Windsor Castle restorers to offer support to Notre Dame

An architectural expert who helped restore Windsor Castle after its fire has offered to support those tasked with rebuilding Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

Francis Maude, director of Donald Insall Associates which co-ordinated the reconstruction of the Queen’s Berkshire home, said: “President (Emannuel) Macron is very keen to secure the restoration and funds are already being given.

“If there’s a way in which we can support the work that they do, we’d be really delighted to be able to help and share our knowledge the best we can.”

St George's Hall
St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle, which was restored after the 1992 fire (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Maude said the rebuilding of the historic French landmark, which was devastated by a fire on Monday, could be achieved.

“It’s a tragedy when an event like this happens. It’s an easier thing to be very downcast when you start looking at what has been lost,” he said.

“But we do know, because we’ve seen it elsewhere, in the aftermath of wars and indeed at Windsor Castle here, that restoration is possible.”

He added: “The challenge is to try and retain the authenticity of the place – the historic fabric.”

Notre Dame cathedral
The ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral (Gareth Fuller/PA)

One of the first tasks that needs to happen is a sweep of the building to salvage items which can be used in the reconstruction, the architect said.

“There will be a need to get full access to investigate the cause of the fire, but also to allow a search through the debris so that any remains that can be incorporated – parts of the stained glass window or elements of the stonework – can all be salvaged and carefully catalogued and used,” he suggested.

“There’ll be some very significant and important remains which they’ll uncover if it’s anything like the Windsor Castle restoration.”

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle on fire in 1992 (PA)

The rebuild will also depend on how much of the limestone structure, which can decompose at high temperatures, has been damaged by the flames.

Mr Maude said there might be a programme of structural repair first, putting Notre Dame’s roof back on and plain glass in the windows, followed by a secondary project of replacing the stained glass and focusing on the embellishments.

“People will want to be able to worship in Notre Dame as soon as they can,” he added.

Windsor Castle took five years to repair and was finished five years ahead of schedule, but the time it takes to rebuild the Paris cathedral is likely to depend on the numbers of skilled crafts workers available.

“Materials can be obtained from somewhere … but there are a limited number of people who have stone carving or lead working skills, or stained glass capabilities to be able to put back Notre Dame in the way we expect it,” Mr Maude said.

The conservation expert said that fireproofing any restored parts of the cathedral will be an important factor, just like it was at Windsor.

“They will want to make sure what they rebuild is more fireproof than what they’ve just lost,” Mr Maude said,

“These were certainly the steps that were gone through at Windsor.”

The fire at the Queen’s favourite home in Berkshire was caused by a workman’s spotlight which accidentally set a curtain alight in the castle’s Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel on Friday November 20 1992.

It destroyed 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms, and the roof of the vast medieval St George’s Hall collapsed.

The Restoration Committee was chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh, and intricate gilding work was undertaken to refurbish the interiors.

More than 5,000 people worked on rebuilding the royal residence from the ashes, with 1,500 of those invited to a huge party hosted by the Queen to celebrate the early completion.

Recalling the project, Mr Maude said the blaze actually revealed some of the castle’s ancient hidden features.

“What was exposed as a result of the fire was the medieval roof to the Great Kitchen which was far more complete that anticipated … We were very glad to be able to keep that and repair it.”

The area had been covered up by early 19th century timberwork for hundreds of years.

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