In Depth

Inside Sandringham: the Royals’ Christmas-time residence

The estate has been loved by royals throughout history – and is open to the public

The Sandringham Estate is the Queen’s much-loved country retreat in northern Norfolk, famous for being the Royal Family’s chosen place to spend Christmas each year.

Last year, however, the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh spent Christmas “privately at Windsor Castle” where they had been shielding throughout the winter lockdown, The Guardian reported at the time.

It was the first time in more than three decades that the monarch did not spend the festive period with her family on the Sandringham Estate.

The 8,000-hectare estate contains the Sandringham Royal Park, which is open to the public free of charge every day of the year. On Father’s Day this year, Prince William surprised runners taking part in an inaugural half marathon in the grounds by turning up to cheer them on, accompanied by Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Sandringham is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Sant Dersingham”, the estate’s website reports, and there is evidence of a house on the present site as early as 1296.

Royals throughout history have both lived in and had a strong affinity with the home, including Edward VII, King George V and today’s Queen Elizabeth, who opened the house to the public in 1977, her Silver Jubilee year.

King George V once described Sandringham as “the place I love better than anywhere else in the world”, says the website, and his grandson, King George VI, the Queen’s father, wrote that he was “always” happy at Sandringham and “I love the place”.

Where does the tradition come from?

The tradition of the Sandringham Christmas party was begun by the then future Edward VII in 1864, and was “adopted enthusiastically by the present Royal Family”, the Daily Express says.

During the 1960s, when the Queen’s children were young, the Royals generally spent Christmas at Windsor Castle. But in the 1980s, they transferred the festive celebration to Sandringham because the Berkshire property was being rewired. They enjoyed the change of venue so much that they then opted to return in following years.

What’s inside?

According to The Telegraph, the house was once described as “the most comfortable in England” and “boasted a shower and flushing water closets far earlier than many others in Britain”.

The main ground-floor rooms are regularly used by the royals but are also open to the public. The decor and “contents remain very much as they were in Edwardian times”, according to the estate’s website.

In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that the house was not large enough to accommodate the 30 guests invited to the Christmas celebrations that year. “Despite being set in 600 acres of woodland, the house is small by royal standards and quarters are said to be ‘cramped’,” the newspaper said. Guests were invited instead to stay in the servant’s quarters and other nearby cottages.

More than 200 people work at the estate, including gamekeepers, gardeners, farmers and employees in Sandringham’s sawmill and its apple juice-pressing plant, according to Town and Country magazine. 

“The estate places a huge emphasis on recycling, conservation and forestry, and is a sanctuary for wildlife,” the magazine adds. Sandringham is also famed for hosting royal shooting and hunting parties.

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