Prince Philip and Sandringham: His love affair with a corner of Norfolk

Prince Philip on a visit to Great Yarmouth sea cadets, pictured in 1979.

Prince Philip on a visit to Great Yarmouth sea cadets, pictured in 1979. - Credit: Archant Library

The Duke, as Prince Philip was invariably known in Norfolk, will be sorely missed on the Royal estate at Sandringham.

He spent much more time at the Queen’s country home than was generally known and his stays extended to several months each year after he retired from public life in 2017.

Christmas would be spent with the Queen and their extended family, in Sandringham House itself. But at other times the couple stayed at Wood Farm, Wolferton, a more modest farmhouse looking across the fields and marshes towards The Wash.

It was here that the Duke spent much of his time after retiring from public life

On the estate’s 25,000 acres the Duke could enjoy great freedom in an environment he loved and where he could indulge in two of his favourite interests – pheasant shooting and carriage driving. He clearly savoured the time he spent in Norfolk.

Sandringham is privately owned by the Queen, who inherited the estate after her father King George VI died in 1952. Prince Philip played a hands-on role overseeing its farms, forestry and other interests.

The Duke was in his element in the Norfolk countryside and revelled in the opportunities to stride out across the fields or drive his carriage around the lanes without a protection officer.

The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a collision at Babingley, near the Sandringham Estate. Picture

Prince Philip has died aged 99. - Credit: Matthew Usher

He did not enjoy being fussed or pampered so did not want to be chauffeured everywhere or have planes and helicopters at his disposal. It was not unknown for him to share the driving in his Range Rover Discovery on a journey from Balmoral to Sandringham – and he certainly did not expect car doors always to be held open for him.

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Pheasant shoots and carriage driving were particular reasons for him to make frequent visits to West Norfolk. For many years he led pheasant shoots, often accompanied by other members of the Royal Family, and at Sandringham he prepared for carriage driving events in which he competed at the highest level.

It was no coincidence that major carriage driving trials were held in the park close to Sandringham House and the testing cross-country element took place in the adjacent woodland. When he ceased competing in the particularly arduous horse-driving event, the Duke switched to ponies and competed well into his eighties.

Prince Philip climbs onto the Caister-on-Sea lifeboat in 2009.

Prince Philip climbs onto the Caister-on-Sea lifeboat in 2009. - Credit: Maurice Gray

There was no way he would have retired from the sport and his next involvement was to take up a clipboard and become an expert judge. He also encouraged others to participate and taught carriage driving skills to Lady Brabourne – a member of the Mountbatten family.

At 5 ft 9 ins and of slight build – he was a disciplined eater – the Duke was always very upright and gave the impression of being a taller man, especially as he was often photographed beside the Queen.

He was never seen wearing spectacles in public but in later life he surreptitiously put them on before taking aim on a pheasant shoot.

The Duke had the reputation as a sometimes irascible man who didn’t suffer fools gladly and he presented a formidable figure to anyone who caused him displeasure.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on a visit to Gresham's School in Holt.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on a visit to Gresham's School in Holt. - Credit: Archant Library

But while he could deliver a serious ticking off, he rarely harboured ill-feelings or bore grudges and his anger quickly evaporated and he returned to his usual jovial demeanour. Those close to him would defend him by saying his reportedly outspoken comments were not meant in a malicious way.

Evidence of his character was that his staff were fiercely loyal and never wanted to leave his employ. In turn the Duke would defend them if he felt they were badly treated.

One of the Duke’s great pleasures during visits to Sandringham was organising barbeques for family and guests – something he often did twice a week at shooting lodges on the estate.

He was very much involved in the cooking and the menu often featured game he had shot. His favourite drink on these occasions was a Double Diamond beer.