Conceived at Seven Barrows; born at Stag Lane Edgware; lived a full life at Hatfield

There may be little evidence of its past left in Hatfield, but de Havilland Aircraft Company's arrival was almost accidental. Crowded out of its previous location at Stag Lane, Edgware, by the fast pace of housing development following the First World War, de Havilland sought a more extensive and appropriate site beyond the urban area, and discovered an existing private airfield at Hatfield.

  • View from Comet Roundabout
    View across the lake from Comet Roundabout.
  • The new Comet Hotel
    The newly completed Comet Hotel; its shape an aeroplane in plan; wings, cockpit and fuselage.
  • David Lloyd Centre hanger
    Frontage of a hanger which is now the David Lloyd Centre.
  • Taxiway
    Although the concrete runway is no more a taxiway remains, a part of the future country park..
  • Gatehouse
    The Gatehouse is now used as a KFC outlet.
  • Harpsfield
    Former manorial farmhouse at Harpsfield which was razed for early de Havilland buildings.
  • Hatfield police station
    Part of the former administration block now the Hatfield (and St Albans) Police Station.
  • beacon
    The renovated beacon now atop one of the university buildings at the front of its site.

In the Press

Comet 4

The Hatfield launch of Comet 4 in the BOAC colours of that company in April 1958. Courtesy THE HERTS ADVERTISER.

Air display

Dated 1937 a public display – The Empire Air Display – at the runway side of the factory. Events such as these drew large crowds, especially the families of de Havilland employees. Courtesy THE HERTS ADVERTISER.

Comet advert

Less for the attention of potential purchasing airlines; more for travellers who wish to book with airlines already with Comet 4s in their fleets. And, of course, to enrich the pride of the employee teams who worked at the factory. Yes, and weren't we proud! Courtesy THE HERTS ADVERTISER.


Witnessing a test flight at the Hatfield Aerodrome before the Second War were:
A E Hogg, Frank Hearle, Peter de Havilland, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland and Charles Walker.


Reported crash of a DH Venom near Sandpit Lane, St Albans, narrowly missing nearby Beaumont Secondary School, on 11th November 1955. Courtesy THE HERTS ADVERTISER,

Tiger Moths in line

A Tiger Moth lineup before delivery on the Hatfield Aerodrome.

DH108 crash 1946

DH108 was an experimental based on the Vampire. Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr, test pilot, photographed when the plane was at Hatfield. On 27th September 1946 the second prototype suffered a catastrophic structural failure while on test with Mr de Havilland over the Thames Estuary. He was killed in the incident.

  • How Geoffrey de Havilland became airborne

    Mr (later Sir) Geoffrey de Havilland's interest and commitment to flying, and to the aircraft required to undertake such a life's adventure, brought him world renown.. Geoffrey was there at the very beginning of powered flight and was fascinated by gliders and the very exciting concept of flying. We can appreciate such emotion from the launch of Flight magazine in 1910, just a short period after the Wright brothers demonstrations, encouraging a national conversation through their air experiments.

    Land in and around Hatfield and St Albans was quickly rented or leased for the purpose of flying activities, among the sites were at London Colney, Welwyn, St Julians (later acquired by Handley Page), and at Hatfield, used by individual enthusiasts and clubs who shared the use of machines and even built their own experimental craft.

    All too fleetingly, the experiences of de Havilland and friend Frank Hearle at Seven Barrows in Berkshire moved on to actual jobs with the War Office experimental teams at Farnborough, and formal inspection work. De Havilland soon created his own opportunity to work with the firm Airco on design and build, he retaining ownership of his own designs. This was the beginning of the DH marks, although not yet model names.

    Quickly, the Royal Flying Corps was established as an adjunct of the British Army and Geoffrey was heavily mobilised in developing techniques, standards and experimental models intended for the execution of the First World War.

    The war was barely off the starting blocks when Geoffrey had reached his fourth model (DH4). When this single engined day bomber came off the production line in squadron numbers it was manufactured in both in the UK and US. Its spin-off DH9 became the main-stay of the post-war military development plan in the early 1920s.

    1 of 6

  • A beginning at Stag Lane, Edgware

    By the end of the First War orders for military aircraft diminished, yet before the excitement of developing civil aircraft, Airco was in financial difficulty and was acquired (for its land and buildings) by Birmingham Small Arms (BSA). de Havilland began work on the next stage of his own company.

    Two large sites in north London were appropriated for aircraft training and production: the first was the Everett & Edgcombe (1909) "London Aerodrome" site where small aircraft were assembled during and after the First World War. Today this is the Royal Aircraft Museum, Hendon. And the nearby Stag Lane Aerodrome (1915) used for training purposes. Newly created de Havilland Aircraft Company purchased the site and its buildings in 1920.

    The company renovated former wartime aircraft, which were still youthful machines, and developed a design and test department here, building a number of DH types for the remainder of the 1920s and early 1930s, although as many designs remained unbuilt. Some of the most enduring of names are associated with Stag Lane: Tiger Moth, Hawk Moth, Fox Moth, and Dragon.

    North London housing development gradually crowded the surrounding land and hemmed in further development of the site. However, by the late 1920s the company was employing a significant 1,500 at Stag Lane.

    de Havilland launched its Aeronautical Technical School at Stag Lane in 1928 and the aerodrome became a busy multi-activity base for the company, such that it was deemed essential to search for a new location further away from the London suburbs.

    2 of 6

  • New beginning at Hatfield

    Road connections were as important as ground space to land aircraft. As well as sufficient workshop space, hangars. and stores and administration buildings were required all over again, for current operations and future needs. The company chose Hatfield, adjacent to the new arterial A405 Barnet Bypass and the A1 Great North Road, and it purchased the acreages of Harpsfield Hall Farm. The farm homestead and other buildings were demolished for the company's new hangers and headquarters. Later it also required the land of Popefield Farm.

    The first sections to transfer from Stag Lane was the de Havilland Flying School and the Aeronautical Technical School, developed in partnership with Hertfordshire Technical College at Hatfield (now subsumed within the University of Hertfordshire) Significant numbers of individual people who owned, or aspired to own their own small aircraft applied to the Flying School for tuition and flying hours experience, especially with Gypsy Moths.

    Flying Clubs, including the London Aeroplane Club expanded and with them the leisure facilities available on hand.

    In 1934 construction work began on the factory buildings themselves, including the headquarters and administration building with its modernist design facing the Barnet Bypass (now known as Comet Way). Comet Racers and Dragons were among the many types coming off the production line; the Queen Bee pilotless planes included.

    3 of 6

  • Planning for a second war

    The de Havilland early years had been spent in designing and building the Airco DH4 bomber planes, and after settling into the Peace with order books for private and passenger aircraft including airliners, the latest being DH95 Flamingo. But the company found itself obliged to create a new military multi-purpose two-man plane for the conflict everyone was expecting within a few years.

    The company had dearly wished to continue with its existing product line for civilian craft, but acknowledged the inevitable. A small team worked on the "secret project" beginning in 1937.

    Meanwhile, de Havilland played its full part in the Kings Cup air races, with six consecutive 1930s races based at Hatfield. A unique DH team designed a plane especially for the 1934 event. Not many entrants could afford the luxury! Just three were built. The de Havilland team beat the all runners in its own DH Comet Racer.

    To celebrate the accolade the newly completed hotel at the southern end of the Barnet Bypass straight passing in front of the de Havilland site, was named The Comet, a name it still proudly displays. A model of the little Racer mounted on a sculptured plinth, angled as if in flight, became the frontispiece of the building, which itself was designed in the form of an aeroplane with wings, cockpit and fuselage. A beacon was fitted on its highest point.

    4 of 6

  • The Wooden Wonder's story

    For the DH98 design, named Mosquito, the focus was on three elements, weight, speed and construction material. Fittings and equipment which were not vital were not included; both weight and speed would benefit from creating a model which could be handled by two men, so only front armaments were included – and these only in some variants. There was no third rear gunner. The other factor governing speed was the inclusion of two Rolls Royce Merlin engines. Most military aircraft used aluminium, but metals were expensive and energy-hungry to produce. They were likely to be of limited supply and therefore controlled. But de Havilland was already familiar with wood as a construction material. Restricted supply was unlikely, and skilled craftsmen were already widely available.

    From an early stage the design needed to be adaptable for a number of roles: fighting, including night fighting, bombing, low level and night reconnaissance, and aerial photography, including under cover of darkness.

    The response from the Air Ministry was initially cool, but following demonstration flights over Hatfield the Mosquito's manoeuvrability, acceleration and top speed caught the observers by surprise. An initial order of 50 aircraft was just the start and eventually over 7,700 came off the production line. Although the majority were built in the UK (Hatfield and Leavesden) a proportion of that number were assembled in Australia and Canada. It remained the fastest military plane in the air for much of the war.

    In order to maintain the secrecy of the development at the crucial prototype stage the team worked from nearby Salisbury Hall, close to London Colney, which is still the site of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. The first two prototypes were built here, the first demounted and rebuilt at the rear of the Hatfield factory; the second was actually flown for the short distance.

    The strategic importance of the Hatfield factory was recognised in 1940 when workshops were destroyed seriously damaged, with nearby locations also attacked.

    While there are still several Spitfires in flying condition, there remains only the first prototype at the museum, two or three examples in the US, and one further in flying condition in Canada. Wood does not last long in service!

    5 of 6

  • The post-war Comet and the Jet's future

    The highly successful H98 Mosquito continued in production through the early post-war year serving a need in various theatres of war. Right at the end of the war DH103 Hornet became available, and the DH104 Dove as an 8 passenger aircraft, basically for military use but highly suitable as a 'pocket sized" civil airliner.

    Nothing appeared to stand still in aircraft design and early in the war attention turned to the experimental jet engine, from which the DH100 jet fighter Vampire was an early beneficiary.

    British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was anxious to base future strategies on passenger jet airliners, and de Havilland had announced development of its D106 Comet jet airliner. The larger and more complex aircraft became the more intense and lengthy the development period, and ultimately the more expensive the project. The Comet was not immune from air accidents, mainly in passenger service. It was not until version 4 that the company was able to produce what became the definitive, widely sold and highly successful Comet, probably the most widely known of early jet airliners.

    Into the 1950s and the company brought to the air DH110 Sea Vixen and DH12 Venom jet fighters. In 1960, as an essential component of mergers to build a large, sustainable and efficient aircraft industry, de Havilland was merged with the Hawker Siddeley Group. It was as this group company de Havilland brought to market the DH121 Trident, but market as the Hawker Siddeley Trident, a 3-engine jet airliner.

    Under British Aerospace, the company created DH125 Jet Dragon, a medium sized corporate jet; and in 1983 came the British Aerospace Bae 146 in three size variants and given the name Whisperjet.

    The de Havilland factory was closed and sold at the end of 1993.

    Oh, and by the way, de Havilland was also involved in space missiles and travel through its Blue Streak project from the early 1950s.

    6 of 6

The de Havilland team and the Mosquito teams


Top: Sir Geoffrey de Havilland.
Above: Commemorative stone: "Geoffrey de Havilland assisted by Frank Hearle carried out his first flight in his home made aeroplane here as Seven Barrows on 10 September 1910"


Commemorative panel at the de Havilland Heritage Museum:
International Mosquito Air and Ground Crew Memorial.
In memory of all Allied Mosquito Air and Ground Crews who serviced, flight tested and flew Mosquitos during and after World War II.
Mosquitos were flown in a variety of roles, including bombing, pathfinding, unarmed photo reconnaissance, day and night intruders, night fighting, fighter/ground attack, precision bombing attacks, interdiction, ship busting and anti U boat patrols, high speed courier operations, target towing and training.
The Mosquito was the most successful multi-role combat aircraft, engineered from wood and became known as the "Wooden Wonder". It was operated by two crew and was faster than most other allied or enemy aircraft of its time. The courage and dedication of both air and ground crews who flew and maintained the Mosquito was outstanding.

Further reading:
Sky Fever, the autobiography of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland
De Havilland and Hatfield 1910 - 1935 by John Clifford

Places to visit:
De Havilland Aircraft Museum, Salisbury Hall B556 Post code for sat nav AL2 1BU
Self guided tour around the former de Havilland site.

Websites: de Havilland Aircraft Museum and Hatfield Aerodrome Heritage Trail

Road names on the former de Havilland streetscape: see Streets.