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Monday, November 17, 1997 Published at 23:50 GMT

Special Report

Windsor Castle - five years from disaster to triumph

It took 1.5 million gallons of water to put out the fire

On November 20, 1992 much of Windsor Castle, the Queen's weekend residence, was destroyed by fire. More than 100 rooms, covering an area of 7,000 square metres, were damaged in the blaze, which is thought to have been started by a spotlight shining on a curtain.

On Monday, five years of restoration work by teams of experts will be completed and the world's press will be allowed in to view the results.

[ image: The fire raged for 15 hours]
The fire raged for 15 hours
There has been a castle at Windsor for more than 900 years. The site was chosen by William the Conqueror as it was only one day's march from the Tower of London and because it provided a good defence against attack from the west. It has been continuously inhabited by the Royal Family ever since.

The 1992 fire broke out during the course of maintenance work on the castle, which meant that many of its works of art and pieces of valuable furniture had been removed. Consequently, although there was extensive damage, few large items were completely destroyed.

[ image: It cost about 40m to restore the castle]
It cost about 40m to restore the castle
The blaze was tackled by 250 fire fighters. It took 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put it out.

Initial estimates put the damage at between 40m and 60m, which sparked a public debate about who should pay for the repairs. Windsor Castle is owned by the Government, not the Royal Family, so it seemed at one stage as if the taxpayer would have to foot the bill.

[ image: The Queen inspects the damage]
The Queen inspects the damage
The debate soon found its way to the House of Commons where the Conservative government came under intense pressure from MPs to trim the Royal Family's wage bill. As well as the high-profile members of the Royal Family, there were a number of "fringe royals" who were, at that time, still paid out of the Exchequer's funds. The Queen also came under pressure to pay income tax, from which she had always been exempt.

In February 1993, the then Prime Minister, John Major, announced to the House of Commons that he had accepted an offer from the Queen to pay tax on her private income, starting the following April.

She had also agreed to restrict those members of the Royal Family paid from the public purse to herself, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Queen Mother. She would fund the other members herself.

The Queen said she would meet 70% of the cost of the restoration work and decided to open up her home at Buckingham Palace to the public in order to generate extra funds. For eight weeks during the summer of 1993 people queued in their hundreds to have a glimpse inside the palace for the first time. They were charged 8 per head which, coupled with increased souvenir sales, generated more than 2m towards the restoration project. Similarly, an entry fee was also introduced for people who wished to enter the grounds of Windsor Castle.

[ image: Restoration work took five years]
Restoration work took five years
The restoration process was long and painstaking. The first task facing the restoration workers was that of drying out the walls and floors which had been soaked as the fire service battled against the flames. A Restoration Committee, headed by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, was set-up to oversee the work. The committee decided that certain principle rooms destroyed by the fire - the Grand Reception Room, the State Dining Room, and two Drawing Rooms - should be restored to their former state, but that new designs could be submitted for others.

The work was originally expected to be completed by spring 1998 but has actually finished ahead of schedule. The completion of the restoration work will now coincide with the fifth anniversary of the fire.

BBC court correspondent Paul Reynolds looks round the refurbished buildings

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