Normal life is not made for royalty. The day to day, getting up early to go to work, traveling by public transport, trying to make ends meet or clocking in are not activities that members of the royal families are used to. However, from time to time they like to play at having mundane existences, lives that would almost border on anonymity and inhabiting —relatively— small houses. One of them, close to an immense palace, is the favorite of Elizabeth II of England. A simple red brick construction, former farm and workers’ house, the so-called Wood Farm, located on the grounds of Sandringham, is the refuge where the most famous sovereign in the world takes refuge in her most nostalgic days. Like the ones that are about to arrive.
This coming February 6 Elizabeth II will celebrate her 70 years on the throne. But that is also a bittersweet anniversary, because seven decades have passed since the death of her father, King George VI, to whom she was deeply attached and which precisely took place in Sandringham. That is why these days the queen, in the midst of a political storm in the United Kingdom and after the harsh wave of omicron experienced in Europe, has decided to return to the origins and seek shelter in her brick farmhouse, which was also her husband’s favorite construction, Felipe de Edinburgh, who lived there since he retired in the summer of 2017 and until he left with his wife for Windsor due to covid-19. So, in those pre-pandemic times, Elizabeth often visited him, when she had no commitments, from London, on the royal train. But these days will be the first in which the queen returns to Sandringham, and to that building, as a widow.
Wood Farm is much more modest than the main construction of Sandringham, the largest estate of the British royal family, with 10,000 hectares, located in the east of England (160 kilometers from London) and which Queen Victoria bought in 1862 for her second son, who would end up being King George V. That small house that the current sovereign likes so much was already there then, according to the writings of the time and as reported by the British press. In 1910 Jorge V decided to assign the sixth and youngest of his children, Juan, who suffered from epilepsy, there. There, with his orchard, his chickens and his nanny, the little boy lived until 1919, when he died, at only 13 years old. The house remained empty for a time, then it was rented out and later became the home of the local doctor – the same one who examined George VI when he died in 1952 – to, with his retirement, pass back into the hands of the royal family.
It was then that Philip of Edinburgh, who liked to do things his own way, decided to make it his refuge. He redecorated his rooms and painted them with his own hands, some of his biographers have affirmed. For a while the family used it: Charles from England used to come back there on weekends when he was studying at Cambridge and throw fun parties, which ended in the early 1970s. Since then, the royal couple liked to spend a week there at the end of October or beginning of November, already with the pheasant hunting season underway. The queen wanted to return this Christmas – as usual; he always comes from mid-December to early February—but he stayed in Windsor, out of an omicron precaution.
At Wood Farm the servants don’t wear uniforms, but wear country clothes, something more informal and to Felipe’s liking. There are no bows, no rituals, no standing at attention. It only has five rooms, that is, the main one for the sovereign and another four for guests; the staff lives in a nearby building with eight rooms. He doesn’t have too many courtiers anyway. According The Daily Mail She is only accompanied by her page, her seamstress and intimate Angela Kelly, an assistant for her three dogs, two cooks and a housekeeper, in addition to always having a chauffeur and an indeterminate number of bodyguards nearby.
The house also has a dining room and a living room with a fireplace that the queen uses frequently, as well as a larger room that can host a lunch for 20 people. The service kitchen and dining room were restored just five years ago. Those who treat the sovereign there affirm that she is calm, close and dispenses with all ceremonial. The sea is a couple of kilometers away, the views are excellent. Felipe used to paint thanks to its good light, while Isabel works in the mornings and walks with her dogs or with a friend in the afternoons, or visits the main Sandringham estate to have a look at her horses. A former house cook, Darren McGrady, tweeted a few years ago days: “I loved being there. It is so small that you could interact with them every day, make noise with the pans and play with the corgis. And when the queen takes a look at the kitchen after a busy week and says thank you… There is no better compliment.” In fact, according to The Telegraph sometimes the queen herself cooks or even washes the dishes.
The house was perfect for Felipe thanks to those good views of the sea, being close to the pheasant hunting area and the stables and also just three kilometers from the train station. In addition, staying there, as Felipe saw with a good eye, was less cold and impersonal than in the main house, which, above all, was too expensive to be open for only a few days for two people. That is why, according to the columnist Basil Boothroyd and as he collects vanity fairThey started using it in 1967.
The one that was Felipe’s refuge in his last days and, apparently, still keeps many of his memories and personal belongings, is now Isabel’s, who has chosen it to retire from the madding crowd for a few days. After all, that has always been the destiny of this little house: to be the perfect hideaway. Diana Spencer stayed there – in fact, she was born on that same Sandringham estate – a few days in the 80s during a family visit, just before announcing her engagement to Carlos. And Kate Middleton also stayed there when she spent a weekend with William in the early 2000s, when they started their relationship. And, in a less festive way, a disowned Sarah Ferguson spent some Christmases in that building after her divorce from Andrew of England, in 1996. She could not go to the big house to celebrate Christmas but at least she saw her daughters, who came to visit her Chosen or forced hiding, but hiding after all.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.