History of the University of Hertfordshire

By Helen Tyler

Hatfield Technical College
UH Archives
Hatfield Polytechnic
University of Hertfordshire
UH Archives

The site of the first campus and the creation of Hatfield Technical College

The original campus for the University was at Roe Green in Hatfield. However, it was not a University; it began as a Technical College. From the late 17th century, the land at Roe Green was owned by the Gape family of St Michael’s Manor in St Albans. In the 1920s, they sold the land to Hill, a farmer, who then sold it to Alan Butler. Alan Butler was the chairman of the de Havilland Aircraft Company and lived at Beech Farm nearby. In 1944, Alan Butler donated ninety acres of land at Roe Green on the condition that it was to be used for educational purposes.

In 1946, the Ministry of Education approved the plans for the Technical College and an adjoining secondary technical school, Hatfield School, on the same site. In 1948, the building commenced. The first principal Dr W.A.J Chapman started on the 1st January 1949. In the spring of 1952, the staff were appointed (33 full-time and 66 part-time teachers). In September of the same year, the Hatfield Technical College was opened with 1,738 students. In December the college was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. The college was the first large technical college building to be put up in England after the war. Students attended the college on part-time or full-time courses.

A College of Technology

In 1958, the Technical College was re-designated as Hatfield College of Technology. By 1960, the college was offering four year sandwich Diplomas in Technology. In 1961, the college was named as one of the regional colleges in England and Wales by the Ministry of Education. The Governors purchased a digital computer in 1962, which cost £29,201, and meant a Computer Science degree could be set up. The Council for National Academic Awards was formed in 1965 and Hatfield College was recognised for thirteen Honours Degree courses.

Sir Norman Lindop became the Principal of the College of Technology in 1966. A year later L.E. Haines was made Chair of Governors, but died shortly afterwards and was replaced by F. Bramston Austin. In the same year, Bayfordbury was acquired for the college.

Hatfield Polytechnic

1969 saw Hatfield College of Technology become Hatfield Polytechnic, offering Honour Degrees in Technology. The next year, an observatory was added to the Bayfordbury Campus and W.A. Hill was appointed to the board of Governors.

Wall Hall and Balls Park Teacher Training Colleges merged in 1976 and became Hertfordshire College of Higher Education. In the same year Hatfield Polytechnic took over Balls Park. By 1977, over ten per cent of the students attending the Polytechnic were from more than forty different countries. The number of students in that year was 4,000 in total. The Students’ Union Social Centre was opened in 1977.

In 1980, T.G. Mercer became Chair of Governors and, two years later, Dr John Illston succeeded Sir Norman Lindop as the Director of Hatfield Polytechnic. A new sports hall was built on the Hatfield Campus in 1984 and the number of students at the Polytechnic in that year had grown to more than five thousand. The number of staff, in the same year, had increased to 824 members.

Professor Neil Buxton became the new Director of the Polytechnic in 1987. In the following year, Sir Ron Dearing and Professor Buxton signed an agreement that gave the Polytechnic accreditation from the Council for National Academic Awards. Hatfield Polytechnic was one of only twenty-one Polytechnics, Colleges and Scottish Central Institutions to be accredited at the time. Hatfield Polytechnic was also, in this year, one of only eight polytechnics accredited for research degrees. In 1989 the Polytechnic was given corporate status.

The University of Hertfordshire

After Prime Minister John Major announced in 1991 that Polytechnics were to be abolished, Hatfield Polytechnic announced its intention to apply for University status. In 1992, the Polytechnic became the University of Hertfordshire. It was the first University to run its own bus company by making University buses public. The Hertfordshire College of Health Care and Nursing Studies and the Barnet College of Nursing and Midwifery merged with the University in 1993.

In 1994, the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans was chosen to hold the graduation ceremonies of the University. The same year saw the first publication of league tables, and Hertfordshire was named as the top new University. In 1995, The Law School was moved to St Albans. Sir Ian MacLaurin was appointed Chancellor of the University in 1996 and, in 1997, the Learning Resource Centre was opened.

In 2000, Olivia de Havilland, cousin of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, visited the University to mark the inauguration of a project to build a new campus which was to be named after Sir Geoffrey. The 50th Anniversary of the University was celebrated in 2002, by which time 21,695 students were attending the University. In 2003, Professor Tim Wilson succeeded Professor Neil Buxton as Vice-Chancellor of the University and the de Havilland campus was opened.

In 2008, the University was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education University of the Year Award. In both 2009 and 2010, the University was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Entrepreneurial University of the Year Award. In 2010, Professor Tim Wilson announced his intention to retire from his position as Vice-Chancellor after over nineteen years of being at the University. Today, the University has more than 24,000 students attending a wide variety of courses and has become one of the success stories of those Polytechnics who achieved University status.

(Information gathered from HALS and UH Archives)

This page was added on 05/03/2011.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

  • Jim, There has been a warrant out for your arrest since the early 70s. Will you come quietly? My friend Dennis and I (doing Business Studies over at Bayfordbury) were close to being full-time athletes and indeed the year we entered the perambulator race was likely the same year as I finished second in the big ‘Nos Galan’ 40m. track race in Cardiff etc. We ran flat out pushing that conveyance yet finished last – miles behind cripples, heavy smokers etc. Everyone else bar us having been picked up and transported by van! Hatfield police have your van number, and very soon they will have you. I knew that you would eventually be apprehended. Cheat! IVAN SANDERS

    By Ivan Sanders (27/01/2024)
  • I attended Hatfield Polytechnic in 1976. I achieved a 1st Class Honours BSc degree in Applied Chemistry in 1980.
    It was an extremely incredible period of my life as it was the first time outside my country of residence of the Seychelles.
    I visited the site of the polytechnic which has now changed to University oh Hertfordshire.
    Amazing to read that it now enrolls over 20000 students.

    I am so happy to read how succesful it has become .

    By Radley Weber (13/05/2023)
  • I attended Hatfield Poly between 1971 and 74 doing HND Civil Engineering. Had a great time. Remember the pram races in Rag Week, which our team won three years in a row! I was the driver and manager of the team. Runners were Kevin, John, Paul and Trevor.
    Met my future wife here.
    Shame Civil Engineering is no longer done at the University.

    By Jim Westcott (30/06/2021)
  • During my period at the Polytechnic I had a number of lectures at Birklands Mansion in St Albans. My last year was 1984 and I believe the poly closed it around that time.

    By Michael (30/10/2017)
  • Rather late to say thank you, but thank you. I confess I hadn’t checked for a reply since 2011!

    By Douglas Wemyss (24/02/2013)
  • There were two teams from Hatfield College entered into the Daily Mail Bleriot Centenary Cross-Channel Race, the only college or university teams to enter. The teams raced from Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe, the object being to make the return trip in the shortest possible time. There was also a prize for the team completing the course by the most original method. D. Mott received his prize of £100 for completing the course in two cars and an aeroplane, all built by fellow students at the Technical College at a cost of £460. The other team drove from London to an airfield by motor mower, flew a Tiger Moth across the Channel and thence by mower again to Paris, before repeating the journey in reverse. Details can be found in The Times newspaper of 20th July 1959 and a new book on the History of the University of Hertfordshire ‘Sixty Years of Innovation’ to be published in September 2012 by the University of Hertfordshire Press.

    By Julie Moore (02/09/2012)
  • There is an article in Flight magazine 31st August 1959 http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%201869.html in which Derek Mott was given a consolation prize of £100 (quite a lot at the time, and presumably on behalf of a team) for “Students initiative and inginuity in building their own cars and aircraft”. I believe but cannot confirm that Derek Mott was president of the Student Union at about that time, so was this a college team?

    By douglas wemyss (17/12/2011)
  • Does anyone know where the archives for these earlier years of the college are kept? Is there an Archivist, also was there a student newsheet? I have a general interest but am particulalry interested in the 1958-1960 period, and I believe the College put up a team for the London to Paris 50th Anniversary air race in 1959, and that they came third. Is there a report or photographs? Thank you in anticipation.

    By Douglas Wemyss (14/12/2011)