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.