Home to the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury, Hatfield Estate has been in the Cecil family - one of England's foremost political dynasties - for the last 400 years, but its history goes back much further. In 1485, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, built Hatfield Palace and, when the possessions of the Church were disbanded by King Henry VIII in the mid-1500s, Henry used it as a residence for his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. Indeed, Elizabeth - later to become Queen Elizabeth I - spent much of her childhood happily at Hatfield. During her long reign, Elizabeth was to depend upon 1st Baron Burghley, William Cecil, her chief advisor. William was founder of the Cecil dynasty, which has produced many notable politicians, including two Prime Ministers.
Hatfield passed to Robert Cecil, William's second son, when King James I proposed to exchange it for Robert's residence, Theobalds House. Robert agreed, and in 1607 he pulled down three sides of Hatfield Palace and built himself the present House. Today, Hatfield is an exquisite example of Jacobean craftsmanship - from the extravagant oak carving by John Bucke in the marble hall, to the winter dining room, which houses tapestries know as the 'Four Seasons' by Robert Sheldon, probably the finest tapestries of the period in existence. The chapel is still in use as a place of worship and features a rare stained glass window depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and the armoury exhibits a valuable jousting set made in Henry VIII's workshops. Historic mementos associated with Elizabeth I - as well as Robert Cecil's exquisite rock crystals - are on display throughout the House.
Countless productions have been filmed at Hatfield - both Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The King's Speech. It is particularly fitting that Christopher Nolan's revival of Gotham's dark knight (Batman Begins) was filmed here, the House also playing host to Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.
When Hatfield passed to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, in the early 17th century, he employed John Tradescant the elder to visit Europe and bring back horticultural specimens that had never been grown in England before. Neglected in the 18th century, Tradescant's 42-acre gardens have since been carefully restored and today include the newly planted woodland garden. In spring, the garden is awash with bluebells, narcissi and wildflowers - with glorious displays of magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons. The magnificent hydrangea walk leads to the fledgling yew house in the woodland garden.
Designed by the 5th Marquess of Salisbury, the east garden features elegant parterres, topiary, rare plants, a maze and the 17th century 'New Pond' - and is intended to be viewed from the first floor of the House. In the west garden, designed by Lady Gwendolen Cecil, daughter of Prime Minster Salisbury, Italian 18th century stone figures can be found. Commissioned by Lord Salisbury to commemorate Hatfield House's 400th anniversary, the sundial garden displays a longitude timepiece based upon an armillary sphere: an astronomical instrument depicting the heavens. With no moving parts, the dial relies upon the motion of the Earth to tell the time to the nearest minute.
Wander down pleached lime walk, surrounding the west garden, and discover a stone frieze of Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers; stroll along a walkway lined with half-standard holm oaks leading to the cast-iron gates erected for Queen Victoria's visit in 1846; and roam Hatfield's medieval parkland, ennobled by its veteran trees - oaks, hornbeams and beech pollards, some over 700 years old.
Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood in the Old Palace garden at Hatfield. In the park, an oak tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II marks the spot where it is thought the young Princess first heard of her accession to the throne on the death of her sister Mary in 1558.
Hatfield Park Farm houses traditional breeds of sheep, pigs, goats, cattle, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, with exciting activities for children, such as bottle feeding little lambs, live lambing, feeding the animals in the paddocks and free tractor rides around the 25-acre farm. There are toy and sweet shops in the stable yard, where adults can also enjoy a spot of shopping, with antiques, gifts, local crafts and books on offer.
The new 'Bloody Hollow' adventure playground is situated on the west side of Hatfield park, and features a 2.5-metre high model of Hatfield House and a range of play apparatus for children up to 12 years old; from a rope bridge and an aerial runway, to a tree house and, of course, swings, see-saws and slides. Bloody Hollow takes its name from the natural bowl shape in which it sits, which has been known as 'Bloody Dell' for the past 283 years.
York, North Yorkshire
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Contact Hotel Reservations:
0845 0 70 70 90
|House, Gardens, Park & Sculpture Exhibition|
|30 March - 29 September||Open as shown|
|Hatfield Park Farm, Adventure Playground & Stable Yard|
|30 March - Late December||Open as shown|
|House||Weds-Sun & BHs; 12:00-17:00*|
|East Garden||Weds only; 11:00-17:00**|
|West Garden||Tues-Sun & BHs; 10:00-17:00**|
|Farm & Adventure Playground||Tues-Sun & BHs; 10:00-17:30***|
|Stable Yard||Tues-Sun & BHs; 11:00-17:30|
|*last admission 16:00|
|**last admission 16:30|
|***last admission 17:00|