The gardens at Sandringham

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:19 am

Sandringham HouseSandringham is the private Norfolk home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Unlike the monarch’s other properties, such as Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, which are owned by the Crown Estate, Sandringham is one of two residences that the Queen personally owns – the other being Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire.  She inherited Sandringham from her father, George VI. George loved the place and died there on 6 February 1952.  His father, George V, loved it too – and also died there.  “Dear old Sandringham,” he wrote, “The place I love better than anywhere else in the world.”

Sandringham House entranceIn researching some background for this piece, I came across a gushing article on the ‘Town and Country’ website, which describes Sandringham as ‘an ancient castle’.  It is this kind of piffle that helped inspire the creation of A Bit About Britain, for Sandringham is neither ancient, nor a castle.  It is, however, perhaps the most famous stately home in Norfolk and is at the heart of a 20,000 acre estate, which includes Sandringham Royal Park.  There is certainly evidence of prehistoric and Roman activity nearby and Sandringham itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Sant Dersingham, the sandy part of Dersingham. Dersingham (I knew you’d ask) is ‘the homestead of the family or followers of a man called Deorsige’; I wonder what happened to him?  The recent royal connection came in 1862 via Queen Victoria’s son, 21 year old Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who was looking for somewhere to escape to and bought an estate, which came with an 18th century house. The house was too small for him and his new wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, so he had it demolished and replaced with the current enormous brick-limestone semi-Jacobean thing, which was completed in 1870.  That, too, provided insufficient space (he was a big chap, was Edward), so he had a new wing added, the Bachelors’ Wing, for guests.  The author Simon Jenkins believes that “the purple bricks of this extension give it the grim institutional appearance of an Edwardian boarding school, detracting from the softer exterior of the main house.”  Personally, I suggest Sir Simon is confused; the main house is an ugly over-dressed elderly Victorian aunt, whereas the extension, with its decorative brickwork, chimneys and Dutch-style dormers, is youthful, neat and attractive.  I knew I should have attended an Edwardian boarding school; I would have liked it very much.

Bachelors' WingAfter Edward’s death, Sandringham passed to his son, King George V, then to his son Edward VIII who, following his abdication in 1936, sold it to his brother, George VI.

Sandringham HouseSandringham is closely associated with the Royal Family’s Christmas.  George V made the first ever Sovereign’s Christmas radio broadcast from there in 1932 and, twenty-five years later, Her Majesty the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast in 1957, transmitted live from the Long Library at Sandringham, was the first to be televised. There is a transcript of the speech on the Royal website.

Upper Lake, SandringhamUpper Lake, SandringhamThe Royal Family celebrated Christmas at Sandringham every year from 1988 to 2019.  In 2020, the Queen and Prince Philip spent Christmas on their own at Windsor Castle, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  2021 was the first Christmas for the Queen without Philip, her “strength and stay” for so many Christmases before.  On 20 December 2021, due to concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Queen announced she would be celebrating Christmas at Windsor Castle for a second year, rather than at Sandringham.

In happy times, after decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, the Royal Family take afternoon tea at 6pm and then play games and exchange Christmas presents, a tradition begun by Queen Victoria. It is also a tradition in Germany, so maybe this is a hangover from her German relatives, or her beloved husband, Prince Albert.  On Christmas Day at Sandringham, the whole Royal Family usually took a walk to St Mary Magdalene Church for the morning service and then returned to the house for lunch.

Sandringham shrubberySandringham House was opened to the public by Her Majesty in 1977, her Silver Jubilee year, but the gardens were first opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908 and it is the gardens that feature in this article.  In any event, the house was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic when the ABAB team visited – as was the interesting looking museum, which features various vehicles used by the Royal Family (including the children) over the years, and, sadly, the handsome church of St Mary Magdalene.  Nor was it possible to get a clear shot of the church without clambering into a neighbouring field.  I did briefly consider doing this, but, weighing up the benefits against the possibility of being nabbed and carried off to The Tower, decided to give it a miss.  Suffering for my art has limits.

St Mary Magdalene Church, SandringhamThe gardens at Sandringham are pleasant rather than spectacular. There are formal beds and borders close to house and the rest is a mixture of well-tended shrubbery and parkland, with some wonderful trees.  We certainly spent a happy few hours wandering around in the autumn sunshine, although next time I’d like to explore the wider Royal Park – which is free to visit. The views of the house peeking through the foliage around the upper lake have an appealing fairy-tale like quality and there are a number of features that deserve a mention, in no particular order.

Estimate, the Queen's HorseAt the front of the house is a life size bronze statue by Tessa Campbell Fraser of 2013 Ascot Gold Cup winning horse, Estimate, commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen.  Estimate was a gift to the Queen from the Aga Khan and the statue is a reminder that Sandringham is home to the Royal Stud, established in 1886.  The term does not refer to Edward VII, but to a place where racehorses are bred.

The Norwich Gates at SandringhamAt the main entrance to Sandringham is an impressive pair of wrought-iron gates, made in Norwich in 1862 for the International Exhibition in South Kensington, London.  For some inexplicable reason they are known as the Norwich Gates.  The people of Norfolk bought them by public subscription in 1863 as a wedding gift for Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra. I suppose it makes a change from a toaster or cutlery set; I wonder if they were wrapped.

The so-called Buddha statue at SandringhamThere is a 17th century bronze statue of a Chinese god, referred to as ‘a Buddha’, at the end of a formal garden near the Norwich Gates.  It has an unpleasant little smirk on its face and was apparently known to Royal children as ‘Laughy’, or ‘Goddy’.  I’m surprised they didn’t call it ‘slightly creepy’.  The statue was acquired for Edward in 1869 by Sir Henry Keppel, commander-in-chief of the China station.  Nearby is a rather fetching statue of Old Father Time, believed to date from around 1800.  It was purchased by Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, for £100 in 1951.

Old Father Time, SandringhamThe Queen’s affection for Welsh corgis is well known – she has owned over thirty of the dogs – and they are buried at Sandringham. Pictured below, from left to right, are Susan, Sugar and Heather.

Corgi graves, SandringhamThere is a walled garden at Sandringham, which is open for booked tours, and I’m guessing that must be well worth a visit, along with the house and museum.  So many places to visit, so little time.

Unfortunately, we did not see Her Maj while we were there. It is sad to think that she probably never sees her Sandringham gardens at their best, because she normally only visits in winter. God bless you, ma’am.

Of course, you know that A Bit About Britain lists 97 British monarchs, even the dodgy ones, with a bit about each one. Of course you do.

Here is the link to the official Sandringham website.

Sandringham House

Royal Family on Christmas Day
Christmas at Sandringham 2017  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine; the Duchess and Duke of Sussex, Meghan and Harry; Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor, daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Photo via Wikipedia from Flickr.


75 thoughts on “The gardens at Sandringham”

  1. My elder daughter and I visited Sandringham about ten years ago and really enjoyed the experience. The museum was really interesting and I would recommend it unreservedly. The vehicles especially were fascinating and the displays of (almost) all the gifts the Queen has received over the years made us gasp. Some artifacts so exquisite and/or priceless and others frankly amusing. The Queen keeps them all, even the tapestry ‘Radio Times’ covers etc.! The gardens were lovely when we were there in early summer but very full of visiting foreign school children supposedly filling out questionnaires but as far as we could see, most appeared to be engaging in other activities – smoking, chatting-up other young people, shouting and running about and causing elderly ladies to tut at them. Apologies for the late visit to your excellent blog, Mike and may I wish you and your family a very happy and healthy new year.

  2. I enjoyed reading about Sandringham. I went there once when we were on holiday nearby but that was when I was a kid, and all I remember is buying postcards which I still have, showing those green dome bits. I think that buddha does look smug and creepy.

  3. Another good read Mike, thank you.

    I hope that Her Majesty will be able to enjoy Christmas with some of her family this year, but nothing is certain with the Covid restrictions!
    I hope that we too are able to spend time with family …

    Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas.

    All the best Jan

  4. artandarchitecturemainly

    I must agree that the main entrance to Sandringham is a VERY impressive pair of wrought-iron gates. International Exhibitions were perfect ways to expose artists’ work to public inspection on a vast scale, but I am not sure that the public should have had to pay for these very expensive gates.

    1. The public did not have to pay for the gates, Hels; they did it because they wanted to and the money was raised through public subscription. As I understand it, republicans were not expected to contribute 🙂

  5. Lovely post Mike. I have only visited Sandringham at Christmas for the light trail, but will definitely return to visit the gardens and house one day soon. I hope you get to return for the house as well! 🙂

    1. I really like reading about the Queen and her family. It is kind that Britain welcomes visitors.

  6. I’m with you — that Buddha is a little creepy. And he doesn’t seem to fit. Oh, well. I’m no Capability Brown. But it does look like a lovely spot to visit and I’m sorry the house and church and museum weren’t open for your visit. Still, I’ve very much enjoyed my “visit” through your photos!

    1. To be fair, I think a lot of statues in estate gardens don’t fit. They were gifts – or maybe Lord Muck a couple of centuries ago had astonishingly poor taste. Or maybe the statue simply wasn’t a part of an overall design. In any event, the Buddha is a bit weird. Maybe he should be in some obscure corner, sitting, waiting, for the unprepared visitor…

  7. HI Mike – thanks for sharing your visit to Sandringham … a place I’d like to see at some stage. Interesting that Edward VIII sold the house to his brother on his abdication – because it was a ‘private’ home. That ‘Buddha’ would give me nightmares!! … cheers Hilary

  8. Loved your post! Sandringham is somewhere that I know by name from all that I’ve read on the royal family so it was so fun to see pictures and learn the history of such an incredible place. I hope you have a joyous holiday season! 🙂

  9. I wonder how big the original house was that he deemed too smal for him and the Queen.

    In a nice coincidence, the Wall Street Journal had a sotory yesterday about the real estate holdings of the Queen and Prince Charles, and estimate the value of EACH of their holdings at over one billion dollars.

    there was also a fun fact that claimed before and after a hearty Christmas dinner, it is said dinner guests are invited to step on to a set of scales to assess their weight gain, a scene re-created in the 2021 movie “Spencer,” which imagines events at a royal Christmas at Sandringham in the early 1990s.

  10. I love your posts, Mike! Who knew that while we were experiencing a civil war here in the Not-Very-United States, a 21-year-old Prince of Wales was shopping for a 20,000 acre estate? Wow. That’s a lot of acres. Also interesting to learn that some properties the queen herself owns and some are owned by a royal legal entity (the Crown Estate). Also interesting to learn that royals sometimes have sold properties to each other (when they abdicate and need some cash to establish a new life elsewhere?) And then there are the gifts that royals have received over the years, such as amazing race horses! I wonder what the Queen has given to the Aga Khan over the years… Here in the USA we experienced somewhat historic (due to climate change increasing the intensity of weather patterns) tornadoes overnight in at least four states. So I shall continue to refrain from most fossil-fuel-powered travel and stick with my bike PLUS your great blog when I need a change of scenery!

      1. Hi, when the original Sandringham Hall was purchased in 1862 for the then Prince of Wales 21st birthday, it was purchased for £220,000 with about 7,700 acres of estate. The current Sandringham House replaced the old Sandringham Hall in 1869/1870, the older Hall being demolished. The current estate has grown to about 21,000 acres. Hope this helps to clarify a little of the house history.

  11. I visited the Park a few years ago, but haven’t visited the house and gardens. We did walk to the church, though.
    I wonder if Her Maj will go this Christmas? She will miss Prince Philip even more if she does. But she is made of stern stuff, so maybe she will.

  12. Another fascinating article Mike, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Reading this as we approach Christmas made me think how Sandringham will change when the Queen is no longer with us. Perhaps more importantly, how will the country change?

  13. Father Time looks suspiciously like a thinner Elton John in disguise. Greatly enjoyed this post. I think Sandringham was featured also in The Crown, a shooting party where Philipp was supposed to make an impression on the King, and where the fan sang Carols. Although I suppose it was some other location used. Thanks for a great post. You’ve got a great ABAB team going.

  14. One of the relatively few great houses of England which we haven’t visited – note to self to put that right. However, I do now know what to do next time I am confronted by the “what do you buy for the person with everything” conundrum. I’ll buy them some gates…

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