Traveling Tuesday: Hatfield House
Writers get their inspiration for stories in numerous places. I’ve culled ideas from newspaper articles, museum exhibits, and snippets of overheard conversation (a great “what if” starter). The basis for my most recent story, A Doctor in the House, part of “The Hope of Christmas” collection germinated from an episode of “Foyle’s War” in which a country home is requisitioned for use as a convalescent hospital.
I was intrigued by the concept that homeowners in England could be forced from their property by the government during WWII. Most of the places taken were large country estates with acres of associated land. Sometimes as little as three days’ notice was given that the house was going to be used and the residents were required to vacate. Often there was a “cottage” on site where owners could live in for the duration of the war.
During my search for a setting, I discovered Hatfield House, located in Herefordshire, England. Located in the West Midlands on the border between England and Wales, the county is sparsely populated and known for its fruit and cider production and the Hereford cattle breed. The 135 mile River Wye weaves through the county before heading into Wales. Although the original structure no longer exists, there has been a Hereford Cathedral on the site since the late 600s.
The original Hatfield House was constructed in 1497 and was the childhood home and favorite residence of Queen Elizabeth I. When James I came to the throne, he didn’t like the property, so gave it to his minister, Robert Cecil, who promptly tore down three of the wings and used the bricks for the current home.
Exquisite gardens cover forty-two acres and date from the early 1600s. In addition to beautiful fields of flowers and shrubbery, the property has extensive woodlands which are home to fallow and red deer as well as many smaller animals. A tour of Hatfield House can be seen here.
During WWI, the grounds were used to test the first British tanks. Trenches and craters were dug, and barbed wired strung to indicate German lines. Hatfield House also “did its bit” during WWII by serving as a hospital/Civil Resettlement Unit, a facility where returning British soldiers who had been POWs could learn to ease back into their families and society.
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