Palaces & Buildings

Throwback Thursday: Windsor Castle fire

Windsor Castle came out of World War II untouched by Blitz that occurred only 24 or so miles away. Decades later on 20 November 1992, it would meet a far different fate in the form of fire that would end up costing close to £40 million.

The fire was said to spark by a spotlight that ignited a curtain in Queen Victoria’s private chapel. It then rapidly spread through the roof, decimating St George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room. It further gutted the private chapel, State Dining Room, Crimson Drawing Room and dozens of additional rooms on nearby floors.

After a 15 hour battle with the fire, it was restricted to the north-eastern corner of the Castle. Despite the efforts of seven fire brigades and over 200 firefighters, thousands of works of art from the Upper Ward that included much of the Library and Print Room contents were quickly removed as a precaution.

Luckily the fire only affected areas previously emptied to allow electrical rewiring and other jobs that were part of a refurbishment. The artwork that survived from the damaged rooms played a pivotal role when the reconstruction debate began after the blaze.

Repair and reconstruction began immediately after the fire. At the top of the task list was protecting the exposed building from the elements, remember it was November and autumn had set it in. Furthermore, the castle needed to dry out as close to 1.5 million gallons of water was used to fight the inferno.

Prince Philip chaired the Restoration Committee, overseeing the project. Prince Charles lent his support and knowledge and led the Art and Design Committee.

The areas with the most damage such as St George’s Hall were redesigned in a modern Gothic style. Other areas were restored back to the 1824 remodelling of King George IV and Sir Jeffry Wyatville.

Completion of the massive project occurred exactly five years to the day of the outbreak of the fire. In November 1997 on the Golden Wedding Anniversary of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle was restored to its former glory.

The £37 million project was largely met by the proceeds from Castle precincts and the opening of Buckingham Place in 1993. Supplemental funds came from existing parliamentary grants for maintenance of the Castle.

The reconstruction as tragic as it did bring about many benefits. Discoveries about the early history of Castle occurred due to the extensive archaeological work conducted by English Heritage. The refurbishments have also placed the Castle in better condition than it has been in over 200 years.