7 things you could do in Hertfordshire in the 90s that you can’t do now

The de Havilland DH88 Comet racer in action on Saturday. Picture: Neil Jackson

The de Havilland DH88 Comet racer in action - Credit: Archant

Hertfordshire has changed a lot over the years, even since the 90’s merely 23 years ago.  

Old aircraft factories, shops and cinemas have shut down since then, replaced with newer attractions, restaurants and hotels. 

Looking back at the county during the 90s brings back memories for many locals across Hertfordshire. 

With that in mind, here’s 7 things you used to be able to do in Hertfordshire that you can’t do now: 

1. Visit De Havilland Aerodrome  

De Havilland Aerodrome in Hatfield was an airfield and aircraft factory that originally became operational in the 1930s. 

The airfield and factory were in use all the way up to 1994, when the area was redeveloped into a university campus, housing, primary school and offices.  

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There is now a Hatfield Aerodrome Heritage Trail where visitors can learn more about the area’s previous use.  

De Havilland Aircraft Museum is also now open and welcoming guests, in the local town of London Colney. 

2. Visit the Royston Priory Cinema 

Another location originally opened in the 1930s was Royston Priory Cinema, which first welcomed film lovers in 1933.  

Having a capacity of 600, it seated guests in a theatre-style stalls and circle arrangement. The original 1913 Royston cinema was destroyed by fire in June 1933, hence the need for the Priory to open. 

In the 1940s, a separate fire at the Priory Cinema made the venue an early example of a no-smoking zone.  

The picture house shut its doors for good in September 2000, Stuart Little being the last film to be shown there. 

3. Shop in Woolworths 

Once a household name, all Woolworths stores across the UK closed between 2008 and 2009.  

Hertfordshire had its own “Woolies” that locals enjoyed across the 1990s and beyond. These included the St Albans store – open between 1928 and 2009 – and the Letchworth store – open from 1929 to 2009. 

Other stores in the county included the Potters Bar, Stevenage and Harpenden branches. 

For those too young to remember the store, it sold everything from board games to sweets, kitchen supplies to dining equipment. 

4. Attend Hatfield Polytechnic 

Before the University of Hertfordshire came to fruition, Hatfield Polytechnic stood in its place. Prior to that, the college was once Hatfield College of Technology and Hatfield Technology College before then. 

During its time as a polytechnic, multiple degrees were offered, with 6,500 students attending the college overall. 

The establishment became the University of Hertfordshire in 1992 after merging with multiple local colleges. The government also awarded all polytechnics the ability to award their own degrees in this year, therefore making them universities. 

Now, more than 25,000 students attend the University of Hertfordshire in person. 

5. Shop in Topshop 

Once a high street staple, all Topshop stores have now been closed down, with the brand becoming an online-only outfit in 2021 following its purchase by Asos. 

Sir Philip Green’s store was acquired for £295 million, along with the Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands, all previously part of the Arcadia Group. 

Branches in St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage will be missed by Hertfordshire locals, as the high street continues its trend of migrating into new online territories. 

The demise of Topshop’s local presence does, however, provide opportunities for local fashion businesses to thrive in their absence. 

6. Stay at the original Comet Hotel

First opening in 1936, the Comet Hotel was named after the De Havilland Comet DH.88, built in the nearby aircraft factory. 

The plane was built specifically to race in the 1934 England Australia MacRobertson Air Race, and performed admirably when submitted to compete. 

The Comet won the race in record time, leading to the Comet Hotel being built in its honour. The building matches the footprint of the aircraft, explaining its unusual and unique shape. 

Today, the Comet has been converted into luxury student accommodation and a smaller hotel with an entirely refurbished interior. 

7. See Stevenage face Premier League opposition 

Stevenage Football Club had two major FA Cup runs in the 1990s, one of which leading to them facing opposition from the Premier League. 

The club reached the third round of the competition in 1997, under then-manager Paul Fairclough. They faced Birmingham City, but fell to a 2-0 loss at St Andrews. 

Despite this, the following season Stevenage pushed a step further and made the fourth round, welcoming a mouth-watering tie against Newcastle United of the Premier League. 

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The Lamex Stadium in Stevenage - Credit: Archant

A 1-1 draw in Hertfordshire lead to an away replay on Tyneside, only for Stevenage to lose 2-1 at St James’ Park. 

With the club now residing in League Two, facing teams from the Premier League is a rarity for them, and something to look back on with fondness from the 1990s.