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Family memoir tells of young Prince Philip on his first summer in Blakeney

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Prince Philip a five year old blond boy looking at the camera in 1926 - the year he first visited Blakeney
Prince Philip aged five in 1926 - the year he first visited Blakeney. Norfolk was to become a favourite place for him.

Norfolk’s close links with the Royal Family stretch back four generations, way beyond the Queen’s 70 years on the throne and her Platinum Jubilee of 2022.

But few people realise that her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was something of a Norfolk pioneer when he first came on holiday to Blakeney and Wiveton in 1926 - at just five years old. Young Philip who was sixth in line to the Greek throne had a turbulent and nomadic childhood. He saw little of his parents who fled to Paris after his uncle was forced to abdicate in the Greco-Turkish War and Philip's father was exiled. Young Philip's summer holiday in 1926 saw him again packed off to friends and relations - this time to Blakeney.

But the young prince, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, as he was titled at the time, spent the summer of 1926 getting to know new friends and the delights of Blakeney, Cley, and Wiveton. That same year, the Queen was born.

Norfolk and Sandringham house, in its 20,000 acres in west Norfolk and part of Norfolk’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are held with a special affection by the Queen. It was here where both her father King George VI and her grandfather King George V died.

Sandringham is the Queen’s favourite home - her country retreat for traditional family Christmas gatherings. Two miles away the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live in Anmer Hall, a wedding gift from the Queen. All members of the Royal Family have been frequent visitors both formally and informally to events in Norfolk over the years.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 is a good time to recall Prince Philip’s first Norfolk summer holiday when he stayed with his two sisters, Princesses Sophie and Cecelia, at the Elizabethan mansion Wiveton Hall between Blakeney and Cley.

The owner of Wiveton Hall, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Watson-Kennedy, is said to have been a good friend of King George V.

Wiveton Hall where Prince Philip and his two sisters stayed during the summer of 1926
Wiveton Hall where Prince Philip and his two sisters stayed during the summer of 1926

Prince Philip and his sisters were brought to Wiveton by their maternal grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven who was a cousin of King George V. She was born Princess Louise of Hesse and was also a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria.

Col Watson-Kennedy’s wife had a grand-daughter who often visited Wiveton so ‘suitable’ children had to be found to play with her. The same children were rounded up to play with the young prince and his sisters over the summer holidays.

Among those children was Mabel Kay, the youngest of three daughters of Dr Alfred Kay. Dr Kay was the local GP for Blakeney and Cley.

The doctor moved to Cley in 1905 and was the local GP for the area well into the 1930s. Dr Kay had become involved in treating tuberculosis. When his family moved in 1912 to Manor House in Blakeney, now the Blakeney Manor hotel, his Cley home, Zetland House, became a tuberculosis sanatorium.

the boy prince played with children from what is now the Blakeney Manor Hotel by the pond
The boy prince played with children from what is now the Blakeney Manor hotel with the old horse pond in front

Dr Kay's 14-year-old daughter Mabel was a similar age to the princesses. Her youngest brother, Patrick, was exactly the same age as Prince Philip, so it was Patrick’s job to amuse the youngster. Mabel later wrote about that summer holiday with Prince Philip. She described the youngster as “a good looking little boy with very blond hair”.

Manor House, close to the marshes, the quay and the North Norfolk Coast Path, was the perfect spot for the prince and the other children’s adventures. The Manor had been a working farm and it had many barns and sheds in which to explore and play.

Opposite the Manor House was the old horse pond, now Blakeney’s duck pond. Mabel recounts how this was full of toads and frogs. A herd of pedigree black pigs were kept in the yards and the house gardens included an orchard of Cox’s Orange Pippin trees, soft fruit such as blackberries and bee hives.

Sales of pigs and fruit raised much needed income with the apples being sent from Norwich by train to Jacksons of Piccadilly in time for Christmas where they sold for five pennies (two pence in today's money) each.

Jacksons was a London tea house, tea wholesaler and retailer, grocer, wine merchant, and deluxe department store, founded by Robert Jackson in Piccadilly in 1700.

According to Mabel’s account the money was needed to pay for her and her two sisters to go to the private girls' school St Felix School near the coastal town of Southwold in Suffolk.

While this was the prince’s first visit to Norfolk - and to Blakeney and Cley, it was by no means his last.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who died in 2021 aged 99, was patron or president to many Norfolk organisations including the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and the Wherry Trust.

He had made countless formal Royal visits to every part of the county including Greshams School in Holt and the Royal Norfolk Show as well as numerous informal trips around the county including to Blakeney and Cley.

From the mid-1980s Prince Philip and the Queen spent every Christmas with their family at Sandringham. It took the Covid pandemic in 2019 to halt this custom with its annual tradition to walk to nearby St Mary Magdalene church in Sandringham.

When Prince Philip - the longest serving consort of a reigning monarch - retired from public life in 2017 he chose Wood Farm, the secluded five-bedroom cottage on the Sandringham estate, as his permanent home.

  • Mabel’s account was written under her married name of Mabel Simmonds for her sons as Memories of a Norfolk Childhood. It is part of a rich harvest of local records kept by Blakeney Area Historical Society

  • Wiveton Hall was built in 1652 and extended in 1908. It is now owned by Desmond MacCarthy who inherited it from his grandparents in 1972 when he was 15. Mr MacCarthy is famed for his cultivated eccentricities and starred in two television series on BBC 2 called Normal for Norfolk about him, his home, family, farm and cafe.

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1 Comment

Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson
Feb 15, 2022

So informative and well researched. Brings this lovely area to life through its historical connections to the Royals. Mabel deserves to have her story told in full. Looking forward to that….

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