Friday, 7 December 2018

Wings over Hatfield

The very tail end of 2018 is an apposite moment to stand, figuratively speaking, in the middle of what is now Comet Way, opposite the shops of Harpsfield Parade, and recreate December in 1958.

Prototype Mosquito being moved to the factory in 1941
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
The carriageway on the Galleria side of what was then named Barnet Bypass was then new, obliterating the Stone House and the  old St Albans Road into the town centre.  The opposite carriageway was new at the end of the 1920s and straightaway attracted new businesses.  Among them was the de Havilland Aircraft Company, increasingly hemmed in by new housing on its Edgware site.  The company found the former Harpsfield Hall Farm site appealing and began by moving its Flying Club to a new grass runway extending from behind the houses then bordering the new road.

What makes 1958 a significant year was that anyone with any kind of connection with the company could look back with pride to the most famous aircraft type, Mosquito, the 1941 prototype of which was to be preserved, and was thus the reason for the development of what became the Mosquito Museum, now renamed de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

1958 was also the year when the post-war jet Comet IV was announced and photographs began to appear of the prototype in build at the factory; in its "Hall of Secrets" assembly workshops. Having recovered from two earlier disasters, the Company strove to create a larger and technically improved aircraft in the Comet IV.

Comet IV being assembled
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser

Anyone travelling along the rear of the company's site in Sandpit Lane in 1958 would have spotted the appearance of an unusual  tower, part of the Blue Streak missile project. Although it would later be cancelled there is no doubt that BS added to the experience and knowledge of ballistic missile technology.

Meanwhile, out of our area in Watling Street, Handley Page announced its new plane for the RAF, the HP111 (Treble One), a new military transport aircraft.  Handley Page was determined not to let DH have the year all to itself.

Blue Streak tower
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
Well, that was 1958, where we could have looked back to the past (Mosquito), the present (Comet IV) and future (Blue Streak).  Yet the company was on the cusp of being merged into the much larger Hawker Siddley, and then British Aerospace.  Thousands of local people made great careers out of their employment at DH, although it must be admitted equally large numbers were also made redundant at key times.  Today, one or two feature buildings have new uses, there is a growing business estate and residential hubs, a major university location and, waiting in the wings, a future country park.  Roads mark aircraft which were born here and people who made them happen, and land which has a history extending back to medieval times in the form of Harpsfield Hall, has established a new chapter of the district's story.

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