There were a number of seismic events that prompted the Queen to deliver her memorable 'Annus Horribilis' speech in 1992, one of which was the devastating fire that broke out at Windsor Castle, where the Queen spent much of her childhood and teenage years.


It was William the Conqueror who first built the landmark in the 11th century, and the fortress stood strong in the face of myriad challenges, but it was that particular test which proved to be the greatest threat to its future, as we see in The Crown season 5.

The damage was extensive but miraculously, the castle, like Elton John, is still standing.

Read on for everything you need to know about how it started, how much the repairs cost, and who paid.

How did the Windsor castle fire start?

On 20th November, 1992, a faulty spotlight set fire to a curtain next to the altar in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel.

The alarm was raised at 11:30am and three hours later, 225 firefighters were said to be battling the blaze, manning between 36 and 39 pumps at the height of the fire, with 1.5million gallons of water required to extinguish the flames.

Windsor Castle also had its own fire department at the time, which saw people arrive on the scene mere minutes after being alerted.

Some say the fire burned for 12 hours, others 15. It was finally extinguished at 2:30am on 21st November.

the queen stood outside windsor castle following the fire surrounded by firefighters
Keith Bernstein / Netflix

There weren't any royals in residence at the time but Prince Andrew was carrying out some college research when the fire started. He contacted the Queen and she reportedly arrived at 3pm, remaining on site for one hour.

Speaking to press at the scene, Prince Andrew shared his reaction: "Horror. Shock and horror, and the fact that it took hold so quickly. I happened to be around the castle when it started and I heard the fire alarm and some two or three minutes later, when I came out of the room that I was actually in, you could see the smoke. Not as extensive as it is now, but you could definitely see it."

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He added: "We thought when we first responded to this that it was a small fire that could possibly be put out quite quickly. It became evident very soon after that that it was not a small fire. This is a great deal bigger than anybody expected."

As for his mother's reaction, all he had to say was: "Her Majesty was shocked."

How much damage did the Windsor Castle fire cause?

115 rooms were damaged (around one fifth of the castle), including nine state rooms and both St George's Hall and Brunswick Tower.

Amazingly, only two works of art were destroyed: a painting by Sir William Beechley and a rosewood sideboard.

The areas of the building where the fire caused the most damage had already been emptied due to rewiring work.

How long did the repairs take?

The Duke of Edinburgh headed up the restoration committee. The castle was partly returned to its former state, with some changes introduced, including The Lantern Lobby, which is where the fire started.

The repairs were completed on 20th November, 1997, five years after the fire, which was also the Queen and Duke's 50th wedding anniversary.

How much did the Windsor Castle repairs cost and who paid for them?

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.

the queen and the duke hugging in a charred room in windsor castle
Keith Bernstein / Netflix Keith Bernstein / Netflix

Prime Minister John Major proposed that Parliament cover the cost, but there was significant resistance to that from other MPs, sections of the media and the public, with many believing that the Royal Family should foot the bill.

In the end, it was a combination of the two.

The public were permitted to visit parts of Buckingham Palace for an £8 entry fee – the first time the masses had stepped through its doors. The money raised funded 70 per cent of the repairs.

The Queen also contributed £2 million of her own money, and she committed to paying income tax from 1993 onwards.

Private donations were also accrued via an independent trust.

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