On 20 November 1992, a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world and one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II. The castle suffered extensive damage and was fully repaired within the next few years at a cost of £36.5 million, in a project led by the conservation architects Donald Insall Associates. It led to the Queen paying tax on her income, and to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s other official residence, being opened to the public to help pay for the restoration work.
Agents of the Royal Household were in the chapel at the time inspecting works of art. A fire alarm went off in the watch room of the castle fire brigade, manned by the Chief Fire Officer, Marshall Smith. The location of the fire was shown by a light on a grid-map of the castle. Initially, the Brunswick Tower was lit up, but lights soon began to flash indicating that the fire had quickly spread to neighbouring rooms.
A major part of the State Apartments was soon ablaze. Building contractors working in a nearby room attempted to tackle the blaze using fire extinguishers. The 30-foot (9 m) long curtains eventually dropped to the floor and continued to burn, while those present hurriedly began removing paintings from the chapel, until the intense heat and raining embers forced them to leave at 11:32.
At 11:36, Mr Smith pressed a switch to alert the control room at Reading fire station. He then activated the public fire alarm in the castle and telephoned the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service on a direct line, giving the message, “Windsor Castle here; we have got a fire in the Private Chapel. Come to the Quadrangle as arranged”.
The castle still had its own twenty-person fire brigade, of whom six were full-time. Equipped with a Land Rover and pump tender, they were based in stables two miles south of the castle, and arrived on the scene at 11:41. Appliances from the Fire and Rescue Service arrived at 11:44. By 11:56, 17 pumping appliances had been ordered. An operation to save furniture and works of art involving castle staff, building contractors and the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew, had commenced in rooms adjacent to the fire.