Aviation in Hertfordshire The 'De Havilland Heritage Trail' at Hatfield Aerodrome

'Within easy access of London, yet situated amid delightful Hertfordshire country surroundings, Hatfield Aerodrome is undoubtedly the largest and finest flying ground in Great Britain' (from 'Hatfield Aerodrome' (1936))

The Comet Hotel

The Comet Hotel is located close to the entrance to the original Hatfield Aerodrome of 1930. This iconic hotel and restaurant has been recently renovated and includes a plinth with a model of the De Havilland DH88 Comet Racer, built at by De Havilland in 1934. Designed and built within months, it won the England to Australia air race later that year.

1. Beginnings and the Beacon

Our tour of the DH Heritage Trail begins at the entrance to the University of Hertfordshire's De Havilland Campus, located a few metres away from the Comet Hotel. Located at the entrance is the original Beacon used by De Havilland to enable pilots to find their way back to the aerodrome. Removed from its original site in 1980, it was fully restored and reinstated in 2011. The supporting Heritage Trail Board tells the whole story of the Beacon.

Heritage Trail Board 1 - Beginnings and the Beacon

The Heritage Trail was developed in 2010 by the University of Hertfordshire and local organisations. The map here shows the locations of the 10 Trail Boards around the De Havilland aerodrome site, from the original Beacon, Trail Board 1 to the Flight Test Hangar, Trail Board 10. The full trail is about 4kms long and takes approx 90 minutes to walk, the shorter trail option is about 3kms long and takes approx 60 minutes to walk.

2. The Early Years

Trail Board 2 depicts the 'early years' of Hatfield Aerodrome. The de Havilland School of Flying became the first RAF Reserve School, moving to Hatfield from its original location at Stag Lane in North London in 1930. Later on in WW2, it would go on to train over 3,000 RAF and Army pilots. Also newly located at Hatfield was the London Aeroplane Club and the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School. Famous female aviator, Amy Johnson had learned to fly with the London Aeroplane Club and flew her de Havilland Moth, setting several national and international flight records. The Kings Cup Air Race began many of its stage courses from Hatfield during the 1930's, when DH Moths became the favoured light aircraft for the race.

3. The Runway

Trail Board 3 is located at the west end threshold of the main runway. Built on land originally owned by the Sinclair Family, who lived at Harpsfield Hall. The concrete runway was built in 1947, to handle larger aircraft like the De Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner. In 2002, when the runway was broken up to provide foundations for the University's new campus, medieval remains from Harpsfield Hall were rediscovered. The threshold is now overgrown, however, marker posts identify the width and direction of the original runway.

Trail Board 3 - Main runway threshold

4. Astwick Manor

Trail Board 4 is located in the wildlife park, adjacent to Astwick Manor, which was to eventually become the headquarters for the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, to train engineers for the growing company.

Initially, in 1940, Astwick Manor was requisitioned by the RAF to become the headquarters for No.2 Army Co-operation Squadron. It wasn't until 1949, that the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School was established at Astwick, having been relocated from sites in Welwyn Garden City and Salisbury Hall. Following the absorption of the De Havilland Aircraft Company into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1965, it was renamed the Hawker Siddeley Aviation Apprentice Training School. Today, the University of Hertfordshire delivers engineering degree apprenticeship programmes.

5. Rocket Development

After WW2, the north east side of Hatfield Aerodrome became an important centre for rocket research. During the 1950s' , when the USA and USSR led rocket development, Britain invested heavily in promoting its own rocket industry. Innovations in missile and rocket technology were developed at this site, including the famous Blue Streak and Firestreak missiles. Trail Board 5 outlines its history.

Trail Board 6 - Community
Trail Board 7 - Design innovation

6. Community

Hatfield aerodrome contributed a tremendous amount to the community through sports competitions, clubs, concerts and popular music days, as well as annual air displays. In 1948, the UK government designated Hatfield as a 'new town', which provided a structure for the development of new housing adjacent to the De Havilland site. By 1953, the company employed 7,000 skilled workers and many more who depended economically on the aerodrome. Examples include the DH Choral Society, Art Society and Drama Group. Sports included Rugby, Football, Badminton, Netball, cricket, squash, bowls, tennis, Angling and Snooker.

7. Design Innovation

By the mid-fifties, a large design block had been built just north of the main administration block and main factory. De Havilland was at the forefront of aircraft design and development: from the early pre-war DH Moth designs, the DH 88 Comet Racer's use of plywood, (subsequently used to build the war-time DH Mosquito), through to jet aircraft designs and rocket development, De Havilland was 'leading the way'. Trail Board 5 outlines its record of innovative design and development.

8. Administration Block

The Art Deco administration block was built in 1934, as the central hub for the aerodrome. By 1939, De Havilland Aircraft had become a global business, with aircraft production established in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 1940, Hatfield was bombed by the Luftwaffe and twenty one employees were killed and a further one hundred were injured in an adjacent block. Now a Grade 11 listed building, the Admin block is the home of Hertfordshire Police Authority.

Trail Board 9 - The Gatehouse

9. The Gatehouse

Alongside the main Administration Block is located the Gatehouse, which formed the main entrance to the Aerodrome. Trail Board 9 tells the history of the factory buildings and streets named after prominent De Havilland employees and test pilots.

Trail Board 10 - Flight Test Hangar

10. The Flight Test Hangar

Built in 1954, to house the larger aircraft being developed at Hatfield, the Flight Test Hangar is our last information Board on the Heritage Trail. The Hangar was built to house the world's first jet airliner, the DH Comet. It was the largest aluminium building in the world and was completed in just thirteen weeks. The control tower, offices and dedicated fire station are included in the design. It now has a Grade 11 listed status and is the head office and hotel, owned by David Lloyd Clubs.

If you would like to find out more about the the De Havilland Heritage Trail, contact Guy Thomas, our Aviation Heritage correspondent at: guy.thomas@landortravelpublications.com. Mobile: 07960 417769

Acknowledgements - Professor Owen Davies; University of Hertfordshire, Ron Smith; BAe Systems, Clare Dann.