7 things you might not have known about our area

Queen Wilhelmina

Did you know Queen Wilhelmina lived in South Mimms? - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and the surrounding villages have plenty of well-known history, but here’s seven things you might not know about our area. 

1. Britain’s first balloon landing – Welham Green

At 3.30pm on September 15, 1784, Welham Green made history when it became the site of the first balloon landing in England. 

Italian balloonist Vincenzo Lunardi touched down on the corner of Huggins Lane and Parsonage Lane after flying from the Honourable Artillery Company in Finsbury, London. 

Lunardi stopped to release a cat and a dog he had taken with him on the journey after the cat fell ill, with the feline taken into the care of a young girl who was working in the corn field he landed in. 

A plaque marking the event reads: “Near this spot at 3.30 in the afternoon of September 15, 1784, Vincenzo Lunardi the Italian balloonist made his first landing whilst on his pioneer flight in the English atmosphere.  

“Having handed out a cat and dog the partners of his flight from London he re-ascended and continued north eastward.”  

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2. Little Miss Muffet – Brookmans Park

Spider

Could the inspiration for Little Miss Muffet come from Brookmans Park? - Credit: Pixabay

According to local legend, the origins of the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme can be traced back to Brookmans Park. 

The girl in question is believed to be Patience Moffat, daughter of entomologist Dr Thomas Moffat, who lived on a farm in the area from 1553 to 1604. 

One Christmas, a poet had been invited to stay with the family, and during this time he overheard Miss Moffat tell her father she was eating her curds and whey when a spider came down from the ceiling and frightened her. 

After altering the name and writing a rhyme, the Little Miss Muffet poem was born. Although there are few traceable sources to validate the story, the legend is celebrated in Brookmans Park. 

3. A home for exiled royalty – South Mimms

Queen Wilhelmina

Queen Wilhelmina was the longest-serving Dutch monarch. - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the Second World War underway and German forces occupying most of northern Europe, leaders of invaded countries sought exile in Britain. 

One of those was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who stayed at The Grange, a country house in South Mimms. 

She stayed in there until February 1944, when a German air raid on the village narrowly missed her, killing two of her guards, an incident retold in her autobiography. 

Queen Wilhelmina moved to Reading shortly afterwards before returning to the Netherlands upon the conclusion of the Second World War. 

She abdicated in 1948 after a near 58-year rule, longer than any other Dutch monarch, before passing away in 1962, aged 82. 

4. And POWs – South Mimms 

Queen Wilhelmina wasn’t the only person to call South Mimms home during the Second World War. 

From 1943 until the end of the war, Dancers Hill House was the site of a prisoner of war camp that housed German and Italian POWs, known as Camp 33. 

Just one of three POW camps in Hertfordshire, it was described in an article, which read: “The prisoners were housed in standard Ministry of War Production huts with an 18ft 6in span.  

“The side walls were made of bituminised corrugated iron sheet with brick end walls which had a doorway in the centre and a window at each side.” 

5. A Victoria Cross – Cuffley

The crash site of Zeppelin SL-11 in Cuffley

The wreckage of SL-11 which crashed in Cuffley. - Credit: Derek Revell/Herts Memories

During the First World War, a Victoria Cross was won in the skies over Cuffley. 

On the night of the September 3, 1916, a Schutte-Lanz airship SL-11 was returning from a bombing mission over the capital when it was attack by William Leefe Robinson of the No.39 Home Defence Squadron. 

No airship had been shot down on British soil before, but Robinson’s biplane was loaded with high-explosive incendiary ammunition which set SL-11 on fire before crashing behind the Plough Inn, killing the entire 15-man crew. 

For his actions, Robinson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award in the British Armed Forces. 

To find out more about the Cuffley and Potters Bar Zeppelin crashes, click here. 

6. Lesser-known film studio – Welwyn Garden City

The former Welwyn Studios in Welwyn Garden City where Brighton Rock was filmed

The former Welwyn Studios in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: Archant

While Hatfield has become famous for its role in film and TV for the filming of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, there was a film studio in Welwyn Garden City long before that. 

From 1928 and 1950, Welwyn Studios played a pioneering role in film, producing one of the first British sound films and the first use of the back-projection shot in Battles of the Coronel and Falkland Islands. 

But, the 5pm horn from the nearby Shredded Wheat factory and the noise of the railway station made filming difficult and the facility closed in 1950 before being sold to a tobacco company a year later. 

7. Lego House – Hatfield

Ed Sheeran performs on stage during day two of Capital's Jingle Bell Ball with Coca-Cola at London's

Scene's from Ed Sheeran's Lego House music video were shot in Hatfield. - Credit: PA

More filming, this time in Hatfield and for a music video. 

In 2011, scenes for the music video for Ed Sheeran's Lego House, featuring Harry Potter's Rupert Grint, were filmed at The Forum, located on University of Hertfordshire’s College Lane campus. 

Filming took place on October 8, 2011 during a Sheeran gig at the venue, with students in attendance featuring during the video. 

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