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HistoryPalaces & Buildings

Royal Residences: A brief history of Sandringham House


Karen Roe via Flickr CC

There are only a handful of Christmases that The Queen has not celebrated at Sandringham, 2020 being amongst them. Learn more about the main house on Her Majesty’s estate in Norfolk.

Where is it located?

Sandringham House is located in the Parish of Sandringham in Norfolk in the East of England. The Grade II property is set in 20,000 acres in the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

When was it built, and when was it used as a royal residence?

The first mention of Sandringham appears in the Domesday Book as ‘sant-Dersingham’ and that the land belonged to a Norman knight named Robert FitzCorbun. In the Elizabethan age, a manor stood in the place of the current house, which was vastly expanded in 1843.

The estate was bought as a twenty-first birthday present by Queen Victoria for her son, the future Edward VII in 1861. It had been the desire of the monarch and her husband to ground their unruly son whose inappropriate behaviour was worrying his parents. The purchase of the house was slightly delayed by the death of Prince Albert in the same year but is said to have been bought for £220,000.

The present Sandringham House was first expanded in 1863 following the Prince of Wales marriage to Princess Alexandra as it was felt to be too small for them and their guests. 

Who has lived there?

After King Edward VII died on May 6, 1910, his widow, Queen Alexandra continued to live at Sandringham in the “big house” until her death on November 20, 1925, meaning that King George V and his growing family lived at the substantially smaller York Cottage when in Norfolk. Following his mother’s death, he did move into the larger Sandringham House and gave the first live Christmas address from there on December 25, 1932.

Which key events have happened here?

Sandringham House is the location where King George V died on January 20, 1936. The King had been ill for several years, but when he was on his deathbed, he was euthanised at 11:55 pm with two lethal injections of ¾ of a grain of morphine and grain of cocaine. The King’s physician explained that he acted to preserve the king’s dignity so that his death could be announced in the morning edition of The Times, rather than “Less appropriate… evening journals”.

King George V’s second son, King George VI- father to Queen Elizabeth II – also died at Sandringham in the early hours of February 6, 1952, of a coronary thrombosis resulting from lung cancer. The King, who was a heavy smoker, had undergone surgery to remove part of his lung in 1951 but unfortunately never made a full recovery. 

Who is it used by today?

Sandringham is not the permanent residence of any member of the Royal Family. It is, however, where Queen Elizabeth has followed the tradition set by her three predecessors of spending every Christmas at Sandringham. The Queen typically takes the train from London to King’s Lynn Station to begin her winter break and stays in Norfolk until February 6 – to mark the anniversary of her father’s death and her subsequent accession to the throne.

This Christmas is one of the only times The Queen has not spent the holidays at Sandringham, instead of staying at Windsor Castle where she has been living during the coronavirus pandemic.