Advertisement

The 'devastating' Windsor Castle fire that led to Buckingham Palace opening to the public

null
null

1992 was a year for the late Queen to forget, with the then monarch dubbing it as her 'annus horribilus'. Events included the breakdown of her children Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne's marriages and the release of a book by Andrew Morton which detailed Princess Diana and Prince Charles' marital issues.

The year culminated in a horrific fire at Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's residences, which caused extensive damage to the historical property, although thankfully it did not claim any lives. The ensuing repair job cost millions, with the late monarch having to pay tax on her income and to open the doors to Buckingham Palace to finance the operation.

But what exactly happened on that fateful day? Read on to find out all you need to know about the fire…

What caused the fire?

The fire started at 11:15am on 20 November 1992 when a faulty light spotlight inside Queen Victoria's Private Chapel ignited a nearby curtain. A report released by Buckingham Palace noted that three officers from the Royal Household were present when the fire started, but with no "visual evidence" of a blaze at the time, they put the smells down to an "undue amount of dust".

You may also like

The fire was discovered roughly ten minutes after it was believed to have started, at which point firefighters were called using Windsor Castle's switchboard and work began on rescuing priceless artefacts inside the building.

How was the fire stopped?

Windsor Castle's personal fire brigade arrived on the scene less than half an hour after the fire started and began fighting the fire with pumping appliances. Firefighters from Windsor and neighbouring counties began arriving in the following hours to fight the fire.

Firefighters fighting a fire at Windsor Castle
The main fire was extinguished at 11pm (Tim Graham)

Despite there being 225 firefighters present, the blaze began spreading to the adjacent St George's Hall and Brunswick Tower, with floors from Brunswick Tower and the roof of St George's Hall collapsing.

It took eight hours for firefighters to get the fire under control, with the main blaze being put out at 11pm, roughly 12 hours after it first started. The secondary fires were finally extinguished by 2:30am the following morning.

Firefighters used 1.5million gallons of water to put the fire out, with most of it coming from a pond on the castle's grounds, a swimming pool, the River Thames and the main water grid.

What did the fire destroy?

Due to a concentrated rescue effort from staff and contractors, that reportedly also involved Prince Andrew and the late Queen, many of the prized artefacts were spared from destruction. However, not everything in the castle was so lucky.

As aforementioned, the roof of St George's Hall and several floors on Brunswick Tower were destroyed in the blaze and a further 115 rooms in the castle were ruined. Due to refurbishment work going on at Windsor Castle many of the affected rooms had already been emptied of their belongings, while some art had been loaned out to a travelling exhibition.

Aerial shot of fire damage to Windsor Castle
The fire destroyed 115 rooms (Pool/Tim Graham Picture Library)

However, not everything was spared with one of the main items being lost in the fire being the painting George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops. The 13 x 16 foot painting was too large to remove and depicted King George III inspecting troops alongside his sons George, Prince of Wales and Frederick, Duke of York.

DISCOVER: King Charles makes changes at the Queen's former home Windsor Castle - did you notice?

READ: The Queen's life at Windsor Castle with 150 live-in guests

A rosewood sideboard by Morel and Seddon and dated to the 1820s was also destroyed.

How did the Queen react?

The late Queen was not at Windsor Castle at the time of the blaze, however, when she heard news of the fire she headed straight there from Buckingham Palace. Andrew, who was in Windsor Castle at the time, told local media: "She is helping to take stuff out of the castle — works of art. She has been in there for 30 minutes." The Duke of York also told media that his mother had been left "devastated" by the fire.

The Queen stood with a fireman
The Queen headed to Windsor after learning of the fire (Tim Graham)

The late Queen's official spokesperson Dickie Arbiter told media when asked about the Queen's response: "Probably the same reaction as yours if you saw your house burning down. She appeared very upset."

The Queen and a fireman surverying damage at Windsor Castle
Her Late Majesty was said to be 'devastated' following the fire (Tim Graham)

In a speech following the fire, the Queen said: "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis."

Rebuilding Windsor Castle

It was initially feared that the restoration work to Windsor Castle following the fire could amount to £60 million, however the final cost of the works ended up totalling £36.5 million.

Workmen laying a carpet
Restoration work cost £36.5million (Pool/Tim Graham Picture Library)

Changes were made in order to finance the works, with Windsor Castle starting to charge members of the public for entry, it had previously been free, and the Queen allowing the public to enter Buckingham Palace for the first time – this was also subject to a fee.

Aerial shot of Windsor Castle following the fire
How St George's Hall looked following the fire (Mathieu Polak)

Money also came from the late Queen, with Her Late Majesty donating £2 million from her own funds and the royal starting to pay income tax.

Interior shot of St George's Hall
How St George's Hall looked following renovation work (Mike Forster/Daily Mail/Shutterstock)

Although there were worries that the restoration works would take ten years to complete, work was instead completed in just five years, with the official end date being 20 November 1997, a day after the late Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.