Inside The Devastating Windsor Castle Fire

The fourth episode of The Crown Season 5, “Annis Horribilis,” focuses on 1992, when Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) experiences some of the most turbulent events during her reign. “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she says in the speech marking her 40 years on the throne. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis.’” Among the tragic events — which include three of her children’s respective marriages ending, Diana’s tell-all book, and racy phone conversations between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles — is the Windsor Castle Fire.

The Windsor Castle fire started on Nov. 20 in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel due to a spotlight igniting a curtain nearby the altar. The blaze started around 11:30 that morning and would burn for hours past midnight. Over 200 firemen from seven counties worked to put the fire out over the course of 15 hours, ultimately extinguishing it by 2:30 a.m. the next day.

Fortunately, The Queen wasn’t at Windsor Castle when the fire started. She and Prince Philip were at one of their other residences. Prince Andrew, however, happened to be onsite, and called the Queen informing her of the blaze. “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,” he told reporters, as per People. The Queen arrived at 2 p.m. after Andrew had called her but decided to return once the fire was put out.

As for her reaction? “Probably the same reaction as yours if you saw your house burning down. She appeared very upset,” Dicky Arbiter, her chief spokesperson, told reporters via The New York Times.

Mathieu Polak/Sygma/Getty Images

Castle staff, firemen, and other volunteers worked to remove the priceless works of art and furniture from the castle forming a human chain. Pieces saved included a table that was 150 feet in length and a carpet that ran 120 feet. Only two works of art didn’t survive the blaze — a Neo-Gothic rosewood sideboard and an 18th-century oil painting by Sir William Beechey. According to The New York Times, at least five people were hurt due to smoke inhalation or other minor injuries. The roof of St. George’s Hall and the floors of Brunswick Tower collapsed.

The fire caused $47.5 million worth of damage, and 115 rooms had been affected by the fire, including nine official state rooms. When it came time to decide who would pay for the repairs of Windsor Castle (which is technically owned by the state and not by the Royal Family), there was debate over whether the Queen should pay for it. In response, Buckingham Palace was opened to the public, and the cost of admission went towards the restoration. Queen Elizabeth also donated 2 million pounds of her own money to the project.

Keith Bernstein

Windsor Castle, which began construction in 1070, was eventually restored to its original state with some new features. As per the Royal Collection Trust, the Lantern Lobby was constructed in place of the private chapel where the fire originally started. St. George’s Hall, meanwhile, was recreated in its 14th-century aesthetic but included some 20th-century features.

The restoration of Windsor Castle following the fire was completed in November 1997 — marking Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s 50th wedding anniversary. “This is the best wedding present Prince Philip and I could have had,” she gushed, as per The Los Angeles Times.

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