- Windsor Castle burnt down on this day in 1992
- The restoration took five years and cost around £36.5 million
- Don’t miss our brilliant new podcast, The Crown: Fact or Fiction with Robert Hardman and Natasha Livingstone. Listen now on Spotify, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts
So perhaps the Royal Family should have been braced for further disaster when, as the year’s end came into view, they were struck with a final terrifying blow.
Fire broke out in Windsor Castle, engulfing much of the historic royal residence in flames – and sweeping away years of history with it.
No wonder a devastated Queen Elizabeth, who had thankfully been staying at Buckingham Palace, would describe it as her ‘annus horribilis’
The fire had started in Queen Victoria‘s Private Chapel at around 11:15am where a curtain next to the altar was ignited by the heat of a light against it.
At some time between 11:20 and 11:30 am the fire was discovered and the three members of the royal household left the chapel.
After just minutes the blaze was unstoppable and had spread to St George’s Hall next door, Brunswick Tower and the surrounding private apartments.
Within three hours from when the blaze was first detected, more than 220 firemen from seven counties arrived at Windsor in an attempt to put out the fire.
The servicemen worked tirelessly for 15 hours, using 36 pumps to spray 1.5 million gallons of water, according to the Royal Collection Trust.
While the Queen was not at Windsor Castle at the time, her son, Prince Andrew, was there when the blaze began.
The Duke of York still found himself horrified at the scene. He told reporters at the time: ‘I heard the fire alarm, and when I came out of the room I could see the smoke.
‘My reaction was shock and horror at the fact that it took hold so quickly.’
As Windsor Castle’s fire department and the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service fought the fire, Prince Andrew and staff worked to remove works of art from the path of the fire.
According to the Palace’s report on the fire, approximately 370 people took part in the salvage process, including 125 Castle employees and community members.
After rushing 20 miles west to Windsor, the Queen instantly got stuck in and joined a human chain with her son, firefighters and other responders to pass pictures, tables, clocks and irreplaceable antiques to safety.
Thankfully, only two works of art were lost in the fire – a rosewood sideboard and a very large painting by Sir William Beechey that couldn’t be taken down from the wall in time.
Later, Her Majesty was forced to watch as firefighters battled against the inferno sweeping through her favourite home and the largest inhabited castle in the world.
Four days later, in a speech marking 40 years on the throne, she 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.’
The Queen continued, ‘Indeed, I suspect that there are very few people or institutions unaffected by these last months of worldwide turmoil and uncertainty. This generosity and whole-hearted kindness of the Corporation of the City to Prince Philip and me would be welcome at any time, but at this particular moment, in the aftermath of Friday’s tragic fire at Windsor, it is especially so. And, after this last weekend, we appreciate all the more what has been set before us today.’
In total, the catastrophic fire destroyed 115 rooms in the castle, including nine official staterooms. St. George’s Hall, a gallery where banquets were held, had collapsed completely, along with the floors of Brunswick Tower.
The restoration cost around £36.5 million, which equates to more than double that today. It was initially expected to cost £60 million back in 1997.
Prime Minister John Major proposed that Parliament cover the bill, but there was significant resistance to that from other MPs, the media and the public, with many believing that the Royal Family should foot the bill.
In the end, the cost of repairs and restoration was met by charging the public for entry to Windsor Castle and by opening Buckingham Palace for admission.
Queen Elizabeth also contributed £2 million of her own money and she agreed to start paying income taxes.
The restoration work was completed five years later, in November 1997, which also fell upon the 50th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.