When I realized how close Cambridge is to the Queens' Norfolk country retreat, Sandringham, I knew I had to make time to see it. Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh regularly visit Sandringham for the holidays. I got to chatting with one of the very friendly and knowledgable docents who informed me that they close the house around the end of October to make it ready to receive the Royal family and it stays closed to the public until around February. The staff in the house also work in the house with the Royal Family. He in fact services the boilers to the house. (A good man to have around in the English winters and a large drafty house.) The house was first opened to the public in 1977. The main ground-floor rooms, regularly used by the Royal Family, are decorated in the Edwardian style of the house's original Royal occupants.
The site has been occupied since the Elizabethan Era. Sandringham Hall was built in 1771, the hall was rebuilt in the 19th century after it was purchased by Queen Victoria for her eldest son and his new bride, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, and Queen Alexandra. It has been passed down as a private home through four generations of British monarchs.
The lineage of the British monarchy since Queen Victoria can be traced by the inhabitants of Sandringham. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had two sons, Albert Victor and George Frederick. Albert, the heir apparent, was engaged to marry Princess Mary of Teck. Mary would be Queen but not due to her marriage to Albert Victor. Unfortunately, he would die of pneumonia, January 14, 1982 at Sandringham. A year after Albert's death, George and Mary were engaged and married in 1893 and they would become King George V and Queen Mary in 1910. They would also have two sons, Albert Edward (Edward VIII who abdicated) and Albert Frederick, who would become King George VI. George VI married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and their eldest daughter is the current reigning Queen Elizabeth II. There you have it - the four generations of royal lineage who have occupied Sandringham.
The resulting red-brick house, completed in 1870, is a mixture of styles. The galleried entrance hall is still used by the Royal Family for entertaining and family occasions, also the entrance for the publicly accessible rooms, which include a small drawing room, a larger parlor room, the dining room, and a hallway leading to the ball room, which was attached later. The decor and contents remain as they were in the Edwardian times. Both Queen Alexandra and later Queen Mary were collectors of objects d'art. Members of the Russian and European Royal Families (also relatives of the British Royal Family) were frequent guests to Sandringham and brought gifts, which are on also on display.
Also on the estate is St. Mary Magdalene Church, where the Royal Family attends Christmas services. A medieval church that dates to the 16th century and restored in 1857, it is a small church in the Perpendicular style. The Chancel is quiet incredible (and here's what it looks like because sadly, I wasn't allowed to take pictures.) There are memorials to many members and relations of the Royal Family in the church (Victoria, Edward VII, Alexandra, George V, George VI and Queen Elizabeth) and churchyard.
In addition to touring the first floor of the house, there are also about 600 acres of country park and garden. The formal planting of the Edwardian age is incorporated with rolling hills, grass paths, and gravel walkways in wooded glens. Peaceful and quiet, it is easy to understand the draw of these gardens for the Royal Family seeking solemnity and serenity.