Windsor Castle restored after fire in 1992
The Queen and the royal family are all too well aware of the devastating impact of fire on one of their own cherished historic residences.
More than a quarter of a century ago, a huge blaze broke out at Windsor Castle in 1992, damaging more than 100 rooms including the vast medieval St George’s Hall.
As France mourns for Notre Dame Cathedral left ravaged by a catastrophic fire, witnesses said they were taking comfort from Britain’s ability to bring Windsor back to its former glory.
The restoration of the Gothic castle – the family home of kings and queens for almost 1,000 years – was finished in 1997 and was described as the greatest historic building project undertaken in the UK in the 20th century.
The fire at the Queen’s favourite home in Berkshire began on the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh’s 45th wedding anniversary.
It was sparked by a workman’s spotlight which accidentally set a curtain alight in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel on Friday November 20 1992.
More than 200 firefighters from seven counties battled the flames.
At the peak of the operation they were using 36 pumps, discharging 1.5 million gallons of water.
The Queen was at Buckingham Palace, getting ready to spend the weekend quietly at Windsor.
Philip was thousands of miles away on a trip to Argentina for the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Celebrations for their sapphire wedding anniversary were due to take place after the duke returned from Argentina on the Sunday evening.
Staff rushed to remove precious works of art from the Royal Collection from the path of the fire, forming a human chain, helped by the Duke of York, who was in the castle at the time.
Fortunately the fire break at the other end of St George’s Hall remained unbreached, so the Royal Library was undamaged.
Only two works of art were lost – a rosewood sideboard and a very large painting by Sir William Beechey, as many had already been removed from many rooms in advance of rewiring work, but the destruction to the building was far-reaching.
The fire destroyed 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms, and the roof of St George’s Hall collapsed.
The distraught monarch visited on the day of the fire, and was also pictured the day after in her raincoat and Wellington boots grimly surveying the ruins of her much-loved home.
Her son Andrew revealed: “Her Majesty is absolutely devastated.
“She is inside the building, helping to take stuff out – works of art and other things – as a precaution.”
The fire came at the end of a difficult year for the Queen. Just four days later, she branded 1992 her “annus horribilis”.
Along with the problems in her children’s marriages, public opinion had turned against the royals amid fears that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the castle’s repairs.
In the end, the Queen agreed to pay 70% of the £36.5 million costs by opening Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time to generate extra income.
It was also announced that she would pay income tax for the first time and cut down the size of the Civil List.
The Restoration Committee was chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh, and intricate gilding work was undertaken to refurbish the interiors.
St George’s Hall was restored to a design close to the room’s 14th-century appearance, but with a 20th-century reinterpretation.
A new hammer-beam roof was constructed from sustainable English oak using traditional methods and tools.
At the scene of the Notre Dame fire, one man, who gave his name only as Fabrice, said he was grieving for the incredible timber beams and wooden carvings that characterised the catherdral’s vaulted ceiling.
The 55-year-old art historian said: “The ceiling was known as ‘the forest’ because of all the thousands of trees that were cut to build it.
“I feel very sad but also I am happy that most of the building is still here.”
He added that Notre Dame has been built over many centuries and that he took comfort in the way the British had repaired Windsor Castle.
TV history presenter Dan Snow said on Twitter: “It’s overwhelming but remember that York Minster and Hampton Court burned in the 80s, Windsor Castle in the 90s and Cutty Sark in the 00s. Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the Catherine Palace … What we build, we can rebuild. Their essence endures.”