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Obituary: His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh

todayApril 9, 2021

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Leading the Royal Family to church at Christmas, driving his horse-drawn carriage through the parkland and country lanes, hosting pheasant shoots and overseeing the management of the estate, the Duke of Edinburgh, who has died, aged 99, was a familiar and influential figure at Sandringham for decades.

Shortly after the Coronation, The Queen suggested that he should take a key role in the running of the estate with its thousands of acres of arable land, livestock, forestry and fruit farm.

It brought him into close contact with everyone who worked at Sandringham and whenever he was in West Norfolk he would be out there talking to employees and checking on how things were going.

Prince Philip, who has died aged 99.
Prince Philip, who has died aged 99.

Under his watch there were some major changes at Sandringham, including the development of the country park, the visitor centre and opening up the parkland for public events ranging from country fairs to caravan rallies.

One of the most popular events for many years was the annual horse driving trials which Prince Philip introduced and hosted.

Carriage driving was his passion and his favourite way of relaxing. When he gave up polo at the age of 50 he decided to try carriage driving. He borrowed four horses and a carriage from the Royal Mews, brought them to Norfolk to practise and became one of the finest and most successful competitors in the world.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who has died aged 99, pursued his passion for carriage driving well into his 90s.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who has died aged 99, pursued his passion for carriage driving well into his 90s.

He was a member of the British team for many years and rarely out of the prizes at competitions all over the UK including the one on home ground at Sandringham.

Even late into his 90s he would be seen driving pones round the estate and he continued to judge, steward and supervise at the trials when he hung up the reins competitively.

He shared The Queen’s fondness for West Norfolk and, quite apart from the traditional Christmas and New Year holidays here, he took a keen interest in local organisations and communities.

He often accompanied The Queen on Royal engagements, especially during their winter holidays but there were also many occasions when he carried out solo visits.

HRH Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip enjoying driving his Horse and Carraige on the Sandringham Estate, Between Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe on Tuesday March 26th 2019. (8070130)
HRH Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip enjoying driving his Horse and Carraige on the Sandringham Estate, Between Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe on Tuesday March 26th 2019. (8070130)

Businesses which received visits by the Duke have included Palm Paper, at Lynn, and the Construction Industry Training Centre at Bircham where the Duke demonstrated his prowess at the controls of a digger. There were several occasions when he met young people involved in his own Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and he launched the Norfolk Outward Bound Association.

Out and about in West Norfolk villages, his engagements included opening Docking school hall, South Creake village hall and the refurbished Brancaster Staithe village hall, unveiling Anmer village sign and, in 1990, opening the Camping and Caravan Club site on the Sandringham estate.

In 1988 he opened Pensthorpe nature reserve and went back to help celebrate the park’s 20th anniversary. He also toured Dersingham Bog in 2013 to meet the volunteers and inspect the conservation work there.

There were tours of Lynn’s historic quarter, a visit to True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum and the Duke unveiled the Captain Vancouver statue on the waterfront near the Custom House.

In total contrast, in 2002 he went to Walpole St Andrew to open a new motocross track.

He made visits to RAF Marham, and the Stanford battle area and over many years met sea and army cadets, special constables and took the salute at the Royal British Legion 80th anniversary celebrations at Lynn.

As their president, there were several lunches over the years with local Rotary Clubs. He was an honorary member and last joined the Lynn club members in 2014.

The Duke joined the Queen laying a wreath at the memorial to the first world war Gallipoli victims to mark the 100th anniversary of the campaign. There was also the unveiling of the plaque at Snettisham in 2003 in memory of those who lost their lives in the 1953 floods. This was a poignant occasion as the Royal couple were at Sandringham that winter and had actually met victims and seen the devastation for themselves within hours of the tragedy.

For the public the best chance to see Prince Philip along with the rest of the Royal Family was at church at Sandringham over Christmas and he was always striding out there in front, no matter what the weather, and happy to chat with the crowds that lined the route between Sandringham House and the church.

The Duke retired from his role managing the estate in 2017 but continued to spend most of his time here, living in the modest cottage at Wood Farm, tucked away in the trees at Wolferton.

He led a quiet life there painting, reading and entertaining his closest friends. He still drove his ponies around the estate and would drive across the parkland and through the woods.

In January 2019, then 97 years old, he hit the headlines when he was involved in car crash at a crossroads on the A149. His vehicle overturned and, while the Duke was unhurt, a passenger in the other car was injured.

The Duke sent her a letter of apology but faced a barrage of criticism suggesting that he was too old to drive safely. Some weeks later he voluntarily gave up his licence, though he continued with his other form of horse power and was still seen at the reins out and about round the estate lanes.

He left his retreat at Sandringham to join the Queen at Windsor to self-isolate during lockdown and has not returned since.

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