15 amazing things you didn’t know about Windsor Castle

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Photo credit: Charlie Harding - Getty Images
Photo credit: Charlie Harding - Getty Images

Windsor Castle is probably the UK’s most iconic royal residence after Buckingham Palace and is a real must-visit for any fan of the royals.

Having hosted numerous royal weddings over the years, including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s, it’s a place that inspires romance and fascination, attracting visitors from all around the world.

It houses many of our most valuable cultural treasures – including paintings by Van Dyk, Rubens and Rembrandt – and its sheer scale and grandeur are breathtaking.

VISIT WINDSOR CASTLE WITH GH

Its thousand-year history makes it one of the most fascinatingroyal palaces to visit. Here, you can glimpse inside grand State Apartments, admire the tiny and exquisite intricacies of Queen Mary's Dolls' House, and see St George's Chapel in all its architectural splendour.

Photo credit: Charlie Harding - Getty Images
Photo credit: Charlie Harding - Getty Images

As the world's largest occupied castle, the scale of Windsor Castle is impressive and begins long before the castle walls with The Long Walk, a grand tree-lined avenue that leads to the castle entrance.

Within the 13-acre grounds, the ornately beautiful St George's Chapel has been the location of recent royal weddings, including HRH Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank, HRH Princess Beatrice to Edoardo Mapelli, and Prince Harry to Meghan Markle.

But its history reaches far further back. Within the Chapel are the tombs of past monarchs, including those of Henry VIII and Charles I.

This October, Good Housekeeping is going behind the scenes on a tour hosted by royal biographer Robert Hardman. Robert has had privileged access to the Royal Family and Royal Household for over 25 years. He'll reveal further insights into Windsor Castle on the incredible three-day tour of some of Britain's finest palaces.

Ahead of the royal break, here are 15 things you probably didn't know about Windsor Castle.

1. The Queen slept in the dungeons

During World War II when the country came under sustained bombing during the London Blitz, King George VI decided to move his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret out of the capital. He relocated them outside the city’s edge to Windsor castle – after all, this mighty citadel has repelled invading enemy soldiers for centuries.

Photo credit: jvoisey - Getty Images
Photo credit: jvoisey - Getty Images

He and the Queen would also return there at night from London to sleep. When an air raid was imminent, a bell would ring in the castle and everyone would rush to the medieval dungeons until it was safe to come out again, Marion Crawford, a former royal nanny, wrote in her book The Little Princesses.

2. It’s haunted by Henry VIII

Unsurprisingly for the oldest occupied castle in the world, there are a fair few ghost stories floating around Windsor Castle – mostly tied to the royal family’s fearsome ancestors. One of those is King Henry VIII, whose ghost is said to stalk the corridors of the castle at dark, and has been heard moaning and wailing by overnight guests.

Photo credit: Santi Visalli - Getty Images
Photo credit: Santi Visalli - Getty Images

Perhaps he’s being tormented by his former wife, Anne Boleyn, who he had beheaded at the Tower of London and is now said to haunt the Dean’s Cloister, at the entrance to St George’s Chapel (where Harry and Meghan tied the knot).

VISIT WINDSOR CASTLE WITH GH

3. There are hundreds of clocks

379 to be precise! To keep them all ticking away smoothly and gleaming, the castle employs a clockmaker.

Photo credit: ChrisSteer - Getty Images
Photo credit: ChrisSteer - Getty Images

The royal horologist spends an entire weekend changing them when the clocks go back or forward. Some of the clocks are hundreds of years old and have complex mechanisms. Among them are musical clocks, organ clocks, astronomical clocks and mechanical clocks.

4. And fireplaces

There are also 300 fireplaces throughout the castle’s 1,000 rooms (yes, it really has 1,000 rooms!), which are kept in fine shape by the castle’s fendersmith, Gary Jones. The job has stayed in the same family for generations, with Gary having inherited it from his dad, Robert, in 1984.

Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images

While mod cons like central heating might have been brought in to regulate the temperature in the 900-year-old castle, there’s no doubt that a roaring, crackling fire is deeply atmospheric – and fitting in such a historic setting.

5. It’s got a (not so) miniature dolls' house with a wine cellar

Queen Mary’s 1920s dolls' house is probably nothing like one you may have had as a child. With running water, flushing toilets, lifts, electricity and a wine cellar stocked with over 1,200 real miniature bottles of fine champagnes, wine and beer chosen by Berry Bros wine merchants in London, it’s more luxurious than many full-size houses were at the time. Of course, it doesn't rival the wine cellar of Windsor Castle itself, which has over 18,000 bottles of wine.

Photo credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022. Photographer: David Cripps.
Photo credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022. Photographer: David Cripps.

The dolls' house also includes a library, which houses original stories by such famous authors as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on its shelves. Having been designed by architects and built by more than 1,500 skilled craftsmen, it’s safe to say it’s probably the most sophisticated dolls' house in the world.

6. One of history’s greatest explorers lived there

James Holman was a 19th-century writer and explorer who inspired Charles Darwin and was known as the ‘Blind Traveller’. In a time when blind people were treated with pity, Holman made waves in society by not only being independent, but in fact achieving feats that were out of reach for many sighted people.

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

In 1832, Holman became the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe and by 1846 he had visited every inhabited continent on Earth. In recognition of these amazing accomplishments, when he wasn’t away on his adventures, he was given room and board at Windsor Castle.

7. Living there is surprisingly cheap (sort of)

Despite its size, the Queen’s council tax bill isn’t as astronomical as you might expect. In fact, she only pays about £2,300 a year into government coffers for Windsor Castle, although there’s no doubt that the cost of maintaining such a huge site – with around 150 permanent staff – is pretty high.

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

Fortunately for the royals, those expenses are covered by a government grant, meaning that staying at Windsor, which the Queen loves to do, works out as a pretty good deal.

8. It gave the royals their name

When wartime propaganda was casting the enemy German army as evil and barbaric, it was a touch inconvenient that our own royal family were descended from German royalty through the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

So, in 1917, their name was officially changed… to the far more English sounding ‘Windsor’. Given the amount of time the royals spend at the castle, it seems like an appropriate title.

9. The Queen grew tomatoes at Windsor Castle in WWII

During World War II, Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, sheltered at Windsor Castle and took part in the government's Dig for Victory campaign. She tended the allotments at Windsor Castle with her sister, Princess Margaret, cultivating tomatoes, sweetcorn, and dwarf beans.

Photo credit: Topical Press Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Topical Press Agency - Getty Images

The princesses' parents remained at Buckingham Palace during the London bombardments, and when she was 14, Princess Elizabeth broadcast a radio message from Windsor Castle to evacuees also separated from their parents.

10. The Queen's Coronation Dress is on display at the castle

In celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, the Royal Collection Trust is displaying her Coronation Dress and Robe of Estate at Windsor Castle until the end of September 2022.

Photo credit: Nicky J Sims - Getty Images
Photo credit: Nicky J Sims - Getty Images

Crafted from white Duchesse satin and adorned with Commonwealth floral emblems in silver, gold, and pastel hues, it's also encrusted with pearls, sequins, and crystals.

11. The Long Walk stretches over two and a half miles

The Long Walk is the famous path leading from Windsor Great Park to the State Entrance of Windsor Castle. It's a tree-lined avenue stretching 2.64 miles.

Photo credit: urbancow - Getty Images
Photo credit: urbancow - Getty Images

In the autumn, the oak and horse chestnut trees take on fiery hues, making October a particularly wonderful time to visit the castle.

VISIT WINDSOR CASTLE IN OCTOBER

12. There are 3,500 rose bushes in the East Terrace Garden

The East Terrace Garden is as much a part of Windsor Castle's history as the castle itself. In WWII, the gardens were planted with vegetables to help with food shortages.

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL - Getty Images
Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL - Getty Images

Today, under the careful planning of the late Duke of Edinburgh, they're a wonderland of colour, filled with specimens chosen for their vibrancy and fragrance.

13. The Queen has 20 chefs at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle has been a much-loved home to 40 monarchs, dating back to 1110 when Henry I first took residence. And Queen Elizabeth II loves it just as much as her predecessors, choosing to spend most weekends in the castle. The Queen's official residence is Buckingham Palace which was the epicentre of 2022's extraordinary Platinum Jubilee, but it's widely known that Windsor Castle holds a special place in her heart. You'll know if she's in residence if the Royal Standard is flying. If not, the Union Flag is hoisted.

Photo credit: DAVID PARKER - Getty Images
Photo credit: DAVID PARKER - Getty Images

When in residence, The Queen has 33 kitchen staff, 20 chefs and sous chefs, three pastry chefs, and 10 porters. They are based in the Great Kitchen, the oldest working kitchen in the country, where the clocks are set five minutes fast to ensure that the food served to The Queen is never late.

14. The 1992 fire raged for 15 hours

When a faulty spotlight in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel ignited a devastating fire in November 1992, the blaze spread quickly and destroyed 115 rooms. It took 225 firefighters 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to battle and extinguish the flames.

Photo credit: Richard Baker - Getty Images
Photo credit: Richard Baker - Getty Images

The damage was enormous, and five years of careful restoration work included recreating St George's Hall to its 14th-century appearance. You can see some restored rooms on a private tour of Windsor Castle, accompanied by Royal biographer Robert Hardman on an exclusive Good Housekeeping tour.

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15. You can see the castle when it's closed to the public

Join Good Housekeeping's exclusive tour, and you'll visit Windsor Castle after hours for a private champagne tour. View the splendid State Apartments, used by The Queen to host official visits by Heads of State, and peek inside The Grand Reception Room - perhaps the most opulent of all the State Rooms.

Photo credit: Jack Taylor - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jack Taylor - Getty Images

Adorned with chandeliers and gilding, it was once the main ballroom of the castle.

Hear more secrets of Windsor Castle from Royal biographer Robert Hardman on an exclusive Good Housekeeping tour of Britain’s finest palaces. As a commentator and filmmaker, Robert has had privileged access to the Royal Family and Royal Household for over 25 years. He can reveal further insights into Windsor Castle on an incredible three-day tour of some of Britain's finest palaces.

BOOK A PLACE ON THE TOUR

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