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BRIT Review

On this Day: 20th Nov 1992: Fire sweeps through Windsor Castle

Sunday, November 05, 2017


On 11:40am on 20th November 1992 a fire swept through was of the most iconic landmarks in England, Windsor Castle.

The fire was declared under control by 8:00pm but it took 250 firefighters 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put the blaze out. 

Was the Queen there?

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, was in residence at the time and rang his mother the Queen who was shocked and 'absolutely devastated.' 

Later arriving on the scene, the Queen then watched as firefighters battled to save her historic home. At one point the Queen went into the castle to help supervise efforts to rescue several major works of art and was joined by soldiers and members of the public who helped carry items to safety. Asked about the Queen’s reaction, Palace Press officer Dickie Arbiter said: ‘Probably the same reaction as yours if you saw your home burning down. Very upset.’

Prince Philip was out of the country in Argentina.

What caused the fire?

One hundred rooms were damaged in the fire. It was thought to be caused by a spotlight shining on a curtain where renovations were being carried out. It was later confirmed the fire started in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel. 

The design of the castle, built on a site chosen in 1070 by William the Conqueror, was meant to act as a fortress against England's enemies, but it worked against firefighters. The height of the towers and sheer drops on one side meant the blaze could only be tackled from one direction.

The fire did not enter the private apartments but ripped through the State Chambers, King John's Tower, Prince of Wales Tower and Chester Tower. It was aided by the huge amount of timber used in the castle’s construction and the 140ft curtains within St George’s Hall.

Who paid for the repairs?

There was no doubt that such an iconic building which had survived two world wars would be restored. There was much controversy and debate about whether the public, through taxes, should pay the cost of repairing Windsor Castle. The castle is owned by the British Governments and not as is the case of Balmoral and Sandringham, the Royal Family itself.

The Queen, who described 1992 as her 'Annus Horribilius' partly because of the fire, agreed to fund 70% of the repairs and part of this was created by opening Buckingham Palace up to visitors during the Summer months when the Queen travels to Scotland.

How much did it cost?

The £40m restoration, through a committee chaired by Prince Philip, took five years and was completed in November 1997. Some areas were changed to a gothic restyle whereas othes were returned to how they looked under George IV. 

Why you should visit Windsor Castle

With easy access out of London, Windsor Castle is well worth the trip. A deep sense of history and pageantry oozes from every corner of the impressive state apartments. You can also visit St George's Chapel where ten former monarchs are buried. This includes Henry VIII next to his beloved third wife Jane Seymour.  

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. It has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years. It is an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, whose standard flies from the Round Tower when she is in residence.

The Queen spends most of her private weekends at Windsor and takes up official residence for a month over Easter (March to April), known as Easter Court. The Queen is also at Windsor for one week each June, when she attends Royal Ascot and the service of the Order of the Garter.

Windsor is still very much a working royal palace. The Castle is used regularly for ceremonial and State occasions. It is here that The Queen often hosts State Visits from overseas monarchs and presidents. St George’s Hall makes a spectacular setting for a State Banquet, when a single table, stretching the length of the hall and seating 160 people, is decorated with porcelain, and silver-gilt from the Royal Collection.

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