There are certainly a lot of London attractions to spend time seeing, and I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible during my visit, but after my friend picked me up at Heathrow Airport I only wanted to rest. He was having none of that, though. He didn’t listen to my whining after being unable to sleep on the long overseas flight; he has been there, I laughed at him, and so he wanted to reciprocate the favor by forcing my body clock to adjust by keeping me up for as long as possible. His idea: Let’s go see the Hatfield House!
Lots of movies have been filmed all over England, most notably the Harry Potter series, but I was surprised nonetheless to learn that the historic Hatfield House is such a popular location. It is a stately manor home, and I should have assumed it had been used several times for movies, but it just didn’t look familiar. I still could not place it while standing outside the entrance. It wasn’t until I started wandering through the historic English manor home that I was able say, “Oh yes, I remember seeing that now.”
I had never heard of the Hatfield House, it wasn’t in my guidebook or on any of the lists I found online of suggested things to see around London, so why would I care? What made it so interesting other than it being some big fancy home? I didn’t actually have to ask the question; after making the suggestion, my friend Googled it and found that it was used as a set for many blockbuster movies, most notably, at least for me, Tomb Raider, the older Batman movies, and Sherlock Holmes with Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior. Apparently a scene from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies had also been filmed at the Hatfield House.
Unable to take photographs inside, we wandered through the old Jacobean house reading the placards and talking with the staff to learn more about the home. Apparently it was first built in 1611 by the chief minister to King James I, Robert Cecil, and is still in use today by his descendent, the 7th Marquess of Salisbury Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. Because the Cecil family still occupies it, only part of the home and gardens are open for public tours.
While wandering the grounds we stumbled into an old building that I honestly assumed had once been a stable and was now used as a great hall for parties. As it turns out, it is the site of
the Royal Palace of Hatfield, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I. It was built in 1497 by Henry VII’s minister and had since been used as a royal residence for the likes of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. King James I first didn’t care for the house, though, so he gave it to Robert Cecil in exchange for his family home. Sometime after that Robert built the current Hatfield House.
Our main interest wasn’t with the royal or noble families, though, but instead with the movies. So we asked most every employee we met about the different film locations. They pointed out certain things, like how it was used for some of the interior scenes for Wayne Manor in the 1989 and 1992 Batman movies. The Long Gallery was apparently used for scenes in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film and in Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Being the geek that I am, I was more interested in Harry Potter than any of the other movies, though.
We stood in the magnificent library, another setting for The Cradle of Life, talking with one of the caretakers. He didn’t know of any Harry Potter scenes shot at the Hatfield House. He stopped another employee, one who apparently was better informed, and she also did not know. So apparently what we read about the Hatfield House being used as a scene for one of the Deathly Hallows movies was incorrect. But, as the man pointed out, so many movies are filmed on the estate that sometimes they miss out on a couple of them. “As a matter of fact,” the man said, “Stephen Fry was just here yesterday filming something.” He didn’t know what, and we missed it, but if you’re lucky, on a trip to the historic Hatfield house, you might be able to see a movie being filmed.