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Harry and Meghan's second home

Section
Photos,
Publish Date
Friday, 4 May 2018, 4:40PM
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Meghan Markle has come to expect a great deal from her forthcoming role as a royal duchess in recent months.

Already she's developed a taste of the rarefied life ahead — the tiaras, the curtseys, the palaces and the unlimited funds.

What, then, will she make of being forced to live in a country house described as "a glum little villa", an "ugly suburban cottage" and "a place of no merit at all"?

The Harrys — as we must call them until the Prince is given his dukedom later this month — already have their London pad, Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.

But the matter of where they'll live in the country is still up in the air, reports the Daily Mail.
As with Prince William, 'royal' Gloucestershire is ruled out — their father's house Highgrove carries too many unhappy childhood memories.

Given the brothers' closeness, acquiring a country place near William's Anmer Hall on the Sandringham estate makes the most sense. But where?

As the Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle reported yesterday, Harry and Meghan have looked at York Cottage, a step away from Sandringham's 'big house', where the Queen resides.

But before they commit themselves, maybe they should spread their net a little wider.

To one visitor, York Cottage was "a glum little villa surrounded by thickets of laurel and rhododendron [with] a pond, at the edge of which a leaden pelican gazes in dejection on the water beneath.

York Cottage. Photo / The Giant Puffin
Photo/Daily Mail

"The rooms inside, with their fumed oak surrounds . . . are indistinguishable from those of any Surbiton home."

Queen Victoria labelled the redbrick horror "unlucky and sad" — and with a rabbit-warren of small rooms, winding corridors, and the propensity for cooking-smells to linger, it's the very opposite of palatial.

Meghan, raised in a sunlit American state where the temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees, will find the harsh climate of East Anglia, with winds sweeping down from the North Pole, difficult enough to swallow.

Why make things worse by accepting such a Norfolk turkey as a wedding present?

Yet the Queen is said to have offered it as a wedding gift to the couple — and it would be churlish to refuse.

York Cottage currently serves as the staff office for the Sandringham estate, and part of it has been converted into flats, so a huge overhaul would be needed to bring it up to a standard befitting the sixth in line to the throne. But why take it on at all?

It was, for 33 years, the cherished country retreat of the Queen's grandfather George V, who enjoyed its pokey rooms because they reminded the former sailor of his ship's quarters.

King Edward VII is pictured with Queen Alexandra at York Cottage in 1899. Photo / Daily Mail
Photo/Daily Mail

George, like Harry, was the second son, not expecting to inherit the throne. But then his older brother Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence, died suddenly aged 28.

It was on his marriage that George was given what was then called the Bachelors' Cottage — built as an overspill for Sandringham's unmarried shooting guests.

A man of simple tastes, he wanted nothing grander. The house had been designed by a Colonel Edis, an old friend of Edward VII, but according to biographer James Pope-Hennessy: "The main drawback was that he was not an architect at all."

From Edis's sketch-pad came a maze of twisting passages, narrow stairs and bedrooms the size of a housemaid's cupboard.

The nursery could barely contain a small rocking-horse.

There were not enough bathrooms and nobody had an en-suite. Even when he was king after his father died, George remained there while his widowed mother Queen Alexandra stayed in the big house at Sandringham.

To accommodate George V and his growing family, York Cottage was extended twice — making it "even odder" according to Pope-Hennessy.

Queen Mary thought it was ugly, and hated it for every one of the 33 years she was forced to live there.

So too did the royal children —among them our present Queen's father, George VI, and another Prince Harry — the future Duke of Gloucester.

They couldn't wait to get away, but none the less were forced to spend six months of every year at York Cottage during their growing up years.

There was no privacy — the place was overrun. George and Mary and their six children came first, but then there were equerries, ladies-in-waiting, private secretaries, four pages, a chef, valet, footmen, wine butlers, nurses, nursemaids, housemaids and cooks.

There was nowhere for staff to sleep — "the King said he supposed they roosted in the trees," wrote biographer Kenneth Rose.

Inside the drawing room at York Cottage at Sandringham pictured in October 1897. Photo / Daily Mail
Photo/Daily Mail

And his majesty's private secretary — effectively the CEO of House of Windsor — had to use his tiny bedroom as his office, with his visitors perching on a chair in the corridor until he could greet them.

No wonder, then, that with such lack of space each Christmas turned into "a feast of acrimony". "An atmosphere of restriction, killjoy pompousness, mystery, artificiality, and the most complete and utter boredom," wrote David, later Edward VIII.

"And that doesn't even begin to describe how ghastly it is."

There was worse. York Cottage was pervaded by the ghost of King George's elder brother Prince Eddy, who'd borne the title Duke of Clarence and was expected to inherit the throne until his early death.

Even today's most ardent royalists agree Prince Eddy was the worst king we never had.

Recklessly promiscuous in his sex life, he suffered constantly from gonorrhoea and was utterly brainless.

In the army, he could not be guaranteed to turn the right way on the parade ground and forgot the orders he was supposed to issue to his men.

He was embroiled in the Cleveland Street scandal, where telegraph clerks from the General Post Office were used as rent-boys in London by the titled and rich — and was urgently dispatched on a tour of India when the ringleaders were put on trial at the Old Bailey.

But he liked women too, with his fellow officers encouraging him to try new experiences in order to ingratiate themselves.

He was even suspected, then finally cleared, of being Jack The Ripper.

Eddy was said to have secretly married at the age of 20 to an artist's model called Annie Crook, and later he was ensnared for his sexual high-jinks by a notorious blackmailer, Maude Richardson.

He was named as the lover of a chorus girl, Lydia Miller, who committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid.

He was nothing short of a walking disaster for the Royal Family.

The rear view of York Cottage at Sandringham in Norfolk complete with conservatory. Photo / Daily Mail
Photo/Daily Mail

There was a concerted effort to get Eddy married off, in the hope it would put an end to his wild ways, but finding a suitable bride proved impossible — his reputation as a brainless philanderer went before him.

In the end Princess May of Teck, a distant cousin, agreed to the job — but just at that moment Eddy, weakened by gonorrhoea, died of influenza.

Weirdly, within weeks, May accepted the proposal of marriage from Eddy's younger brother George, and so became Queen Mary. Both she, and her husband,

lived intimately with Eddy's ghost at Sandringham.'All is left just as it was,' wrote Empress Frederick of Prussia, their cousin.

"His dressing-table with his watch, his brushes and combs and everything. His bed covered with a Union Jack in silk, and his photos and clothes in a glass cupboard."

George's children grew up with this ghost, and couldn't wait to get away.

Bertie — the present Queen's father — was on the lookout for a bride from his teens on, the only means of escape being marriage and a home of his own.

His sister Princess Mary, equally desperate, accepted the hand of the Earl of Harewood, who at 40 was 16 years her senior (Harewood's reputedly proposed to her for a wager).

The future Edward VIII, according to his biographer Philip Ziegler, hated York Cottage — "as he grew older it came more and more to symbolise all that he disliked about family life".

So nobody enjoyed the redbrick, suburban, glum and gloomy house — apart from King George. "Very nice to be in this dear wee house again," he wrote unknowingly in his diary.

But no royal ever lived in it again. In 1925 he and Queen Mary moved up to the big house after the death of his mother Queen Alexandra, and the place was eventually turned into what it is today — staff offices, with a few flats tacked on.

York Cottage's convenience for Meghan and Harry is that it's near to William and Kate at Anmer Hall, and should babies come along, their cousins will provide handy playmates.

But a joyful place for their future family home?

As Meghan has yet to learn, there are a few heavy prices you have to pay when you become a princess.

-NZ Herald