A Look Inside Princess Diana's Childhood Home

The people's princess, Princess Diana, has remained a treasured figure of the royal family. She was well known for her charitable contributions, her loving relationships with her two children, and, ultimately, her tragic death. Even before she married Prince Charles — when she was still Diana Frances Spencer – she was no stranger to an affluent lifestyle.

Diana was born in 1961 to parents Frances Roche and John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, at a property known as Park House. The house is situated on Sandringham estate, which, at the time, was owned by Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to Diana's birth, Frances and John desperately wanted another child, having lost a son just hours after he was born in 1960. A year later, Diana was born, and three years later, their final child, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, arrived. 

By 1969, Diana's parents had divorced, and her mother lost custody. Diana and her siblings lived with their father in Park House until Diana's grandfather died, leaving Diana's father with Althorp House. In 1975, when Diana was 14, she and her family relocated to Althorp, where Diana spent the rest of her childhood. Although Althorp House wasn't Princess Diana's first childhood home, it was the most impactful. Despite her parents' divorce, she enjoyed the later years of her childhood after moving to the sprawling lands of Althorp House. As former chef at Althorp House, Betty Andrews, told the BBC, "Looking back, it was probably the happiest time of her life."

The estate was built in the early 16th century

In 1508, Althorp House was built by John Spencer with money he earned from grazing sheep. Since then, Althorp, which has been in the Spencer family for 19 generations, has undergone several renovations; however, its purpose has remained relatively unchanged.

In his will, John Spencer stipulated that the house should be used for entertainment, and in the past 50-plus decades since it was built, the house has been a center for countless parties, weddings, and balls. The house has accumulated a rich history over the past five centuries and counting. Diaries from previous owners have been found in the home, and over the years, the Spencer family has acquired a sizeable painting collection.

 Althorp House has been home to everyone from philanthropists to politicians and gamblers to preachers, according to Historic Houses. However, it is best known as the childhood home of Princess Diana.

The Althorp estate is the size of Manhattan

The childhood home of Princess Diana is one of the largest estates she lived in throughout her life. Althorp encompasses 14,000 acres of grassy plains, fields of various crops, and pastures for farm animals. The house itself is 100,000 square feet, a little shy of the size of two football fields.

To put the property into perspective, the city of Manhattan is not much larger at 14,600 acres and is home to over 1.6 million people. Inside the city sits thousands of restaurants, stores, apartments, and office buildings, while much of the acreage of Althorp House is predominantly farmland. However, approximately 450 acres are designated as parkland. This land includes gardens designed by famed architect W.N. Teulon back in 1860. The property also boasts a lake, which is called the Round Oval. 

It's not difficult to see why Diana became so fond of this massive and beautiful estate.

The mansion boasts 90 rooms

The first floor of Althorp House greets visitors with a grand entrance hall. In 1986, Diana's father, John Spencer, and stepmother, Raine Spencer, posed on the steps for a photograph. The vast staircase where the couple sat was once an open courtyard that travelers could ride up to while on horseback. Tucked away off that staircase is a butler's apartment.

Down one hallway, you can find a dining room, drawing room, and a large rectangular library aptly named the Long Library. The house boasts several other libraries, including the Poet Library, Raphael Library, Billiard Library, and Marlborough Library. At one point, Althorp House held the largest private collection of books in the world, with over 40,000 volumes. This collection was sold in 1892 for close to $30 million in order to help pay down some of the debts of the family, according to HGTV.

A detailed record of various items in the house and where they came from is kept in one room, the Muniment Room. In addition, a unique collection of personal journals, photographs, and historic papers provide a detailed backstory to the intricacies of the house's history. Archivist Bruce Bailey revealed to "Spencer 1508," a web series hosted by Charles Spencer and his wife Karen Spencer, that the collection was once covered in thick black dust but has since been cleaned and preserved. 

The picture gallery and saloon within Althorp House showcase art ranging from 16th-century paintings to modern-day portraits. In total, there are around 650 paintings throughout the house. The Long Gallery, which is 120 feet long to be exact, was initially created as a place for the women of the house to exercise when it was raining.

Althorp House contains 31 bedrooms

With 31 bedrooms, Althorp House has 10 times as many bedrooms as the average household in the U.K. Althorp House shared a photo of one such state bedroom on Instagram along with a bit of history. During a party in 1755, the First Earl Spencer and his fiancee, Georgiana Poyntz, were quietly married in the room, which was his mother's dressing room at the time. No one was any the wiser when the couple returned the ball. Another bedroom in Althorp House hosted Winston Churchill, where he began penning some of his memoirs.

Some of the other bedrooms in Althorp House are named after the people who stayed there in the past, such as the Queen Mary Bedroom, which was visited by Queen Mary and King George V in 1913. The Prince of Wales Bedroom was visited by the man who held the title in the mid-1800s. In the series "Spencer 1508," current occupant Karen Spencer shared that this room previously served as the bedroom for the 4th Earl and Countess' bedroom and where the Earl eventually died. Spencer shared that she hopes to renovate the bedroom back to what it might have looked like in the mid-1800s. The dark fabric-lined room is filled with antique paintings and even an old clock that she hopes to get working again.

Despite some wear and tear, the bedrooms remain as a preservation of the rich history of those who have stayed within them.

The entrance hall was apparently perfect for tap dancing

One of the most notable areas of all of Althorp House is the entrance hall. A whopping 128 hand-carved flowers line the ceiling, each one unique from the other, Charles Spencer revealed on Twitter. In an interview with Cabana magazine, Spencer also shared that the many gilded chairs were meant to reflect candlelight at night, which would illuminate the room before electricity made its way to Althorp.

The hall is known as Wootton Hall, named after John Wootton, a painter who created the scenic hunting paintings that adorn the walls. Wootton painted the scenes on panels off-site, and they were then embedded into the walls and enveloped by gilded frames. Changing them out would require altering the masonry of the room, Spencer explained to Cabana. On the ceiling of Wootton Hall hangs a Roman lantern, an 18th-century piece originally designed for candles.

During Princess Diana's time at the home, she used Wootton Hall, also known as the finest room in Northamptonshire, to practice tap dancing, performing in front of the audience of family portraits. Apparently, she liked the acoustics of the large hall, and the checkered marble floor provided the best sound. The floor was added to the hall in 1910, with the black and white tiles being shipped in from Italy.

The grounds are filled with wildlife and rich history

Charles Spencer's Twitter bio explains that he is "lucky enough to look after" Althorp House. While caring for the grounds, he often shares picturesque views of the property. He has also written books on the nature of the land, showing a deep connection to his childhood home. Some 700-year-old oak trees adorn the land of Althorp House, and sheep have grazed the land for half a millennia. Wildlife is also abundant here, including black fallow deer

In an episode of "Spencer 1508," Countess Karen Spencer discussed her plans for reviving some of the grounds with John Richardson, a forester who worked on the estate for over 45 years. Richardson shared memories of old gardens before they were bulldozed, revealing that Winston Churchill much enjoyed the walled gardens, often painting what he saw during his visits to the estate.

Interestingly, what lies beneath Althorp House provides an even more astonishing account. An excavation of the property was conducted in 2021 in hopes of unearthing even more history of Althorp, according to Smithsonian magazine. At first, it was believed that decorated shells discovered in the excavation were 40,000-year-old artifacts. While it turns out they were instead natural fossils, there is still hope of uncovering the medieval village of Ollethorp. This was believed to encompass some of the land where Althorp House sits and was populated with villagers until John Spencer began the successful lineage that would become Althorp today.

Althorp is home to the Spencer tombs

In 1992, when he was just 27 years old, Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, inherited Althorp House upon his father's passing. He has since worked on restoring the home, often documenting the process alongside his wife, Karen Spencer, through their web series. The series gives fans a glimpse at what life is like in a 90-room house on a 14,000-acre estate. One episode, in particular, shares a glimpse into the Spencer tombs.

A tree-lined and grassy path leads from the house to a small village outside Althorp House. There sits a small church that holds many of the Spencer family's intricately carved tombs, providing a physical display of those who once walked the halls of Althorp. "Every single person in here is a Spencer or married into a Spencer, becoming a Spencer," Charles explained. Atop some of the tombs are carvings of the family members eternally resting beneath. Items memorializing the Spencers can also be found in the tombs, including sword and coronet carvings. The oldest tomb holds John Spencer, the very sheep farmer who passed down the home, his earnings, and his genes over the past 500 years.

In the process of cleaning up the tombs in the 1950s, some of the tombs were broken, revealing that some of those laid to rest still had strands of the iconic red Spencer hair that Diana's family is known for.

Althorp House is the final resting place of Princess Diana

After Princess Diana's divorce, Charles Spencer revealed that his sister had requested to return back to Althorp House, but unfortunately, he had to deny her request. The house she was hoping to occupy in sat too close to the road and wouldn't safely offer the "normal life" she so longed for, he explained to People.

Eventually, Diana's wish to return to Althorp was granted, but not until her tragic death in 1997. She was buried on an island in the middle of the pond in Althorp park, providing her some eternal privacy from those wishing to catch a glimpse at the people's princess. Her brother wanted her to remain in a tranquil area, undisturbed from the outside world. This also allows her family to visit her grave without the fear of the public intruding, giving them privacy to mourn their beloved princess. The pond is lined with oak trees to represent each year of her life, 36 in total.

At one point, a museum served as a memorial to Princess Diana, showcasing some of her personal belongings and notable outfits. It was closed in 2014, when Prince William and Prince Harry inherited her belongings and brought them to Kensington Palace. Nevertheless, there is a public memorial temple dedicated to the princess, on which a quote of hers is displayed: "Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life. A kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are."