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East of England Sandringham House and the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Sandringham House, the royal residence in Norfolk is surrounded by a large estate with four villages and over 400 houses. Much of the estate is still farmed and it has its own sawmill.


In 1862 Sandringham Hall with and just under 8,000 acres of land was purchased for £220,000 by Queen Victoria as a country home for her eldest son Prince Albert Edward and his future wife, Alexandra of Denmark. The Queen felt it was time he had a house of his own. His main residence was to be Marlborough House in London but it was felt that he should also have a private house well away from town so he would be ‘able to escape when duty permitted and enjoy the benefits of a healthy country life’. (It would also get him away from the dissipations of London...)

The house was a plain Georgian structure with a white stucco exterior. The Prince moved in with his new wife three weeks after their marriage in March 1863. It soon became evident that the old hall was too cramped for the Prince and Princess’s growing family and all the guests they wished to entertain.

The house was demolished and a new red-brick house in a mock Jacobean style was complete by late 1870. This provided living and sleeping accommodation over three storeys, with attics and a basement.


A ballroom was added in 1883


The batchelor wing was added soon aftrwards, to provide more guest and staff accommodation.


This is in a different style with patterned brickwork.


The house was up to date in its facilities. Modern kitchens and lighting were run on gas from the estate's own plant and water was supplied from the Appleton Water Tower, constructed at the highest point on the estate.

Ornamental and kitchen gardens were established, employing over 100 gardeners at their peak. Many estate buildings were constructed, including cottages for staff, kennels, a school, a rectory and a staff clubhouse.

Sandringham rapidly became one of the best sporting estates in England with Prince Edward hosting elaborate weekend shooting parties. Partridges and pheasants were specially reared on the estate. with up 20,000 birds being shot a year in 1900. The game larder, constructed for the storage of the carcasses, could carry 250 brace of pheasants and was slatted to allow ventilation. It was pulled by two shire horses or Suffolk Punch horses.


To increase the amount of daylight available during the shooting season, which ran from October to February, the Prince introduced the tradition of Sandringham Time. All clocks on the estate were set half an hour ahead of GMT. This tradition was maintained until 1936.

The very successful Sandringham stud was established in in 1897, and the tradition of breeding racehorses was continued by Queen Elizabeth II.

Guests for Sandringham house parties arrived by train on the newly opened Lynn to Hunstanton Railway, getting off at nearby Wolfreton Station. This tradition continued until the station closed in 1967.

After his death 1910, Edward VII left his widow £200,000 and a lifetime interest in the Sandringham estate. When King George V and Queen Mary visited Sandringham, they had to live in ‘rather cramped conditions’ in York Cottage. The shortage of space at York Cottage had the advantage of limiting the amount of entertainment King George was expected to provide. After Queen Alexandra’s death in 1925, they moved into the main house.

As Sandringham was the private property of the monarch, King George VI had to purchase it from Edward VIII (who had never liked the place) on his abdication, which was another cause of friction between the two.

George VI had been borne at Sandringham and was devoted to the estate. The house was shut up during the war and the gardens were dug up to grow food. On their occasional visits to the estate, the family stayed in outlying cottages.

Queen Elizabeth used the house as her official residence in the winter and all the family spent Christmas there. The Duke of Edinburgh took on the responsibility for managing the estate with an emphasis on self sufficiency and preserving the natural environment. He was responsible for installing a biomass boiler using wood from the estate and sawmill, before the rest of us had heard about them.... .

In the 1960s, there were plans to demolish the house and replace it with a modern residence. Fortunately they were not carried through although the interior was modernised. In 1975, the Duke of Edinburgh supervised the demolition of much of the service wing of the house which was a maze largely unused staff accommodation. It also allowed the kitchens to be moved nearer the dining room.

The Gardens at Sandringham were first opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908. In 1930 the Museum was opened with an admission charge of 3d. The House was opened to the public in 1977.




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Visiting the house.

Only a few of the private family rooms on the ground floor rooms are open. Unlike other Royal palaces, Sandringham does not have formal state rooms and is very much an understated family home. Understandably no photographs are allowed in the house.

Entry is through the porch on the west front, leaving by the Ballroom, which has s a splendid thermometer on its north facing wall..




The porch leads in to a Foyer with wood panelling round the walls and a fireplace. Edward VII had a weighing machine here and was in the habit of requiring his guests to be weighed on their arrival, and again on their departure, thus proving his lavish hospitality had caused them to put on weight.

A wood archway with minstrel gallery above leads into the Saloon. This was the main reception room and was also used as the ballroom until the new one was added to the house. Facing east, it is where the family still meet in the morning to read papers and have morning coffee. In the evening it is often used to listen to music as it has a grand piano. The base of the walls are panelled and there are tapestries above. There are desk with family photographs and comfy chairs around the fireplace.

A doorway leads into a corridor separating rooms on the east and west sides of the house. This is lined with display of weaponry including pistols, shields, swords, battle axes...

A doorway leads into the White Drawing Room which faces west with bow windows overlooking the topiary garden. This is a lovely room with white panelling around the walls and is hung with pictures. Above the fireplace at the far end is a painting of Queen Alexandra with smaller pictures of two of her daughters on the wall next to it. Above is an elaborate painted plaster ceiling. There are display cases with china and jade carvings.

This was the favourite room of Queen Elizabeth II who always had afternoon tea here. King Charles sits in bay window overlooking gardens.

Off it is the Small Drawing Room which also has a doorway back into the Foyer. This is a smaller more intimate room that was used as a study by Queen Alexandra and also now by King Charles. The bottom of the walls are lined with bookcases and above is a delicate silk wall covering with a design of diamond trellis with flowers.

Beyond White Drawing Room is the Dining Room ,again on west side of house, with pale green painted walls and Spanish tapestries gifted by Alfonso XII of Spain. There is a large serving buffet on the wall. The table was laid for dinner with silver candelabra and big silver fruit dish.

This leads out into corridor which turns a right angle band into the Gun Room. Walls are covered with cases containing 98 shotguns, many made specially for George V. Most guest would bring their own guns but they could borrow a gun. On the wall is a painting of Edward VII out shooting.

Around another bend is the Ballroom Corridor lined with books, sporting pictures and small statutes linked to shooting and racing.

A splendid doorway leads into the Ballroom in the 1880s extension. In 2023 this room contained a display of watercolours by King Charles of royal properties and views of Wales and Scotland.

It is another impressive room with a decorated plaster barrel ceiling. At one end is a gallery. The fireplace is set back in an alcove with fluted pillars and is white picked out with gold. The base of the walls are covered with white panelling. Above is an impressive display of arms and armour, including examples of oriental armour. Hanging by one of the windows is the Union Jack flag rescued from the South Pole after the disastrous expedition by Robert Scott.

As well as a ballroom, the room has also been used for music recitals. It was turned into a cinema room by Queen Elizabeth II with a large screen at one end.

There is a free flow system through the house with guides in each of the rooms. There isn’t a current guide book as they are still waiting for a new edition following the death of the Queen.

The Gardens and Estate

Estate map.jpg

The house is surrounded by a huge estate with a lot of woodland and two small lakes.



The gardens immediately around the house are mainly grassland and mature trees.


The estate was ploughed up during the war to grow food and the gardens were never reinstated. The area was grassed over instead. The King is wanting to return the gardens to what they might have looked like before the war. He has planted a lot of new trees and has recently replanted the topiary garden in front of the house.



The grass is not cut as often to encourage wild life rather than the strips of immaculately mown lawn.


There are two formal gardens to the north of the house. There is a pleached walk of lime trees leading to a gilded Chinese Buddha at the far end. This was given to Edward Vii by Andrew Keppell and his wife.


Next to it is a garden designed by George VI and Queen Elizabeth, which could be seen from their rooms in the house. This is a formal garden of trimmed box hedges planted with herbaceous perennials.


The back of the house overlooks a broad path leading to a statue of Estimate who won Ascot Gold Cup in 2013 and was the first time a horse owned by the Monarch has won that race.


Behind the house is the Stable Block which has a restaurant and the vehicle museum.


This includes the Merryweather fire engine, as the Sandringham Estate had their own fire engine until it was amalgamated into the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in 1968.


There are examples of Shooting Brakes.


This one dating from 1937 could accommodate ten passengers and had a folding luncheon table down the centre as well as fitted gun racks.


There is the Daimler purchased by George V in 1929. It was luxurious, fitted out in mahogany with silver trimmings and has the Royal crest on the roof.


Next to it is the Rolls Royce Phantom which was used for state and official occasions from 1961 until 2002. When Queen Elizabeth II used the car, her personal mascot of St George and the Dragon replaced to Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet.


Church of St Mary Magdalene

Just a short walk from Sandringham House is the Church of St Magdalene, which is used by the Royal Family when they are at Sandringham and royal children are traditionally christened here.


The present building is C16th and the earliest recorded rector dates from 1321. When the estate was bought in 1862 for Prince Edward, he restored and extended the church, adding a north aisle and south transept along with the the Royal porch and entry by the chancel. After King Edward VII's death in 1910, the chancel was completely remodelled as a memorial to him.



Above the porch door is a carving of the guardian angel holding a baby.

The inside of the church is stunning, although it is almost impossible to take photographs without people in...


Beneath the tower is the Baptistry although this is masked by the small bookshop. The flags are those of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. The stained glass window was given in memory of Edward VII's eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who died of pneumonia in 1892.

The hatchments on the west wall and above the arch with the Royal Arms were placed on the outside of the railway coach carrying the coffins of George V and later of George VI from Wolferton Station to London.


The wood nave roof with its carved angels was given by George V in 1921.


The pulpit was presented to Queen Alexandra on her 80th Birthday in 1924 by Rodman Wannamaker. Built of oak it has a solid silver front. The reading desk above is also silver. At the centre is the figure of Christ with columns of angels on either side. Next to the angels are the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. At the edges are scenes from the life of Christ , including the visit of the Magi, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost , the feeding of the five thousand and the last supper. It is beautiful.


The chancel was remodelled after the death of Edward VII as a memorial to him. It is truly stunning with its painted roof and walls.



Above is a glorious painted roof complete with angel bosses and more angels round the base.



The solid silver altar and reredos above were the gift of Rodman Wannamaker, an American business man and friend of the king. At the centre of the reredos is Christ appearing to his disciples with the words “peace be unto you’ beneath


The altar frontal has the Royal coat of arms supported by two angels.


Around the silver reredos is a carved and painted ‘angel choir’

In the centre of the chancel floor, is an inscribed gold cross. This marks the place where the coffin of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence lay in state from January 15th to the 20th1892. As the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, and second in line to the throne after his father, his death caused a considerable shock to late Victorian society.

On either side of this cross are two plaques marking the spot where the coffins of George V and George VI rested.

Near the pulpit is the C17th silver processional cross. This is Spanish and again the gift of Rodman Wannamaker. Queen Alexandra placed it in the church as a memorial to the men of the Sandringham Estate who died in the First World War. On one side is Christ crucified. On the other is St Andrew.


On the pew below is a lovely wood carving depicting Christ at Gethsemane. There are other equally attractive carvings at other ends of the pews.


On the other side of the chancel is a lovely small carving of St George above the slain dragon. Made of aluminium and ivory, it was given by the Royal Household in memory of the Dule of Clarence in 1892.

Most of the stained glass is C19th with scenes from the life of Christ or else saints and prophets. This unusual window is in the north aisle dates from 1920 and has four scenes from the legend of St George. Down the centre column are fragments of C16th and C17th continental glass.


Church of St Mary Magdalene cont...

The church has many memorials on the walls to members of the Royal Family. This tradition was started by Prince Edward before he became king, with memorials to his immediate family. That to Queen Victoria is in the north aisle.


Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and his eldest son, is at the back of the church.


Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe Coburgh & Gotha, his younger brother, is at the back of the nave.


There are memorials to his sister Victoria, who married Frederick III German Emperor and King of Prussia in the south transept.


This tradition was continued after his death. On either side of the Chancel arch are memorials to his second son who became George V and to his wife Mary of Teck.



In the north aisle are the memorials to George VI and Queen Elizabeth.


Memorials to other members and relations of the Royal Family are in the Churchyard including Edward VII's sixth son, who was born prematurely and died a few hours later. Near his grave is that of Prince John, the youngest son of Gerge V and Queen Mary. He suffered from epilepsy and is very much the 'forgotten' member of the family. He died in 191, aged just 14.

The church is understandably very popular with visitors and does get busy. It is never the less well worth visiting and spending some time in as there is almost too much to take in. The guide book is good value with a lot of information and some very good pictures.

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