De Havilland History
Geoffrey de Havilland was one of the first people in Britain to fly – fascinated by the exploits of the Wright Brothers and Louis Bleriot, he and his friend Frank Hearle gave up their jobs in the London Omnibus Company in 1908 to concentrate on building and flying an aeroplane of their own design. They were eventually successful and went to work for the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough before World War I.
During the Great War they both worked for The Aircraft Construction Company (AirCo) at Hendon, but when AirCo was put up for sale after the war, Geoffrey saw his chance to start his own company: the de Havilland Aircraft Company was founded in September 1920 and set up production at Stag Lane Aerodrome in Edgware.
The company was so successful in the 1920s that a move to larger premises was needed, and so in 1930 the factory began relocating to the new Hatfield Aerodrome which it would share with the London Flying Club. New buildings soon appeared, among them the main Administration building and Senior Staff Canteen, built in the Art Deco style. The company continued to prosper in the 1930s and during World War II it designed and produced the famous Mosquito: made almost entirely of wood, the Mosquito served across the world in many roles and is one of the most iconic aircraft of the war.
The company’s innovations didn’t end with the Mosquito – 1943 saw the first flight of the DH Vampire, one of the world’s first operational jet fighters. After the war came another famous jet – the DH.106 Comet, the world’s first jet airliner which first flew from Hatfield in 1949. Further achievements in aircraft and guided missile technology followed through the 1950s, but rationalisation of the UK’s aerospace industry led to the company and its Hatfield factory becoming part of the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1960. Hatfield was now concentrating mainly on civil aircraft such as the Trident and HS125 Business Jet, but Hatfield also hosted the Hawker Siddeley Dynamics group working on rocket and missile designs.
Further rationalisation followed when the industry was nationalised in the 1970s, leading to the Hatfield factory becoming part of British Aerospace. By this time the factory was greatly expanded, and a new facility was built for manufacturing the BAe146 feeder airliner, however this was the last aircraft to be designed and built at Hatfield, and the factory was run down in the early 1990s and closed in 1994.
Most of the factory buildings were demolished and the runway was dug up to provide rubble for the foundations of a new campus for the University of Hertfordshire. However, the original Administration Block and Canteen survived and eventually became the new home for Hatfield Police Station.
Beneath the central foyer of the Administration Block was a small basement used as an air-raid shelter during the war. It was later used by the Police for storage, but has now been re-imagined as it might have been in the 1940s, and forms an exciting display telling the story of the Hatfield site from the early days of de Havilland to the present-day police station.