Relaxed and charming, there’s no royal residence quite like: “Dear old Sandringham”, in King George V’s words. It was here that King George VI passed away, making the young Princess Elizabeth queen but, at Sandringham, 2012 is special for another reason, too – it was exactly 150 years ago that the Royal Family first took ownership of the estate.
The plain white stucco Sandringham Hall was bought for the then Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, but when he and Princess Alexandra moved in, it soon emerged that their growing family would need more space. Accordingly, a new house was built in 1870, and it’s clear from the start that comfort rules here.
Puzzles fit for a queen
Visitors step straight into the Saloon – there’s no grand, chilly hallway – where armchairs and sofas abound. A TV cabinet occupies one corner, and against the wall there’s a jigsaw table – the Queen is a keen puzzler – and Sandringham has cabinets full of them.
Further inside you’ll find the Small Drawing Room, its walls hung with Suffolk-manufactured silk. It was here that the Queen recorded her 1992 Christmas message, 60 years after the first Christmas broadcast was made live from Sandringham by George V.
Sandringham has been associated with royal Christmases since Edward VII’s reign, with festive family parties taking place in the Drawing Room next door: filled with amber, jade and silverware treasures, its trompe l’oeil ceiling panels are the work of Italian craftsmen. Beyond is the Dining Room, a similarly intimate space: the Queen likes to dine by candlelight, so there’s no overhead light, and the fine porcelain sits on placemats featuring Her Majesty’s beloved racehorses.
The Lobby, with its magnificent gun collection, is testament to another favourite royal sport and, until 1936, clocks in the house kept ‘Sandringham Time’, 30 minutes ahead of GMT, to allow shooting parties to capitalise on the daylight.
Memorabilia and royal vehicles are housed in Sandringham’s museum, with highlights including the State Landeau. But in summer, Sandringham’s 60 acres of gardens explode with colour and are enchanting to explore. Be sure to head through the Woodland Walk to visit Old Father Time in the North Garden – this statue was bought by Her Majesty in 1951. Both the Woodland Walk and the Bog Gardens were designed at the Queen’s request by Sir Eric Savill, famous for the gardens he designed at Windsor.
Sandringham’s famous church lies just outside the garden walls. Its solid silver altar, presented to mark the first anniversary of Edward VII’s death, is dazzling, but St Mary’s retains strong links with the local community: the Queen regularly attends Sunday school prize-givings (as well as meetings of the Women’s Institute) at nearby West Newton.