In the finale of season four of The Crown, Princess Diana joins the royal family at Sandringham House for Christmas. It’s an annual tradition for the Windsors, but clearly not one the Princess of Wales particularly enjoyed. Nonetheless, from the cozy bedroom loaned out to the royal daughter-in-law to the festive room in which the whole gang poses for a family photograph, it’s clear that Sandringham House is indeed a picturesque place in which to spend the winter holidays.
This week however, the Queen announced that she and her family will not be partaking in their annual tradition, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Having considered all the appropriate advice, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh have decided that this year they will spend Christmas quietly in Windsor,” a statement from Buckingham Palace read. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that now isn’t as good a time as any to learn about this private home of the Windsors, as well as its expansive estate. Below, we break down everything you need to know about its history and design details.
Where exactly is it?
Norfolk, England—which is approximately 100 miles north of London. Sandringham House is located on Sandringham Estate, a large property that encompasses both other houses and small towns (but more on that later.)
How long have the Windsors owned Sandringham House?
Since 1862. It was bought by Queen Victoria’s oldest son when he was Prince of Wales, for himself and his soon-to-be wife, the Danish Princess Alexandra. The prince, who went on to be crowned King Edward VII, paused his country house search for a period of time after the sudden death of his father, Prince Albert.
Ultimately, the house was passed down to Edward and Alexandra’s eldest son and heir, King George V—who was Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather. As private property of the family, it differs from other crown-owned estates such as Balmoral Castle and Buckingham Palace. Of the retreat, King George V once mused, “Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere else in the world.”
So, how long has the property been in existence?
It’s a little complicated. Evidence suggests that a structure of some sort existed as early as 1296. (Archeological work has also discovered finds that date back to the prehistoric and Roman periods nearby.) Flash forward a few centuries and a handful of large houses later though, and the home that the future Edward VII ultimately purchased was quickly torn down. In its stead, local architect A.J. Humbert created the house that still stands today. Its physical construction was handled by the Goggs Brothers of Swaffham, England, who completed the project in 1871. In subsequent decades, a ballroom and guest rooms were added to the Jacobean home. During the 1960s, the royal family considered tearing it down and building an entirely new home, but their plans never came to fruition.
Tell me about the interiors.
While the house is strikingly large, its dining room, drawing room, and saloon are standouts. The saloon and the dining room include great works of art—portraits by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the former, and Spanish tapestries by the likes of Francisco Goya (a gift from the King of Spain) in the latter. The highly decorated drawing room includes a notable number of fireplaces. Like the rest of the interiors, it still illustrates wonderfully the style of Victorian-era country estates.
Images from the late-19th century testify further to the original appearance of the home’s interiors. But besides its traditional furnishings and slew of plants, the existence of an 1800s bowling alley is likely to elicit some surprise.
Does it have great outdoors areas?
Yes. Sandringham Estate extends over about 20,000 acres of land, and the royal-owned grounds have been open to the public since 1908. Gardens aside, Sandringham is actually a major site for farming and forestry work, as well as for important conservation efforts. There’s also a fair amount of fruit cultivation that takes place on the estate. What is more, an entire plant that focuses on apple juice pressing continues to be up and running.
What is Sandringham House used for today?
Since 1988, it’s where the royal family has gone to spend the Christmas holidays. Traditionally, an invite from the Windsor family is a must-accept, although the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have spent a few Christmases with the Middletons over the years.