Sandringham House

Sandringham House is a country house on 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of land near the village of Sandringham in Norfolk, England. The house is privately owned by the British Royal Family and is located on the royal Sandringham Estate, which lies within the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

History and current site

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. However, in 1865, two years after moving in, the prince found the hall's size insufficient for his 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 Albert Edward's 50th birthday in 1891, and later rebuilt.

Sandringham House has been the private home of four generations of Sovereigns. Although doubtful 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 II'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 when the new King Edward VIII showed he was "a new broom" by sweeping the custom away.

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.

Along with Balmoral Castle, Sandringham House is the private property of the British royal family and not part of the Crown Estate. Their succession became an issue in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated as king. Being legacies Edward had inherited from his father, George V, the estates did not automatically pass to his younger brother George VI on abdication. George, during his reign, made periodic payments to Edward as compensation for Balmoral and Sandringham, but transactions between royals generally being secret, it is not known whether title was actually transferred. Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, no British court has power to dispossess a sovereign from the possession of real estate, since the sovereign may not be sued in his own courts without his consent.

Queen Alexandra, her sons Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale and George V, and grandson George VI all died at Sandringham.

Victoria, Princess Royal, daughter of Queen Victoria and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, had a country house built at Friedrichshof, near Kronberg, in the style of Sandringham.

The Appleton property

When Prince Carl, the future King Haakon VII of Norway, and Princess Maud were married in July 1896, Appleton House was a wedding gift to them from the bride’s parents, the Prince and Princess of Wales. The gift was intended to provide the newly married couple with a place to stay whenever they visited England. The Prince of Wales wrote to his Danish brother-in-law, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, “I have given Maud and Charles a small house, their own country retreat – about one mile from here – they will always have a pied-à-terre when they come over to England. I know they will appreciate this very much.”

A few months before the wedding the couple went to the adjacent Sandringham to view their wedding gift. “I saw my new house. It is quite lovely,” Prince Carl wrote in a letter.

Queen Maud came to love the house. In 1899 she wrote in a letter, “Our little house is a perfect paradise, it all seems like a dream, that we are here at last, that it is so beautiful and light, every single room is so clean and fresh and such wonderful care has been taken of my things, as we have two very able maids who are here year-round.” Their son, the future King Olav V of Norway, was born in 1903 at Sandringham.

Appleton House was hardly a “small house” by today’s standards. The house was on 2½ floors and was built of brick. It had four sitting rooms on the ground floor and the same on the first floor, together with rooms for the servants, 20 rooms in total. The house had a conservatory and was centrally heated and appeared as a rural idyll, covered in Virginia creeper and ivy.

The property stood alone, surrounded by forested parkland in Flitcham, Norfolk adjacent to Sandringham. The open, rolling character of the surrounding landscape inspired outdoor pursuits on horseback or by bicycle. It was also full of good subjects for Queen Maud, who was a keen amateur photographer.

Around the house the Prince of Wales had laid out a garden, designed in accordance with the tastes of the day. Here there were round, oval, triangular and square beds of roses and rhododendrons. There were extensive lawns and tall hedges of yew and box, with paths between them. Queen Maud enjoyed taking walks along these paths. “Her albums contain many photographs that show her wandering alone along these paths – clad in a full-length, white dress, her parasol lifted high.”

In 1938, two days after Queen Maud’s interment, her husband, King Haakon wrote to King George VI and informed him that the time had come to return Appleton House to the British Royal Family. The Queen had had the property as long as she had wanted, just as the Prince of Wales had said she could when she was given it in 1896.

Appleton House no longer exists. King Haakon and Princess Maud's son, King Olav recalled many years later, “The Queen’s empty house.” For many years the house stood unused. Its last known inhabitants were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who lived in the house during a visit to Norfolk during World War II (1939–1945). A 1968 newspaper article with the headline “The Queen’s empty house” reported that a large anti-air raid structure had been constructed around the property during WWII and that this was unattractive and expensive to remove. In addition it would have been extremely costly to restore the property to a habitable state again. Under the circumstances, reopening Appleton House was not considered a feasible option. It was pulled down in July 1984.


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