This smiling Chinese joss attracts curious glances from visitors strolling around the gardens at Sandringham House, where bookings can now be made for garden visits from next month.

The story behind it is fascinating. The 17th century Buddha was bought as a house warming gift for Prince Edward (later King Edward V11) – he moved into Sandringham with his bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, three weeks after their marriage in March 1863.

Found in Peking and gifted by Admiral Sir Henry Keppell, it was smuggled out of the country covered with matting “for fear any devote of Chinaman should take umbrage at a god being removed from the Celestial Empire. The mandarin who accompanied us was anxious to know if I should burn incense before it when I got home. I have no doubt he thought I was a convert to Buddhism.”

Helen Cathcart’s book, in her book Sandringham, The Story of A Royal Home, goes on to tell us the golden idol is made of hollow brass. The huge figure was brought to England on the battleship Rodney and shipped to King’s Lynn, reaching Sandringham safely by road in April 1870.

Flanked by  two lions of Japanese granite, which are still on view in the garden, Prince Edward decided it would look better beneath a canopy or pagoda build by the estate carpenters – and in doing so they discovered its secret.

In preparing the foundation the image was laid on its back and a great jingling sound was heard – its stomach was stuffed with coins inserted through “some cranny”, the finest of which were displayed in a showcase in the house. I’m not sure if they are still on view, but the lions are still in the garden, though not flanking this happy chappy, and neither is the pagoda.

The Chinese joss is still stuffed with coins No wonder its smiling. Who can resist tossing a coin onto its lap and making a wish?