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Trial by fire: The Windsor Castle blaze 25 years on

Features | December 2017


It was a disaster – but not a catastrophe. The Windsor Castle blaze led to an immaculate restoration and reinvigorated royal finances. 25 years on, Jeremy Musson celebrates a phoenix that rose from the flames

It was the most dramatic fire in memory at one of Britain’s greatest buildings – a symbol of national history, immediately recognisable around the world, set alight on Friday, 20th November, 1992. And all thanks to the most undramatic of reasons. The joint fire investigation team agreed that the most likely cause of the fire was ‘a spotlight being accidentally brought too near to or in contact with the altar curtain [in the Queen’s private chapel], which eventually decomposed under the effects of the heat and ignited’. The fire came, too, at a historic low in the royal family’s fortunes: in 1992, the annus horribilis, as the Queen described it, at her Guildhall speech on 24th November, only four days after the fire.  In that year, Prince Andrew separated from the Duchess of York; Princess Anne divorced her husband; Andrew Morton’s tell-all biography of Princess Diana was published; on 9th December...

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