Visiting Sandringham, the Queen’s Country Home in Norfolk
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Sandringham-House - Image Roslyn Jolly

Sandringham House, the Queen’s country home in Norfolk, is an anomaly among royal residences. It’s not a castle, nor a palace. It isn't especially grand, as such places go, nor particularly old. Britain has many far more ancient structures, and even countries like Australia and the United States have plenty of buildings older than this.

Purchased in 1862 for the newly married Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the eighteenth-century ‘Sandringham Hall’ was almost completely rebuilt by 1870 to become the Victorian country house we see today. So, although Sandringham House, as it was renamed, has features that suggest older architectural traditions – such as the impressive Jacobean-style Saloon – it is actually quite a modern building.

So why are visitors drawn here, if it’s not for the age or architecture of the house? They come because of Sandringham’s close personal and domestic association with the last five generations of the British royal family, and because this pretty country retreat, reputedly once called ‘the most comfortable house in England, continues to be a beloved family home for the Queen and her close relatives.

Sandringham is in the county of Norfolk, about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from London and half that distance from the university city of Cambridge. The house and gardens are open to the public daily from early April to mid-October. In winter, when the Queen is in residence, Sandringham is closed to the public, although the country park (243 hectares, mainly woodland) remains open all year.

Walking through the house, you can see many traces of the habits and personalities of its royal inhabitants. You might notice the half-completed jigsaw puzzle on a side table in the Saloon, or the elaborate instruments for measuring wind speed and direction, used to help with planning outdoor activities. Gun collectors will be fascinated by the huge collection of antique firearms. Others will be more interested to see the tupperware containers of breakfast cereals set out, somewhat incongruously, in the elegant room where the royals have their morning repast – apparently the Queen is quite thrifty and doesn’t like to see opened packets go stale.

Personalities from the past come to life here too. A beautiful folding screen in the Drawing Room is inset with photographs of visitors who came to the house in the late nineteenth century, including many celebrities of the time such as the poet Lord Tennyson. And a jockey’s weighing chair near the entrance shows how Edward VII measured the success of his hospitality. Guests were weighed upon arrival and departure, and were expected to gain weight during their stay – otherwise all the fine food served was considered to have been a failure!

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