St Etheldreda's Church, Hatfield
St Etheldreda's Church, Hatfield

Just outside the gates of Hatfield House in Old Hatfield stands the medieval church of St Etheldreda. The church was built when the Old Palace of Hatfield was the official residence of the Bishops of Ely and is dedicated to St Etheldreda, patron saint of the Bishops.


The Bishops of Ely owned the manor of Hatfield from the early 10th century until the Reformation. The present building dates to the 13th century, with a striking 15th-century tower, but the first church here dates back to the Saxon period when Etheldreda's memory was still fresh.

In AD 970 King Edgar granted the manor of Hatfield to the monks at Ely. When Ely was raised to the status of a bishopric in 1108 the manor was renamed 'Bishop's Hatfield'.

Effigy of Dame Agnes Saunders (1588)
Effigy of Dame Agnes Saunders (1588)

St Etheldreda

Etheldreda (also known as AEthelthryth and, more recently, Audrey) was a 7th century Saxon princess, born near Exning in Suffolk in AD 636 to King Anna of East Anglia. Despite vowing perpetual virginity she was married to Tondberct of South Gyrwe. When her husband died shortly thereafter she retired to a religious life on the Isle of Ely, only to be married again for dynastic reasons to King Ecgfrith of Northumbria.

Despite her husband's entreaties and, eventually, threats she remained in religious seclusion. Ecgfrith cast her off and remarried, while Etheldreda went on to found a double monastery at Ely in AD 673. Though the monastery was destroyed by Danes in AD 870 her influence lived on in the region and she was adopted by the Bishops of Ely as their patron saint.

The Cecil Memorial Window
The Cecil Memorial Window

Cecil Memorial Window

One of the highlights of a visit to St Etheldreda's is actually one of its newest features; the Cecil Memorial window in the north wall, installed in 1920 as a gift of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury in honour of his 3 nephews who were all killed in World war One.

The three young men were the sons of Lord William Cecil of Hatfield House, who served as Rector of Hatfield from 1888-1916 and went on to become Bishop of Exeter. Lord Cecil was present when the Memorial window was unveiled in a special service in 1920.

The design is by Christopher Whall, one of the leading stained glass artists in early 20th century Britain. Whall also designed the south-west transept window at Canterbury Cathedral. The window shows the three men grouped around a central sun, symbolising a better world to come.

The pulpit is modern but under it lies the grave of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (d 1848), Queen Victoria's trusted advisor and her first Prime Minister.

Robert Cecil's memorial
Robert Cecil's memorial

Brocket Chapel

On the south side of the high altar is the Brocket Chapel, built in the 13th century. The chapel was rebuilt in the 15th century and boasts memorials to local families including the Brocket, Lamb, and Reade families.

The most impressive is the memorial to Elizabeth Moore, second wife of Sir John Brocket (d 1612) and Dame Agnes Saunders, her mother (d 1588). The tomb was erected by Moore's daughter Dame Mary Farmour and shows effigies of the two women reclining on one elbow, surrounding by heraldic symbols of the Brocket, Moore, Sanders, and Hussey families.

Carved figure on Robert Cecil's tomb
Carved figure on Robert Cecil's tomb

Salisbury Chapel

Opposite the Brocket Chapel on the north side of the altar is the Salisbury Chapel, built in 1616 by William, the 2nd Earl of Salisbury, in honour of his father, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and the builder of Hatfield House, whose tomb is the chapel's centrepiece. The elaborate memorial shows Robert Cecil's effigy supported by figures representing Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.

Near the Cecil memorial is a grave slab depicting an unknown knight bearing a shield and helmet. Also in the Chapel is a memorial to a later Robert Cecil, who acted as a Prime Minister to Queen Victoria on three occasions. Look for the window with fragments of 17th-century heraldic glass, mainly depicting arms of the Cecil family. On the east wall is a funeral hatchment to the first Duchess of Salisbury, who died in 1835.

In the south transept is a memorial window in honour of Mrs Charles Drage, designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The window was made by the William Morris workshop.

Also in the transept is a memorial to Rev Thomas Fuller, rector from 1684-1712. On the wall is a tablet to Admiral Mark Millbanke, Admiral of the White, who died in 1805. Look for the excellent 13th-century arch with dogtooth carved decoration.

Opposite in the north transept is a small brass plaque marking a visit to the church by Charles I in 1647 during his time as a captive of Parliament. It was in the north transept that the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys 'did hear a most excellent good sermon which pleased me mightily'.

Effigy of an unknown 13th-century knight
Effigy of an unknown 13th-century knight


St Etheldreda's Church is a delight, an oasis of calm and a fascinating blend of medieval and Victorian history on a site that has seen a church since the Saxon period. Our family have visited twice and each time we found something new and interesting to see.

The church is extremely easy to reach from Hatfield House and you really shouldn't visit the house without taking time to stroll down to the church. The church is usually open daylight hours and was open both times we visited.

About Hatfield, St Etheldreda's Church
Address: Fore Street, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, AL9 5AW
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Immediately outside the gates of Hatfield House. The nearest public parking is on North Road (A1000). Easy access from Hatfield House parking area.
Website: Hatfield, St Etheldreda's Church
Location map
OS: TL234084
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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