Born in South Africa on 5th August 1909, he is best remembered as a canal historian and author.
In May 1945 he (like Robert Aickman) wrote a letter to LTC Rolt suggesting that the forming of some sort of society to encourage interest in waterways. In February 1946, he was elected vice-chairman of the newly formed Inland Waterways Association although he only held the post until September when he resigned to take up a top job in the Central Office of Information. As a senior Civil Servant he felt that he could not continue as an officer of a 'campaigning' organisation but it was known that he and Aickman could not work together.
In June 1951 he was expelled from IWA's membership with Rolt and the other dissidents, as they had not replied to a letter to appeal against the decision. Hadfield was in South Africa at the time and did not know what was happening.
His first published book was English Rivers and Canals, a 48 page volume in the Britain in Pictures series, was written with Frank Eyre. In 1950 his classic work British Canals was published by Phoenix House. Over the succeeding years he worked on the Canals of the British Isles as both author and publisher.
In 1954 he suggested that "Canal" should be added to the name of the proposed "Railway History Society" and on 4 September became a founder member of the new "Railway & Canal Historical Society". On the 1 April 1960 he founded David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd with David St John Thomas. He was appointed to the new British Waterways Board in 1963 leaving in 1967.
In 1971, IWA invited him to rejoin, and from 1983 to his death, on 6th August 1996, he was an IWA vice-president.