Sandringham House in Norfolk has been the private home of four generations of Sovereigns since 1862. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family regularly spend Christmas at Sandringham and make it their official base until February each year.
Like Balmoral, the Sandringham Estate is a commercial estate managed privately on The Queen's behalf. Sandringham House, the museum and the grounds are open to visitors.
Although a Royal residence for only 150 years, Sandringham abounds in history. It has seen the deaths of two monarchs; suffered its share of wartime tragedy; and been the venue for the first ever Christmas Broadcast.
The story began in 1862. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, was looking for a country home for his eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, before his twentieth birthday. The idea was to find a healthy retreat for his young son, away from the distractions of the city.
Before a decision had been reached, the Prince Consort died suddenly of typhoid in December 1861. It was left up to his eldest son to conclude the house-hunt. After paying a visit to Sandringham on 3 February 1862, the Prince of Wales was impressed enough to have decided by the end of the day that he wanted to buy the house. For the house and furnishings, the Prince paid £220,000.
Sandringham's first role was as a home for newly-weds. Prince Albert Edward married Princess Alexandra of Denmark on 10 March 1863, and they travelled to Norfolk 18 days later.
The young couple made many extensions and improvements to the house and estate, including the construction of new roads, the rebuilding of cottages and landscaping. A new garden wall was built to accommodate the magnificent gift of the famous Norwich Gates - spectacular ironwork gates designed by Thomas Jekyll and presented as a wedding gift by the people of Norwich and Norfolk.
It became obvious that the existing house was not suitable for large social gatherings and a growing family, so the Prince of Wales rebuilt it completely.
As home to the heir to the throne and his wife, Sandringham was venue to many glittering occasions. Social life ranged from visits by Heads of State (1881, 1899 and 1902 by Kaiser Wilhelm) to informal retreats by the Royal Family. Three times a year there was a ball - for the gentry, for the farmer and for the servants.
One of the main activities at Sandringham was shooting. The Prince of Wales liked to be outdoors as much as possible and he devised the idea of ST - Sandringham Time. The idea was to make the most of the winter daylight hours for his passion for shooting and so the clocks all over the Sandringham Estate were advanced by half an hour. King George V maintained this custom during his lifetime, but King Edward VIII abolished it on his accession in 1936.
Sandringham was the setting for some dramatic events. Queen Victoria did not pay her first visit to Sandringham until 1871, when the Prince of Wales suffered an attack of typhoid fever (the illness of which his father had died) while staying there. To the relief of Queen Victoria and the nation, the Prince survived and made a slow recovery.
The eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales was not so lucky 21 years later. Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, in the direct line of succession, fell ill at Sandringham shortly after celebrating his 28th birthday there. He died on 14 January 1892 after a violent bout of influenza.
Sandringham became the home to a second Royal couple when Prince George, the second son of the Prince and Princess of Wales and by then heir to the throne, married Princess May of Teck, the fiancée of the late Duke of Clarence. They moved into a house on the estate which came to be known as York Cottage.
One of Prince George's innovations at Sandringham was the founding of the first Royal pigeon loft in 1886. Almost annually several were entered in international contests; pigeons from the Royal lofts also saw active service with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War.
Despite being able to spend less time at Sandringham after his accession in 1901, King Edward VII's interest in the estate never waned, and he continued to make improvements all his life. Following his death in 1910, Sandringham was left to Queen Alexandra, who continued to live in the 'Big House' in her widowhood until her death in 1925. The new King George V and Queen Mary continued to live in the much smaller York Cottage whenever they visited the estate.
The First World War sowed death and destruction even in sleepy Sandringham. On 19 January 1915 Zeppelin L45 crossed the North Sea on the first raid of the war, and several bombs landed on and around the Royal estate. One of the craters filled with water; King George VI later had it enlarged and turned into a duck pond.
Like many villages, towns and communities across Britain, the community of the estate suffered its own wartime tragedy. The Sandringham Company was wiped out in the Battle of Gallipoli in August 1915. Trapped in a field which suddenly burst into flames, possibly due to a stray shell, the entire company was killed. In 1920 King George V, Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary unveiled a cross and tablet on the greensward outside Sandringham Church, bearing the names of the fallen.
King George V's reign also saw the birth of a new Christmas tradition at Sandringham. The first Christmas broadcast to the Empire was made live on Christmas Day, 1932, from Sandringham's 'business-room'. History was made again in 1957 when The Queen made her first televised broadcast live on Christmas Day from Sandringham's library.
King George V died at Sandringham on 20 January 1936, and Sandringham passed to his eldest son. In his brief reign King Edward VIII spent less than one day at Sandringham. After his abdication, he retained rights to Sandringham and Balmoral, since both estates are held privately and not as Sovereign. Under a financial settlement the two estates were transferred to his brother, the new King George VI.
King George VI loved Sandringham as much as his father had done, spending many happy months on the estate. He spent his first Christmas as king there in 1936. Having been born there in York Cottage, he also died at Sandringham House, passing away in his sleep on the night of 6 February 1952.
His coffin lay in the small church of St. Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, watched over in a round-the-clock vigil by Sandringham gamekeepers before being taken to London and then to Windsor for interment.
The first visit by Princess Elizabeth to Sandringham was Christmas 1926, aged just eight months, when she visited her grandparents King George V and Queen Mary.
From that time the Princess made regular visits to Sandringham. During the Second World War she and her sister were often resident on the Sandringham estate, living at Appleton House. In 1943 Princess Elizabeth was featured in newspapers helping with the harvest.
Throughout her reign, The Queen's attachment to Sandringham has remained as strong as that of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The Queen and other members of the Royal Family regularly spend Christmas at Sandringham and make it their official base until February each year. When The Queen or members of the Royal Family are not in residence, the house is open to the public.
The Estate is run commercially by the Land Agent, on The Queen's behalf. Over half of the Estate is let to farm tenants, the remainder being farmed in hand or used for forestry (the Estate has its own sawmill). There are also two studs, a fruit farm and a country park. These, together with the house's gardens, employ over 100 full-time staff.
Sandringham Country Park, open free all year since 1968, is an area of 250 hectares (over 600 acres) of carefully managed woodland and heath. It has two nature trails and camping and caravan club sites. A Visitors' Centre with gift shop and restaurants is open daily in summer and at weekends in winter.
Sandringham Estate hosts craft fairs and country shows throughout the year. The house, museum and grounds are open to visitors.