*A little general information: Hatfield is a small town in Hertfordshire. It is situated just off the A1M and has easy (and quick) access to London ? just 1 junction off the M25. Years ago, Hatfield was a thriving place ? mainly due to the British Aerospace factory. Since it?s departure, Hatfield has lost a lot of its lustre, excitement and economy. Many people moved out of the area to find new work, which in turn caused other businesses to close or relocate. For a while it was touch and go but gradually things started to liven up again. The local superstore was revived, a huge outlet centre (The Galleria) was built, tourism increased due to the Farmers Markets and craft fairs, lots more hotels, restaurants and drinking holes were put in place, businesses moved back to the area, a business park has been developed with offices for several big companies, and house prices started to increase (and still are!). Most recently, plans have been produced to re-develop the ?New town? which at present is still rather rough round the edges with it?s graffiti walls, boarded up shop fronts, gangs hanging out on corners and dead-like silence. *Hatfield House and Park: Now, the one thing that has been going strong for Hatfield over centuries is the wonderful ?Hatfield House? and gardens. Hatfield House is located in the ?Old Town?, which I consider to be a rose hidden amongst hundreds of thorns. The Old Town has gradually become smaller and is now confined to just a few roads. It has beautiful listed (and un-listed) buildings with acres of history woven between the old cobbled streets. At the top of one of these old streets (Fore Street) is Hatfield Lodge. The Lodge is the back entrance to Hatfield Park ? it is mainly used by pass holders (resi dents of Hatfield are entitled to a free park foot pass which allows them to walk in the park all year round except Christmas day and Good Friday ? visitors may only visit from April till September). The main entrance to the park is via the big gates opposite Hatfield train station on The Great North Road ? not situated in the Old Town. Hatfield House itself is now a dwelling for Lord and Lady Salisbury (Lord Salisbury is the seventh Marquess of Salisbury). *History of the house: Hatfield House was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil the 1st Earl of Salisbury and chief minister to King James 1. In the extensive grounds of Hatfield House lies the Old Royal Palace (built in 1485), which was home to Queen Elizabeth 1 throughout much of her childhood. In November 1558, after the death of her sister Mary Tudor, Elizabeth held her first Council of State in the Great Hall. This hall is now used for marriages and all year round banquets. Parts of the palace have been kept in their original form and can be viewed only through barred doors and windows. *St Etheldreda?s Church: Just across from the old palace, on the other side of the Lodge wall, lies ?St Etheldreda?s Church? which dates back to 1108. St Etheldreda herself was a Saxon princess (one of 4 daughters to King Anna of East Anglia) born in 630 in Suffolk. Etheldreda entered the monastic life after being married at 14 (for 3 years before her husband died) and again for 12 years. Once released from her marriage, which was forced upon her, Etheldreda founded a monastery at Ely and dedicated her life to God. In 679 she died from a tumour in her neck (which she believed to be divine punishmen t for vainly wearing a costly necklace ? later turned out of be cause of plague). Ten years after her death, Etheldreda?s tomb was opened by her sister and her body was found incorrupt and the tumour in her neck healed. After her death, necklaces of silk and lace were sold at St Audrey?s fair (Etheldreda is also known as Audrey) and they were believed to cure illnesses of the throat and neck. In the church a special corner has been devoted to St Etheldreda and guests are invited to visit and light candles for people they care about. Amongst numerous treasures, St Etheldreda?s church boasts art made in William Morris? workshop, a plaque from a visit from King Charles 1 and is home to the bodies of several well known people from the past (including Lord Melbourne ? Queen Victoria?s first Prime Minister). On a visit to Hatfield House, this is one of my most recommended parts you visit ?in fact; my fiancé and I like it so much that we are going to be married there in February next year. *Other interests in Hatfield Park and Gardens: In addition to the House, the Old Palace, and the church, the grounds of Hatfield House are also home to numerous gardens (including the ?Wilderness Garden?, the ?Scented Garden? and the ?Palace Knot Gardens?), a riding school, park walks, a restaurant, picnic shelters, a gift shop and a children?s playground. The park is also used for flower festivals, living crafts, model soldier?s exhibitions, art festivals and annually holds three ?Shakespeare in the Park? evenings. This year includes, ?The Merry Wives of Windsor? on 20th June, ?As You Like It? on 11th July and ?A Midsummer Nights Dream? on 29th August. For more information you can go to the Hatfield Park or Hatfield House website. In summary, Hatfield House makes for an excellent day out, incorporating, some facinating history; beautiful art; large, spacious, clean parks with beautifully layed out gardens and fun things to do for children. Even if you do not take the opportunity to visit the house itself, make sure you spend some time their in the summer, rambling on park walks and lazing leisurely in the sun.