircase. There was a beautiful ivory model of a Chinese temple at the bottom which is thought to have belonged to George III. Next is the Chapel, which has some lovely stained glass. The Chapel was almost destroyed by the fire which destroyed some of the house in the 19th century. It was saved when the lead water tanks (mmm, tasty!) melted in the attic, dousing the flames. The final room was the Armoury, which didn't hold as much interest for me. Some of the armour is very old but I just can't get excited about armour (yes, that's right, portraits of long dead people are far better!!).
Each room at Hatfield has a guide during the weekends. The guides we saw were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable (although I may have corrected one, after she was out of earshot, to my mother!). They were really chatty and interesting - it was nice to see people who were clearly as enthusiastic about History as myself.
There are some lovely grounds at Hatfield but we did not look round these as we had a long drive ahead of us and the weather wasn't really conducive wandering round outside. We did have a look in the shop which sold the usual fare of tourist items. I picked up a poster of the Ermine Portrait for 70p for teaching, which I thought was a bit of a bargain! They had lots of History related items, including posters, books, magnets etc. There is also a restaurant at the house but we didn't use this.
I absolutely loved the experience of Hatfield House. I would highly recommend it. Even my mother, sceptical about culture as she is, really enjoyed the house and found it fascinating. If you like History, architecture, art, or gardens then Hatfield is worth a visit, even if the prices are steep. If you like History even half as much as me (ok so I know that's still quite a lot!) then this place is amazing.
The home of the 7th Marquess of Salisbury where Elizabeth I spent most of her childhood.