Long may Sandringham remain a home for shooting and country pursuits
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
It has been described as 'the most comfortable house in England' but it's the great outdoors that makes Sandringham special.
Sandringham has hit the headlines in recent days. Prince Philip's car crash, the seatbelt incident, etc have put the Royals' Norfolk home in the spotlight.
But Sandringham is really a place where the family, Her Majesty in particular, can get away from it all and breathe some country air.
Situated in North West Norfolk between King's Lynn and Hunstanton, the estate – now around 20,000 acres - was originally bought in 1862 for Prince Albert Edward, the Prince Of Wales and Queen Victoria's son who later became Edward VII. Known as Bertie in the family, the prince was engaged to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and they needed a country home and Norfolk was chosen.
The original house wasn't big enough and they knocked down the house that was there and got the builders in. The house we know today was finished in 1870.
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A visit to the house, and it is open to the public from April until late October, gives not only an insight into how the Royal family spend their time and their choice of furniture but also a clue to why the house is there in the first place – shooting.
A keen shot, Prince Albert Edward developed the estate to include some of the finest shooting in the country. And inside the house are cases and cases of guns owned by the family over the generations alongside sporting trophies, paintings and sculptures. The house was built for the shooting party – an opportunity to entertain guests, get out into the open air.
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And the Royals continue to enjoy this sport today, that's what Sandringham is all about. A quick drive around the estate and you can spot the tell-tale signs of pheasant feeders, coverts, belts of tress, long grass – all in place to ensure the best shooting for guests.
Much has been written about this sport and I have no problem with the Royal family taking part, nor do I suspect do many country people. It is a family tradition, a pastime they all seem to enjoy. It is what Sandringham was built for and part of its appeal today.
Sandringham also offers a degree of privacy for a family forever in the spotlight. It is a place where the Queen and Prince Philip can forgo some of the trappings of monarchy, go for long walks, see the sea, entertain friends rather than dignitaries, relax rather than work, take some time out from being on display – Sandringham enables them to be a little more themselves.
It is a place where Prince Philip has chosen to retire to, away from it all, where he can entertain on his own terms, please himself, and slide into the rhythms of country life. Sandringham is also a place where The Queen can throw on a headscarf get behind the wheel and drive around the Norfolk roads on her own, it is a place they aren't usually troubled too much by the likes of me – the press, it is a home that offers space and privacy – something I am sure they enjoy and relish. Sandringham is also not a million miles from London, though it is out of the way, it is also close enough to their official world.
King George V loved Sandringham, George VI enjoyed Sandringham for the shooting and the Norfolk life. The Queen is known to enjoy working her dogs on the estate, though I don't know if she still shoots.
The younger Royals also shoot and enjoy the outdoors - the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose the estate as their country home probably for the privacy it affords.
Sandringham is a constant in the lives of our Royal family, and Norfolk a place of refuge and recreation – let's hope it stays that way.