Duke enjoyed sanctuary at Sandringham after retirement

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·5-min read

The Duke of Edinburgh spent much of his retirement at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate.

Free from the restrictions that come with public service, Philip enjoyed the sanctuary offered by the farmhouse and its peaceful location.

While the Queen continued her duties as head of state in London and Windsor, Philip, who finally retired in August 2017 at the age of 96, used his time at Wood Farm to read, paint and host friends.

The Queen and Philip
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at a church service in Norfolk (Joe Giddens/PA)

The coronavirus pandemic led to Philip leaving Sandringham in March 2020 to reunite with the Queen at Windsor Castle where they both spent months of lockdown for their safety.

But it had not been all peace and tranquility for Philip at Sandringham.

It was while pulling out a driveway on the estate in January 2019 that the 97-year-old duke was involved in a serious car crash.

The Land Rover Freelander he was driving was hit by another car and the duke was initially trapped and had to be helped through the sunroof or windscreen by a passing motorist after his car flipped over.

Philip escaped injury but was shocked and shaken by the accident which left women in the other vehicle requiring hospital treatment. A nine-month-old baby boy travelling with them was unhurt.

The duke later voluntarily surrendered his licence, meaning his days driving on public roads around Sandringham had to come to an end.

Wood Farm in Wolferton is nestled in the far reaches of the Queen’s 20,000-acre Norfolk estate.

Duke of Edinburgh's car crash
Broken glass and car parts on the side of the A149 near to the Sandringham Estate where the Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road accident while driving (John Stillwell/PA)

Philip is said to have organised the installation of a new kitchen in the modestly furnished cottage.

It was originally a large farmhouse before being converted into two cottages and over the years was used as a regular informal weekend retreat by the royals, particularly for annual shooting parties.

Sarah, Duchess of York frequently stayed there alone as a guest of the Queen over the Christmas period following her separation from the Duke of York in the 1990s.

While the duchess’s children princesses Beatrice and Eugenie joined their royal relatives for festivities at nearby Sandringham House, “Fergie” was exiled to Wood Farm, and was not invited.

She described it in her autobiography as a “comfortable open beamed cottage two miles from the ‘big house’”.

In 1917, it was where Prince John, the youngest son of George V, moved with his nurse.

Prince John
Prince John, George V and Queen Mary’s youngest son, lived at Wood Farm (PA)

An epileptic, John was kept apart from the rest of his family and died at Wood Farm two years later from a severe seizure at the age of 13.

The Queen privately owns Sandringham House and its vast surrounding estate, which includes 16,000 acres of farmland, 3,500 acres of woodland and 150 properties.

Sandringham House
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh posing in the grounds of Sandringham House, Norfolk, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne (Ron Bell/PA)

Philip took on overall responsibility for the management of the estate at the start of the Queen’s reign in 1952.

He concentrated on maintaining it for future generations, ensuring conservation was at the heart of the way it was run.

More than 5,000 trees and several miles of hedges are planted each year, 10 wetland areas have been created and sympathetic farming practices employed to encourage many different species of wildlife.

Philip visiting a conservation project
The Duke of Edinburgh visiting a conservation project at the Dersingham Bog Nature Reserve, on the Sandringham Estate (Chris Radburn/PA)

The main residence, Sandringham House, which is set in 60 acres of gardens, has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs since 1862.

It was bought by the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, as a private country retreat and the main house was rebuilt in 1870 to ensure it was big enough for his growing family.

It hosted many glittering occasions, from visits by foreign heads of state to balls for the local landed gentry, farmers and servants, and annual shoots.

Sandringham House
Sandringham House (Chris Radburn/PA)

The future Edward VII even created his own time zone at Sandringham – ST or Sandringham Time.

The idea was to make the most of the winter daylight hours 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.

Clay Pigeon Shooting
The Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to a clay pigeon shooting competition on the Sandringham estate in 2002 (Andrew Parsons/PA)

George V, the Queen’s grandfather, described the house as “Dear old Sandringham, the place I love better than anywhere else in the world”, and George VI, the Queen’s father, wrote to his mother “I have always been so happy here and I love the place”.

The Queen heads to Sandringham each winter, arriving before Christmas, staying until early February.

The royals attend the Church of St Mary Magdalene for the Christmas Day service, greeting well-wishers who have turned out to see them, before heading home for lunch and to watch the monarch’s Christmas speech.

The walk to church on Christmas Day
Lady Louise Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arriving for the Christmas Day service in 2017 (Joe Giddens/PA)

Sandringham is also where the Queen’s father died from lung cancer in 1952 and she often spends the poignant anniversary of his death on February 6 – her Accession day – privately, staying out of the public eye.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a home on the Sandringham estate – their 10-bedroom country mansion Anmer Hall.

Their daughter Princess Charlotte was christened at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in 2015.

Princess Charlotte's christening
The Duchess of Cambridge with Princess Charlotte at the Church of St Mary Magdalene (Mary Turner/The Times/PA)

William’s late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, was born at Park House on the estate and spent her childhood there.