The magnificent wrought-iron gates which guard the main entrance to Sandringham are called the Norwich Gates. They were made in 1862 for the International Exhibition at South Kensington, London, in the foundries of Barnard, Bishop and Barnard in Norwich, and took three years to construct. It gave Barnard, Bishop and Barnard an opportunity to show off both their craftsmanship and the design skills of Norfolk-born architect, Thomas Jeckyll.
The elaborate design of the gates incorporated roses, arums, oak leaves, acorns, vine leaves and tendrils, and the flowers and leaves of greater convolvulus. The supporting plinths were equally decorative, with panels of acanthus leaves and small quasi-Corinthian pillars in each corner. Each plinth is topped with a small dragon which holds a coat of arms. The gates are twenty-five feet high and forty feet wide.
Under the guidance of Robert John Harvey, the Sheriff of Norfolk, a committee was established to raise money by public subscription to purchase the gates. The subscriptions, which could not exceed £5, came from people in the county of Norfolk and the city of Norwich. The gates were to be given as a wedding gift to Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra of Denmark and it was thought that they would enhance their estate at Sandringham. Some of the decoration in the gates needed to be modified, such as the city of Norwich coat of arms and the shields held by each dragon. Additionally, the helmet was changed to a royal crown, thus reflecting the gates’ new status. They were presented to the Prince of Wales on 7 April 1863.
The gates opened onto a short drive which was flanked with ancient lime trees screening Sandringham House. However, in 1908, many of the trees were uprooted by a ferocious gale and the whole avenue was removed. The privacy previously enjoyed was lost, as the house was clearly visible from the road. It was decided that the gates should be moved to the boundary wall 160 yards further from the house and the public road was diverted. Later, King George VI, also keen to keep his family home private, installed a large raised shrubbery to disguise the house and diverted the drive further.
Shortly after the young Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne, visitors to the gates, eager to join in with the general euphoria, stole some of the rosettes and tendrils from them. This was seen as an outrage and, despite warning notices and police patrols, the souvenir-hunting continued throughout her coronation year.
This blog post has been compiled from the online exhibition Royal Norfolk.