Unfortunately, Wednesday May 25th was not the best of days as far as the weather was concerned. It was cold and drizzly when we left and it did not improve. However, the weather did not dampen the spirits of the members who went on this trip to Hatfield House. On arrival, a hot cup of coffee was enjoyed before the first group joined the guided tour of the magnificent home of the 7th Marquis and Marchioness of Salisbury and their family. The estate has been in the Cecil family for 400 years.
The house was built in 1611 adjoining the site of the Old Palace of Hatfield, the home of Henry VIII’s children, Edward, Elizabeth and Mary. It was while she was living in the Old Palace, in 1558, that Elizabeth learned of her accession to the throne. In the fabulous Marble Hall we were shown the famous “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth I who is shown holding a rainbow to symbolise her importance as there can be “No rainbow without the sun”.
The house is a marvelous example of Jacobean workmanship with many additional features installed for a visit by Queen Victoria in 1846. We also visited the King James Drawing Room, so named as it has a statue of James I, presented by the King himself, standing above the mantelpiece. As well as the huge tapestries there are a number of paintings here including the “Ermine portrait” of Queen Elizabeth I in which she is holding an olive sprig (representing Peace) in one hand and a white ermine (a symbol of purity and virginity) on the sleeve of her left hand.
We were impressed by the Long Gallery with its gold leaf ceiling and the hat, gloves and stockings, said to have belonged to Elizabeth I, displayed in a case at one end. The guided tour also included the Grand Staircase, Winter Dining Room, Chinese bedroom, North Gallery, Library, Chapel, Armoury and the Victorian kitchens.
We were then left to explore the rest of the estate on our own. The Old Palace was built in 1485 but three quarters of it was demolished in 1607 to make way for the House. The interior of the remaining wing can be viewed through a window. It was also possible to visit the East and West Gardens as well as various other gardens and park areas. However, it was so cold that many of us spent more time in the restaurant and Stable Yard shops.
An additional area to visit was St. Etheldreda’s Church and the lovely old houses of Old Hatfield which adjoin the estate.
Some of us also found the Real Tennis Courts, one of the twenty-six courts remaining in England, although unfortunately many of us missed watching a match as the club played in the morning only.