20 Years Ago Today... The Windsor Castle Fire

19/11/2012 22:23 GMT | Updated 19/01/2013 10:12 GMT

Today, 20 November is the 20th anniversary of the fire at Windsor Castle. It was a sad day in 1992 when, during refurbishment work on the 900 year old castle, a spotlight was believed to have overheated and caught fire to one of the curtains by the altar.

History is filled with famous fires that have caused chaos and destruction in its wake and millions of pounds worth of damage to the buildings in which they started in. The Great Fire of London of 1666 is one of the UK's most famous fires, and although it is believed to have all but wiped out the plague, it has also become synonymous with destruction and terror.

There is definitely something built into the human psyche that fire is to be feared. Maybe it is because we can't fully control it? Or maybe it is because we have grown up listening to stories like The Great Fire. Who knows? What we do know is that there are many more famous cases throughout or history.

The fire spread throughout the Windsor Castle, severely damaging over 100 principal state rooms, including the complete destruction of nine of them. With such incredible antiques on display at the castle, the safe evacuation of priceless items in the castle were a priority for the staff that were working on the day, and - although a number of items had already been removed due to the renovations taking place - they did a fantastic job of keeping the number of priceless items destroyed to a bare minimum.

Amongst the people helping to remove the items as fast as they could was the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, who was on the premises when the fire broke out. He later told the press that the Queen was "devastated", and that he was engulfed in smoke at one point during his evacuation from the castle.

Over 200 fire-fighters were required to tackle the fire that first started at the Queen's Private chapel at 11.33am then spread violently throughout the Brunswick Tower and neighbouring rooms and state apartments. Some were based on the premises, and had begun to tackle the initial fire and contact the larger fire departments.

By the time the blaze was being fully tackled, fire services from London, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Oxfordshire, and Berkshire were chipping in to stop such a beloved British building from being destroyed by the fire.

After 12 hours, the fire was finally extinguished, but the damage of the fire, smoke and the gallons of water that was being used to stop the fire took its toll and led to a costly and troublesome restoration that lasted for five years and was very controversial. It launched a political debate over who should be made accountable for the millions of pounds it would inevitably take to rebuild and restore Windsor to former glory.

In the end, the fire led to Buckingham Palace and its surrounding grounds being made available to the public at certain times during the year in order to pay for the restoration, thus preventing giving the tax payers of the country the bill for the damage caused, something the British press was inevitably wary of happening.

Even after 20 years, the sight of Windsor Castle in flames is still shocking to see. We are not used to seeing such majestic, old buildings on fire, and will not want to again for as long as they can stand up for us to visit and admire them. With new technologies and systems such as the firetrace, the likelihood of a repeat of such an event is now far less likely.

However, 1992 was meant to be a celebration for the Queen, as it was the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne. But she called 1992 her "Annus Horribilis" - a reference to the events of Windsor Castle and after two of her sons announced the end of their marriages, most famously with Prince Charles and Princess Diana announcing their separation in December after a torrid year filled with media speculation about their relationship.

Windsor Castle re-emerged in 1997, refurbished and refreshed following the incredible fire. The 21st Century has seen it visited by a great number of tourists, and the Queen is still a frequent user of the palace for weekend stays and banquets, and over 500 people are still employed at the Castle. But it could have been a lot different, if not for the great work of over 200 of our best fire-fighters.

Fire Stats from Windsor Castle on that Fateful Day in 1992...

• Gallons of water used - 4,500 tonnes (One Million Gallons)

• One fifth of the Castle damaged or destroyed by fire (Covering 9,000 square metres)

• £37million spent on the refurbishment of the Castle between 1992-1997

• 225 fire-fighters used to tackle the blaze

• 12 Hours - total it took to fully extinguish the fire