The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre
A Brief History of Salisbury Hall and the Site of The de Havilland Aircraft Museum.
The site of the Hall and the Museum is, without doubt, a very old one. It is close to the first century BC settlement of Wheathampstead, the major Roman town of Verulamium and St. Albans which is of late Saxon foundation. Early notable (but unwelcome!) visitors to the area were probably Julius Caesar in 54BC, and Boadicea of the Iceni in 61AD. During the early 9th century the site was part of the Manor of Shenleybury. It was held by Asgar the Stallar, who was probably a high official to the Wessex King Egbert. After the Norman Conquest the Manor passed to the de Mandeville family who held it when the Doomsday Book was written in 1086. In 1380 the Hall passed in marriage to Sir John Montague, later Earl of Salisbury. It is perhaps at this time that the Manor acquired its now familiar name of Salisbury Hall. About 1420 Alice, Countess of Salisbury, married Sir Richard Neville, who became Earl of Warwick. He had two sons, Richard Neville (better known as Warwick the Kingmaker) and John, Marquis of Montagu, who were both killed at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471.
A new house was built about 1507 by Sir John Cutte, Treasurer to King Henry VII and Henry VIII. The house was purchased in 1668 by James Hoare, a London banker. At this time the present house was built, bringing with it associations with Charles II and Nell Gwynne, who lived in a cottage by the bridge to the Hall. Her ghost is one that is said to have been seen in the Hall. The Hall passed to Sir Jeremy Snow’s nephew, John Snell, and from then through various hands, and during the latter part of the 19th century was occupied by a succession of farmers. However, about 1905 Lady Randolph Churchill, as Mary Cornwallis West, came here to live. Her son, Winston Churchill, became a regular visitor.
During the 1930s Sir Nigel Gresley, of the London and North Eastern Railway, was in residence. He was responsible for the A4 Pacific Steam Locomotives one of which, Mallard, holds the world speed record for steam locomotives of 126.5 mph. Rumour has it that the name came from the ducks in the moat.
In September 1939 the de Havilland Aircraft Company established the Mosquito design team in the Hall, the Prototype Mosquito, E0234/W4050, subsequently being built in the adjacent buildings. Nell Gwynne’s cottage was the centre of a silk worm farm, which supplied the silk for Her Majesty the Queen’s wedding and Coronation robes. Yet another royal connection. de Havillands left in 1947 and the Hall slipped into a derelict condition. However, in 1955 the Hall was taken in hand by an ex Royal Marine Major named Walter Goldsmith who restored it and opened it up to the public. He brought back the prototype Mosquito, E0234/W4050, as one of the attractions in 1959, an action which led to the establishment of the Mosquito Aircraft Museum. Walter Goldsmith sold the Hall in 1981 and since then it has been restored to a very high standard and remains in private ownership to this day.