Queen Victoria's eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, purchased Sandringham Hall, Norfolk in 1862. He took up residence there soon after he married Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. The couple spent most of their time at their Norfolk property, supervising building work, which eventually resulted in the Sandringham we see today. It was here that Edward developed his famous country-house weekends, which have left echoes in daily life to this day. The country house weekend involved a wide range of people being invited to spend a long weekend at Sandringham where time would be spent eating, engaging in country sports, and dressing up. For women in particular there could be four costume changes per day. As ever a developing industrial society was watching and aspiring to this dream of a sophisticated weekend in the country. This drove shopping, and production and generally made a lot of people a lot of money. Edward and Alexandra had a very direct influence in this sense. For example if you've ever enjoyed a hotel breakfast then you can thank Edward. You'll recognise the experience from the following description of breakfasts served to guests at Sandringham:
"At Sandringham guests were expected to come down for breakfast between nine and ten o'clock. This was served at small tables, an innovative departure from the 'long board'... Breakfast was a substantial meal; on the side board spirit lamps kept hot huge silver dishes of porridge, eggs, bacon, devilled kidneys, finian haddock, kedegree. Another sideboard held a variety of cold meats, pressed beef, ham, tongue and game. China and Indian tea, coffee and chocolate, bread rolls, toast, scones and muffins, jams and preserves and fresh fruit were all laid ready" (Edward VII by Dana Bentley-Cranch P 78).
Clothes worn for the country house weekend are still worn widely today. Edward popularised what is now known as the dinner jacket. This garment had actually been devised on a long hot sea voyage to India, when Edward found that evening dress was uncomfortably hot. So he replaced the heavy "tails" jacket with a short light-weight jacket, the dinner jacket. Alexandra also set fashion trends, some of which are still seen. She loved jewelry, and devised the choker, a wide necklace, usually of pearls, worn tightly around the neck. Unfortunately women also tried to copy Alexandra's slim figure, and this resulted in widespread use of the corset, which must have made a lot of women very uncomfortable. The fact that women were willing to force themselves into corsets demonstrates the power of aspiration which royalty could inspire. The development of photography during Edward's lifetime allowed his and Alexandra's images to be distributed widely. As a final example of Sandringham's influence we should remember that it was here that Edward and his family got into the habit of having a special meal on Sunday consisting of roast beef, roast potatoes, horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding. This was copied, and the Sunday roast is still a feature of life in Britain today.
Sandringham, during the reign of Edward VII, really was the place to be, and the place to be seen. The excitement of Sandringham is well described by Sarah Bradford in her biography of Edward's grandson George VI. As a boy George VI lived a humdrum life at York Cottage in the Sandringham grounds. But every November their grandfather, King Edward VII would arrive:
"If the two princes had their homework in hand, they would be allowed to run up to the Big House after tea to say goodnight to their grandparents. After the sedate, enclosed atmosphere of overcrowded York Cottage, the boys felt a charge of excitement as they approached the Big House, looming out of the dusk like a great ocean liner, and entered the saloon, filled with beautifully dressed people, the ladies in ravishing tea gowns, glowing with ropes of pearls, sparkling with diamonds, the men in velvet suits, chatting to each other or playing bridge in the adjoining drawing room while Gottleib's orchestra played music from Strauss operettas in the galley. The air would be filled with the scent of perfume, flowers and expensive cigars, the air tingling with an underlying sense of sex and power, what Lord Esher called the 'electric excitement' of Edward VII's court" (George VI by Sarah Bradford P36 - 37).
Sandringham country park
The history of the current British royal family is coincident with Sandringham's history. A museum at Sandringham, housed in a former stable block, charts the royal family's history. There are information panels and exhibits illustrating the reigns of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI - who was born at York Cottage - and the present queen. A tour of some of the rooms in Sandringham house itself is also available. On display in the house are many items of art, porcelain and furniture. The flag which Captain Scott took to the Antarctic on his ill fated mission to be first to reach the South Pole is kept here, and displayed occasionally. Queen Alexandra gave Scott the flag before he left for Antarctica. When it was recovered following Scott's death, the flag was returned to Sandringham where it has remained ever since.
Sandringham is set in a forest park where there are great opportunities for walking. There is a restaurant and coffee shop, and a large gift shop. There is no charge for using the forest park area, which includes a coffee shop, restaurant and gift shop.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: Sandringham Estate, Sandringham, Norfolk PE35 6EN
Directions: Sandringham is just off the A149, about six miles north of King's Lynn in north Norfolk. Click here for an interactive map centred on Sandringham.
Access: The house is fully accessible for wheelchair users. Wheelchairs are available for visitor use. A free land train runs from the ticket office entrance to the house, and there is a tractor and trailer tour of the grounds. Adapted toilet facilities are provided in the Visitors' Centre.
fax: 01485 541571