Windsor Castle Rises from Ashes to Splendor Prince Edward Debuts a Film about the Royal Residence's Restoration after the Fire Five Years Ago

By Bonnie Churchill, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Windsor Castle Rises from Ashes to Splendor Prince Edward Debuts a Film about the Royal Residence's Restoration after the Fire Five Years Ago


Bonnie Churchill, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Nov. 20 is a memorable date for the British royal family. It marks not only Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's 50th wedding anniversary, but also the unveiling of the completely restored Windsor Castle after its devastating fire five years ago.

Nov. 20 is also the date when England will see via television what Windsor looks like today. The United States will have the opportunity to view "Windsor Restored" four days later, Nov. 24, 10-11 p.m., on the Learning Channel. Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, Prince Edward, and his Ardent Productions made the documentary.

The film begins on another Nov. 20, on a chilly winter morning in 1992. Prince Andrew, who was at the castle doing research, was the first member of the royal family to learn of the fire. "It was the most extraordinary sensation," he explains in the film. "The castle looked like a giant chimney with flames, 60 to 70 feet billowing into the sky. It seemed as if nine centuries of history was going up in smoke." Prince Charles echoed his brother's thoughts. "So much of my childhood was spent at Windsor. To see one-fifth of it in ashes made my blood run cold." It was also the favorite home of Queen Elizabeth, who spent much of her childhood during World War II there. Salvaging treasures Dickie Arbiter, director of the Royal Collection, says, "Prince Andrew was the first on the scene. Being a military officer, he knew how to take charge, and having grown up in the castle, he also knew where the irreplaceable treasures of the Royal Collection were. The staff and volunteers formed a human chain, passing the priceless manuscripts, smaller paintings, and centuries-old porcelain down the line to safety." Perhaps, for Charles, Andrew, and Edward, the saddest sight was 15 hours later when the fire was extinguished. Their mother, the queen, was standing among the ashes, looking almost as pale as the smoldering embers. But this is a story with a happy ending. Last week, the queen was radiant as she greeted the men and women who restored the castle (the original construction was undertaken by William the Conqueror around 1070). It was her special reception to thank contractors, builders, restorers, workers, and others who supplied the muscle and talent to bring Windsor Castle to greater glory. As Charles walked through the castle he remarked, "Many of the workers had to learn unfamiliar skills to restore the ancient wood- and glasswork. It's a testimony to their love, skill, and dedication that the results are so spectacular." The main challenge was St. George's Hall, the enormous area used to entertain visiting world leaders. When the flaming roof and debris crashed through the hall, it demolished everything, including the famous organ. "Certainly all the paintings in the hall would have been lost forever," Mr. Arbiter says, "except this section was being rewired and a fire detector was being installed. Most of the Royal Collection in this area had been removed, except for three items: a portrait of {King} George III, which was so large it couldn't be taken off the wall, a very heavy sideboard, and the organ. All three were destroyed." Out of the ashes came some discoveries, even an unknown area near the queen's chapel. Design by committee The queen does not own the property - the state does - so a subcommittee was formed to decide on the design for St. …

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