Welcome to Frogmore Cottage, Meghan: a locals’ guide to fitting in with the Thames Valley Toffs
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are just days away from welcoming their first child and they have now moved into their new home, Frogmore Cottage, on the grounds of the Windsor Estate. Here we look at what life will be like for Harry and Meghan as they start their new life in Berkshire with royal baby Sussex. So, the Sussexes have made the Big Move out of London. Whether this is a result of the rumoured froideur with the Cambridges, or simply that they want more space, it is only natural for the newlyweds to want to do their own thing – this is, after all, exactly what Wills and Kate did when they shot off to Amner Hall, their Queen Anne country house in Norfolk, following the birth of Prince George. The Sussexes have made a very different lifestyle choice, however, by opting to settle in the Stockbroker Belt, only an hour from Kensington Palace, where both are keeping offices.
The move to the Thames Valley is perhaps more forward thinking than fleeing to the provinces: Meghan and Harry could make Frogmore Cottage their forever home, commuting to their day jobs and never needing to uproot again. Not only is the area blissfully accessible but they also have connections to it – Harry boarded at Ludgrove in nearby Wokingham from the age of eight and then at Eton, just across the river. And of course, the pair had their engagement photos taken in Frogmore’s grounds, returning there for their wedding reception, after the ceremony at Windsor Castle. Sue Barnes of Lavender Green Flowers, a Windsor local who regularly does the flowers at events at the Royal palaces, believes the area is the perfect fit for the Sussexes. “Windsor is the most homely of all the Royal palaces, and people here feel hugely protective over the family,” she says. “They will be well looked after.” Plus, this part of Berkshire offers the best of everything, she adds. “When you’ve spent a day in the Big Smoke, it really feels like coming home – you can pull up the drawbridge and enjoy being together.” Which is, presumably, precisely what the Duke and Duchess are planning to do.
Frogmore Cottage sounds decidedly modest – which it is, compared to Amner Hall, which has a swimming pool, tennis court and 10 bedrooms. Yet Harry and Meghan’s new digs – originally a gardener’s cottage and then used to house Queen Charlotte’s unmarried daughters – are a considerable notch up from Nottingham Cottage, where they’ve been housed at KP. Set in complete privacy in the undulating landscape of Frogmore Park, itself part of the Norman hunting forest of Windsor Great Park, Harry and Meghan will be able to enjoy more privacy than they have ever had in London. The cottage is white-painted and gabled, with an understated “private” sign on the gate; and now that the Sussexes have souped it up, it is a modern family home with at least five bedrooms and all the usual Home Counties creature comforts, such as open plan living spaces, a wine cellar and gym – and, of course, a nursery large enough to house all Baby Sussex’s official gifts (Prince George received 774). The couple is also rumoured to be creating a granny annexe for Meghan’s mother, Doria, who is expected to make regular visits from America once her grandchild arrives.
Outside the Arcadian tranquility of the Frogmore Estate, the Windsor area is awash with fancy hotels, golf courses and polo clubs – perfect for Harry, who is no longer allowed to participate in field sports. This corner of Berkshire is not dissimilar, according to Barnes, from the outside the New York, a highly accessible playground for those who enjoy the high life. While some (Kate perhaps?) might argue that this is not real countryside compared to Norfolk or Anglesey, where the Cambridges lived as newlyweds, Barnes insists that the area is perfectly rural. “You do get a bit of plane noise but you get used to it. It’s smart country – but proper country.” Indeed the Queen’s 3000-acre farm has 200 pedigree Jersey milking cows, a pedigree Sussex beef herd, 140 breeding sows and 1500 Lohmann Brown hens. “Wherever you look there are farms and Pony Clubs and landed families that have lived here for generations,” Barnes says. “That’s why it’s always been so popular.” And, presumably, why it has become so expensive – those aspiring to join the Thames Valley Toffs will be disappointed to discover that £2 million (the price of a Georgian rectory and 100 acres in Norfolk) buys nothing more than a four-bedroom mock Tudor, here.
There will be no stilted dinner parties in freezing ancestral piles for the Sussexes. The Home Countries set is altogether flashier than the Turnip Toffs of Norfolk – as Kate knows this only too well, having grown up 15 miles away at Bucklebury. (In fact, the Cambridges were tempted to move out west themselves, in 2011 reportedly looking round Kingston Lisle Park, which used to belong to Prince Harry’s godmother, Laura Lonsdale.) Meghan can look forward to film screenings in the private cinema (complete with popcorn machine) at George and Amal Clooney’s £20 million pile near Sonning, and lavish parties chez Elton John, who has a house in Old Windsor and holds Gatsby-esque balls with Oligrachs and sports stars on the Wentworth Estate. The area is surrounded by landed families: there are the Oppenheimers at Waltham Place near Maidenhead, which they run as a biodynamic and organic farm, and the Benyons at Englefield on the other side of Reading, where Pippa Middleton married James Matthews. And then there are the Phillimores and Schwarzenbachs at Henley, who host enviable garden parties. The area is increasingly attracting young guns from the Gloucestershire set, who are now embracing a Staines postcode. “It suits young parents,” says a source, “they can make big bucks in the City, yet still be back home for bath time.”
Much of the local social scene revolves around polo, with regular play-offs at Guards Polo Club and the Royal Berkshire Polo Ground, where in June, Meghan cheered Harry on in the Sentebale Polo Cup. Golf is another big feature; Harry can work on his handicap at Sunningdale and Wentworth, while Meghan, like every other local golf widow in Henley-shire, heads to one of the area’s five star spas – Clivedon, perhaps, or Coworth Park, where she stayed before her wedding, and which is more opulent than the Hurlingham Club in London where Kate has her tennis lessons. There is no Bond Street equivalent in Windsor – no bother when Knightsbridge is near enough – but as a keen chef Meghan will enjoy having the Windsor Farm shop down the road, which sells fresh produce from the Royal farm.