In Shadow and Solemnity

After nearly 60 years and in the year of her 86th birthday, it is fair to say that HM The Queen does touch the real world of British life, especially the part of it inhabited by what remains of the landed upper classes. A life of moors and deer-stalking, of summers under British rain, dogs and horses, the church, the armed forces, the same few boarding schools. But while the Royal Family is prepared to consider, and has embraced, change in many areas, it’s enthusiasm for hunting, shooting and fishing remains as much a part of royal life as anything else.

Although a Royal residence for only 150 years, Sandringham abounds in history, solemnity, drama and peace. It has seen the deaths of two sovereigns, suffered its share of wartime drama and was the venue for the first ever Christmas Broadcast.

The formative years of The Queen were spent at Sandringham and it is here that we should start if we are to understand the underlying values of the royals - that certain things can never, and must not, change. Sandringham’s large silhouette looms over the very being of the Royal Family in much the same way as the fabled Tintagel Castle of The Arthurian Legend. There are last bastions and lasting bastions - “Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere in the world” - the famous refrain of King George, who died there in 1936, echoes strongly to this day within the beating heart of the Royal Family. George’s son, King George VI who was born in York Cottage on the Estate, died in 1952 at Sandringham House and is buried in Windsor.

The Royal Estate was originally initiated by the Prince Consort Albert, who wanted to find a healthy country retreat for his eldest son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales who later became Edward VII. The creation and rebuilding of the Estate was continued by Albert Edward following his father’s death in 1861. It became obvious that the existing house, which was bought for £220,000 was not suitable for large social gatherings and a growing family, so the then Prince of Wales rebuilt it completely.

As well as social occasions, the other main activity 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.

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.

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.
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 and its attendant country pursuits has remained as strong as that of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather and the spirit of Albert Edward remains as alive as ever.

Shooting at Sandringham is essentially a pheasant shoot which lends credence to the Duke’s view of shooting as both a social and practical necessity.

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