Little Bits of History

God, Save the Queen

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 20, 2013
Windsor Castle ablaze

Windsor Castle ablaze

November 20, 1992: Part (100 rooms) of Windsor Castle burns. The castle has ≈ 484,000 square feet of floor space. It is the largest inhabited castle in the world. It is also the oldest continually inhabited castle dating back to William the Conqueror. Queen Elizabeth II lives there many weekends per year but also lives at Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburg. The family maintains Sandingham House and Balmoral Castle as private homes for the Royal Family.

William the Conqueror first built the artificial hill and the wooden structure of the castle between 1070 and 1086. In the 900+ years since, the castle has greatly evolved, but remains centered on the artificial hill built long ago. The wooden structure was replaced by stone construction. Henry II (1154-1189) built the Round Tower at the center of the fortress and the original outer wall of stone. The castle has been modified many times over. There have been many restoration efforts over the centuries, as well.

A paint restorer was working on the current restoration taking place in the Queen’s Private Chapel in 1992. He was using a 1,000-watt halogen lamp for his work. At 11:33 AM the lamp caught a curtain on fire. One of the upgrades over the years was an alarm system and the Fire Brigade was alerted. Initially, the grid indicated the entire castle was ablaze but finally revealed the Brunswick Tower to be the site of the fire. More lights were coming on, indicating the fire was spreading rapidly. By 11:37 the Fire Marshall had alerted all members of private and public fire teams concerning the threat.

The Castle’s own 20 firefighters were assisted by outside forces who began arriving by 11:44. Ten pumpers tried to control the raging conflagration. By 12:12 PM there were 20 engines and another 15 arrived by 12:20. As the fire spread, even more engines were called in. By 8 PM and after using over 1 million gallons of water, the fire was under control. No one was killed or seriously injured in the fire, even though many staff , and even Prince Andrew, helped to form human chains to remove priceless artifacts. Many of the rooms had fortuitously been emptied for the restoration in progress.

The castle was back to its former glory by 1997, costing £40 million to repair the damages from the fire. Queen Elizabeth paid for 70% of the cost herself and opened the castle to the public to generate the other 30% of the funding. For a video of the fire, please click here.

“I heard the fire alarm and some two or three minutes later when I came out of the room I was in, you could see the smoke.” – Prince Andrew

“A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle.” – Irish Sayings

“A man’s home is his wife’s castle.” – Alexander Chase

“The home to everyone is to him his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence, as for his repose.” – Edward Coke

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Windsor Castle has been used by succeeding monarchs since Henry I and is the longest occupied palace in Europe. The castle is really a group of buildings behind a protective wall. It was used by Parliamentary forces and as a prison for King Charles I during the English Civil War. During the Restoration, the castle was upgraded lavishly with Baroque interiors. It fell into disrepair and both George III and IV tried to bring it back to its former glory while also producing the State Apartments. Queen Victoria made minor improvements. The castle was used by the entire Royal Family during World War II. Queen Elizabeth II has used it as her preferred weekend home since taking the throne in 1952. Windsor Castle is the 13th largest castle and the world’s largest inhabited one at 484,374 square feet. However, it pales in comparison to Buckingham Palace at 828,818 which claims to be the world’s largest working palace. In Istanbul, Topkapi Palace was the primary residence for the Ottoman Dynasty for about 400 years and the entire complex included around 7,000,000 square feet.

Also on this day: What a Yo-Yo – In 1866, the yo-yo was patented.
Sperm Whale’s Revenge – In 1820, the whaling ship Essex was attacked.
Whoops – In 1980, the Lake Peigneur disaster began.

3 Responses

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  1. hairballexpress said, on November 21, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Fascinating! I wouldn’t mind roaming the halls of that castle!

    • patriciahysell said, on November 21, 2013 at 5:56 am

      This would have been a bad day to be roaming there.

      • hairballexpress said, on November 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm

        Oh, Yeah … Furgot about that small inconvenience of the fire… Those Dang humans mess up everything!

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