Sandringham House

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Sandringham House, Norfolk
Sandringham House, Norfolk

Sandringham House is a country house on 8,000 acres (32 km²) of land near the village of Sandringham, Norfolk, which is privately owned by the British Royal Family. The house is on the royal Sandringham Estate, which lies within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The site has been occupied since Elizabethan times, and in 1771 architect Cornish Henley cleared the site to build Sandringham Hall. The hall was modified during the 19th century by Charles Spencer Cowper, a stepson of Lord Palmerston, who added an elaborate porch and conservatory, designed by architect Samuel Sanders Teulon.

In 1862, the hall was purchased by Queen Victoria at the request of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) as a home for himself and his new bride Alexandra. In 1865 however, two years after moving in, the hall's size proved insufficient for the prince's needs, and he commissioned A J Humbert to raze the hall and create a larger building.

The resulting red-brick house was completed in late 1870 in a peculiar mix of styles that is generally looked upon as not the most successful of mid-Victorian country house designs. This section incorporated the galleried entrance hall which is used by the royal family for entertaining and family occasions. A new wing was later added to one end of the house in a more traditional style, incorporating a ball room, and this wing is generally regarded a more coherent design. The architecture may be unremarkable, but it was ahead of its time in other ways, with gas lighting, flushing water closets, and even an early form of shower. One part of the house was destroyed in a fire during the preparations for Prince Edward's 50th birthday in 1891, and later rebuilt.

Sandringham House circa 1880.
Sandringham House circa 1880.

Sandringham House has been the private home of four generations of Sovereigns. Although dubious at first, Princess Alexandra came to love Sandringham. The main features of the new building were bay windows, which helped lighten the interior. The new building was designed with the family's comfort in mind and was never intended to be an architectural statement in the way some royal homes have been. Despite the size of Sandringham and the spaciousness of the main rooms, the living quarters were quite cramped.

Edward and Alexandra's sons, Prince Albert Victor and Prince George, for example, had very small bedrooms. The spacious grounds, however, provided room for Queen Alexandra's growing menagerie of horses, dogs, cats, farmyard turkeys, and other animals - including a large but gentle ram rescued from an Egyptian butcher. The animals of course enchanted the children and in turn her grandchildren. The children of King George V used to love to visit Sandringham and their grandparents. A stuffed baboon in the great hall with a tray for calling cards was another favorite of the children. Both but especially Queen Alexandra loved to dote on them. The atmosphere was far different from at home, especially when their father was about. The kennels were a particular delight to the children. Since the death of Edward VII, Sandringham has been used as a popular holiday retreat for successive members of the Royal Family.

Since King George VI died in 1952 at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth's custom has been to spend the anniversary of her father's death and her own Accession privately with her family at the House. It is her official base until February each year. The house was first opened to the public in 1977, and there is a museum with displays of Royal life and Estate history.

The estate has long been a favourite of the Royal Family, who still spend each New Year in the house. It is also an excellent location for shooting and is used for royal shooting parties. Such was Edward VII's fondness for hunting on the estate, he ordered all the clocks to be set half an hour ahead of GMT to allow more time for the sport. This tradition of Sandringham Time was kept on the estate from 1901 until 1936.

The estate is also home to York Cottage, built by Edward VII soon after he moved in, and a favourite of George V. Anmer Hall on the grounds is a Georgian house that was at one point the country home of the Duke of Kent.

See also Wood Farm.

Queen Alexandra, her son George V, and grandson George VI all died at Sandringham.

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