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In the Prince's Country (Sandringham, Castle rising, and King's Lynn)


The Prince's Railway Station - Sandringham Heights - Sandringham Hall - The Church in the Park - Its Monuments and Memorials - West Newton and Dersingham - Ingoldisthorpe Hall - The Murder of Drugo Chamberlain - Dersingham Heath - Bustards - Castle Rising - The Prison of the " She-wolf of France " - The Bede House - King's Lynn - The Reclamation of the Fens - Fighting the Sea - The Red Mount Chapel - The South Gate - Greyfriars' Tower - Eugene Aram's School - Lynn Churches - The Red Register - The Hamlets of Marshland - Their Fine Churches - The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington - Dr Jessop and " Marshland."
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Travellers on the coast railway between Hunstanton and King's Lynn, when they have completed about two- thirds of their journey to the latter town, find the train draw up at a station which at once strikes them as being vastly different to all others they have come across in their journeyings, and which has more the appearance of a fair- sized bungalow than a railway station. This is Wolferton Station, the nearest stopping-place to Sandringham, and the alighting-place of the Prince of Wales when he visits his Norfolk home. Here there are no disfiguring advertisements on the walls, no automatic machines - not even a weighing machine or a porter's barrow litters the smooth-paved platforms. A special approach for royal carriages leads up to royal waiting-rooms; even the gas lamps with which the station is brilliantly lighted have royal crowns. The row of fire-buckets, too, are of such ornate design as to make one tremble for the effect upon them of use at a fire. It seems almost sacrilege to step upon the spotless platforms without wiping the dust from your boots; but if you wish to see Sandringham you must alight here, and follow the pleasant turf-bordered woodland road so often used by the lord of the manor when he is in residence at Sandringham House.

It is difficult to imagine a more delightful neighbourhood for a prince whose tastes are thoroughly English than this of Sandringham. Nowhere in Norfolk is there another like it; indeed the greater part of it might have been transplanted from some county of woods and wild moorlands. To gain some idea of its beauty, take your stand upon the summit of a hill about a mile from the station, known as the Sandringham Heights. From here you get a wide view not only of the Prince's estate, with its heathery hills and dales and well - stocked preserves, but of the cattle-dotted marshes which stretch away from the foot of the upland slopes to the low-lying shores of the Wash. On a clear day it is possible to see, apparently rising like a far-off lighthouse from the sea, the tower of Boston church, better known in Norfolk and Lincolnshire as " Boston stump." The outlook embraces a variety of scenery. As a writer who devoted considerable time to describing Sandringham and its surroundings has said: - " Sea, heath, hill, and woodland combine with the soil under cultivation, and the well-ordered and well-conditioned villages, to give this estate the charm of variety, which, it must be acknowledged, is also not wanting in the climate." Of all the coverts in view from the heights the best is Wolferton North Wood, which covers a slope leading down to the level shores of the Wash. Indeed, it is one of the best coverts in the best shooting county in England, and provided excellent sport for the Kaiser when he last visited Sandringham. As a rule it is reserved for a big "shoot" on December 1st, the Princess of Wales's birthday. On this and other important occasions, the beaters are usually garbed in old English smock frocks, such as have almost entirely vanished from rural England.

Eighty years ago, when an interesting work, illustrated by John Sell Cotman, and entitled " Excursions through Norfolk," was brought out, a couple of lines were considered sufficient to describe Sandringham, or, as it was then spelt, Sanderingham. Now, not a day passes without mention of the place being made in some newspaper, every month sees special articles devoted to it in the magazines, and even books have been written about it. The event which led to this great change, occurred in 1861, when the Prince of Wales purchased from the Hon. C. Spencer Cowper, a son of Lady Palmerston by her first husband Earl Cowper, the Sandringham estate for the sum of £220,000. The Sandringham House of that time was a solid building occupying three sides of a square, and the estate, which comprised the parishes of Sandringham, Babingley, Appleton, West Newton, Wolferton, and some part of Dersingham, was one of about 7,000 acres. As soon as the house became a royal residence it proved too small and inconvenient for the requirements of the household, and, after a scheme of enlargement had been pronounced impracticable, it was pulled down and the present house (commenced in 1869 and completed in 1871) built by a local man.

Through the favour of the Prince the public are now admitted to the grounds on one day in the week, when the royal family is not in residence. Visitors to the neighborhood who avail themselves of this opportunity of seeing the beauties of the park and gardens come away with delightful recollections of the Prince's country home. The park, which comprises about 300 acres, has for its main entrance the famous Norwich Gates, presented to the Prince in 1862 by the county in recognition of the favour he has shown Norfolk in living here. These gates are made of wrought iron, fashioned into elaborate designs of flowers and creeping plants; and the piers are surmounted by bronze griffins, supporting armorial shields on which are represented His Royal Highness's various titles.

Above the gates are the royal arms, a royal crown, and the Prince of Wales's plumes, the whole being well worthy of the skill of its makers, a Norwich firm of ironworkers. An avenue of limes leads from the gates to the house, through delightful gardens. There is a lake, with a central island, in the park, and another in the west garden amid grassy slopes and lovely flower beds. Beyond this garden, and stretching away southward, is the park, where the deer wander amid fine oaks, some of which are many centuries old. The stables are on the east side of the house, and are reached by a broad walk bordered by foreign contfera. Several members of the royal family possess valuable and curious pets, and most of these are usually to be seen in the neighbourhood of the stables, where are a bear pit, monkey house, and aviary. Across the road which skirts the east side of the pleasure-grounds are the kitchen gardens, home farm, and the Princess's dairy. York Cottage, which stands in the park, and now belongs to the Duke of York, was formerly known as the " Bachelors' Cottage," as it was built for the accommodation of male members of the royal suite.

Sandringham House is a building of irregular outline, in which some attempt is made to reproduce Elizabethan architecture. Comfort rather than luxury was the end the designer had in view, and he seems to have been successful in attaining it. This is not the place for a description of the interior of a house which is a home and not a show place, so I will be content with mentioning that the clock in the turret over the ball-room entrance was erected by local tradesmen as a memorial to the late Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and that the granite lions on the terrace are from Japan, and were presented to the Prince by Admiral Keppel.

An avenue of Scotch firs leads to Sandringham Church, which stands on rising ground within the park walls. Before the estate became a royal desmesne the church had been completely restored by the late Lady Cowper, wife of the Hon. Spencer Cowper, " to commemorate their only child;" but since the Prince has occupied Sandringham, it has been greatly beautified and adorned. There are memorials in the chancel to H.R.H. Princess Alice, H.R.H. the Duke of Albany, H.I.M. the Emperor Frederick III. of Germany, and H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who died at Sandringham on January 14th, 1892. Painted windows in the transept were the gifts of Her Majesty the Queen, and H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh; and the brass lectern bears an inscription which shows that it was presented by the Princess of Wales as a thank-offering for the Prince's recovery from a serious illness contracted in 1871. There are also memorial windows to the infant Prince Alexander, son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, whose grave is in the churchyard; brasses to the Rev. W. L. Onslow, M.A., the late rector, and Mr Edmund Beck, the late estate agent; and a painted window to the memory of Colonel Grey, one of the Prince's equerries. In the nave hang the old colours of the Norfolk Regiment, the 9th Foot.

Inside and outside the park walls there is so much to be seen, that one visit to Sandringham scarcely affords opportunities for gaining more than general impressions. The cottages of the workers on the estate, the farm where the stock is raised which competes so successfully at agricultural shows, the village of West Newton with its church, club-house, and school, all of which owe much to the Prince's generosity, call for more attention than can be bestowed upon them in one day. West Newton church is especially interesting on account of the numerous valuable offerings which have been made to it by members of the Royal Family. At Babingley, another hamlet in the Prince's estate, the church is believed to stand on the site of the first Christian church erected in England - that built by St Felix, the Burgundian bishop, when he introduced Christianity into East Anglia; while at Dersingham, a large parish adjoining Sandringham, is a fine church which you should not leave the neighbourhood without examining. It has a splendid thirteenth century east window, a " lowside" or lepers' window, a curious aumbry, and a fine old parish chest with representations of the Evangelists on its panels. At Ingoldisthorpe, a neighbouring hamlet, is a house with which it is possible to associate a great deal of romantic interest. It is the dreary old moated manor-house known as Ingoldisthorpe Hall. Many centuries ago an ancient lord of the manor, one Thomas de Ingoldisthorpe, was, with a certain Herbert de Pastele, implicated in the murder of one Drugo Chamberlain. A brother of the murdered man sued De Pastele, who was compelled, by a king's license, to travel to Jerusalem, " there to serve God for the soul of Drugo who was slain, during the space of seven years," while Thomas de Ingoldisthorpe was ordered to find a monk or canon to pray for Drugo's soul, and had to pay Drugo's parents twenty marks. Some of the gruesome interest of this story still seems to cling to the ancient walls of Ingoldisthorpe Hall.

South of Dersingham are nearly 2000 acres of sandy heath and warren. This wide heathland was one of the last haunts of the great bustards. In 1838, a bustard sold at Cambridge was ascertained to have been the last survivor of a drove which had frequented this district for many years. Droves of great bustards which had haunted the heaths and warrens of Thetford and Icklingham, on the Suffolk border, and the heaths around Swaftham, became extinct about the same time. If you are fond of botanizing you will find the neighbourhood of Sandringham a good one, for the variety of soil produces almost every kind of flora. On the salt marshes and fenny tracts of Wolferton, on the seashore and heaths, and in the woods, fields, and meadows, there is an abundance of wild plant life, inсluding many rare species.

Midway between Sandringham and Lynn, and about two miles from North Wootton Station, is Castle Rising. There was a time when this little village was a Parliamentary borough, whose mayor ranked as the chief municipal dignitary of the county; but its glory has departed, and now it is principally noted for its grand old castle, which dates from the reign of William Rufus. The most striking portion of the ruins of this once famous fortress, which is erected within ancient earthworks, is its keep, built by William D'Albini, the first Earl of Sussex. It measures seventy-five feet from east to west, sixty-four from north to south, and is about fifty feet high. An ornamented staircase leads up to the first floor, which contains a square room lighted on three sides by Norman windows, two galleries with a hall between them, and a small decorated chamber. North of the tower are the remains of a Norman chapel, discovered during the present century, and displaying architecture said to be older than the keep. The approach to the castle is through a Norman gate-house. A number of curiosities are preserved by the present owner of this ancient stronghold, and are exhibited by its custodian. In the fourteenth century the castle was bought by Edward III., whose mother, Queen Isabella, the "She-wolf of France," was imprisoned here after the execution of her favourite Mortimer. The village church, which stands amid a grove of fine old trees, is one of the best examples of Norman architecture in England, and has some singular external ornamental work on either side of the old window at its west end. Adjoining the churchyard is what is known as the Bede House, an old almshouse founded in the reign of James I. It is inhabited by a number of old women who on Sundays go to church in a curious garb of the Jacobean period, consisting of blue gowns, bright red capes, and frill-lined, "extinguisher "crowned beaver hats. A little chapel, with old oak benches, is connected with the Bede House, and here prayers are supposed to be offered daily for the soul of the founder of the charity, Henry Howard, the eccentric Earl of Northampton. There is accommodation in the almshouse for twelve inmates, who, to be eligible for admission, must, in accordance with the stipulations of the founder, " be of an honest life and conversation, religious, grave, and discreet, able to read, if such a one may be had, a single woman, her place to be void upon marriage, to be fifty years of age at least, no common beggar, harlot, scold, drunkard, haunter of taverns, inns, or alehouses."

An hour and a half's walk, or a few minutes' railway ride, will now take you to King's Lynn, the terminating point of your journey along the Norfolk coast. A good many people who do not live at Lynn, and not a few who live there, have not a good word to say for the town; and I must admit that, if I could, I would choose a different place for the ending of this coastline tour. "A decent place if every second turning did not take you into a slum," says one who would have you believe he is expressing a general opinion; but what he would call " slums " are not uncommon in ancient towns. The writer of the only local guide-book to be obtained " for love or money " begins his description of the place with a gloomy picture of an almost shipless harbour, hollow-sounding warehouses and granaries, and a depressing succession of empty houses; though he hastens to assure you that these were features of the Lynn of the 1860s, and are not those of the Lynn of to-day. An air of stagnation certainly seems to pervade the town, and the number of idlers observed on doorsteps and at street corners is disproportionate to its size; still, a borough in which by some means or other, nearly 20,000 people contrive to exist cannot be entirely wanting in commercial enterprise. For my present purpose, however, it suffices that the town contains several "sights" and antiquities calculated to afford pleasure to a stranger within its gates.

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Pictures for In the Prince's Country (Sandringham, Castle rising, and King's Lynn)

The Principal Entrance, Sandringham
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Castle Rising
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Greyfriars
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Custom House
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