Overall, 1992 wasn’t a good year for the British Royal Family. The marriages of three of Queen Elizabeth II’s children — Anne, Charles, and Andrew — ended. Worse yet, a fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle.
The fire on Nov. 20, 1992, destroyed about one-fifth of the stately castle, including the Queen Victoria private chapel (where the fire started), Brunswick Tower, St. George’s Hall banquet space, and some private apartments in the eastern wing, according to The History Press.
Who paid for the Windsor Castle fire repairs?
When it came to repairing Windsor Castle after the fire, a debate began over who should pick up the bill — the royal family or the British taxpayers. The castle and items in the Royal Collection weren’t insured because of their high value. Although the British government owns the castle, its use is exclusively for the Queen and the rest of the royal family.
Then-National Heritage Secretary Peter Brooke felt the British government should pay for the repairs, but the British people didn’t agree, United Press International (UPI) reported in 1992.
“90 percent of the British public are against paying for Windsor Castle's fire,” Opposition Labor member of Parliament Dennis Skinner told lawmakers in 1992, UPI reported. “The Queen should be made to pay for it — that's the market test this weekend — and instead of talking about all this consumer crap, make sure that she pays for the fire!”
Queen Elizabeth II reportedly paid £2 million for the castle restoration, and she agreed to open up Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time in history to help pay for the repairs after the fire. She also took the unprecedented move to agree to start paying income tax to help fund the restoration, The History Press reports.
What started the fire at Windsor Castle?
The fire at Windsor Castle started in the Queen Victoria Private Chapel, which was getting an electrical upgrade. A 1,000-watt spotlight used by the renovators overheated and ignited a curtain in the room, The History Press reports.
Within minutes the fire spread to the banquet hall, Brunswick Tower, and other neighboring areas. A crew of 225 firemen fought the flames for about 15 hours. By the time the fire was contained, it had destroyed 115 rooms, including nine staterooms, reports the Royal Collection Trust.
Was the Queen at Windsor Castle when it was on fire?
Thankfully, Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t at Windsor Castle at the time of the fire, but Prince Andrew was. The History Press reports that he was on-site at the castle researching a course at Staff College, Camberley, when the fire broke out.
“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,” Andrew told the Los Angeles Times in 1992.
What was lost in the fire at Windsor Castle?
Fortunately, not many valuable works of art and furniture were damaged in the Windsor Castle fire. Much of the furniture and paintings had been removed earlier due to the rewiring project in the area.
During the fire, Andrew, castle staff, and soldiers reportedly formed human chains to remove valuables from the burning building.
According to The History Press, items that were lost in the fire included:
A 16 ft. Sir William Beechey equestrian portrait “George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing the Troops”
An 18-foot 1820s Morel and Seddon sideboard
Several porcelain items
The Willis organ
The 1851 Great Exhibition Axminster carpet