Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Remembering the Magnificent Restoration of St. George's Hall in Windsor Castle

Thank God the Restoration Vision of the Prince of Wales prevailed.

On Fire's 5th Anniversary, Windsor Castle Sparkles
November 18, 1997|By Ray Moseley, Tribune Staff Writer. in Chicago Tribune

 WINDSOR, England — Five years to the day after fire laid waste to a large part of Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip will celebrate its magnificent restoration Thursday, which also happens to be their 50th wedding anniversary.

The restoration project, believed to be the biggest undertaken anywhere in this century, originally was scheduled to be completed next May. But an army of architects, builders and craftworkers who have kept alive medieval decorating skills have brought it to completion six months early at a cost of $64 million--about $5 million below estimate.

Officials conducted a media tour of the restored sections of the palace Monday. The public will be admitted starting Dec. 27.

The queen and Philip gave a private party last Friday for nearly 1,500 people who worked on the project, and she told them she was "absolutely delighted" with the result. She added that she could not have received a better anniversary gift.

Many of those who worked on the restoration also are proud of the result, saying they believe Windsor is now a far finer structure than before the fire.

The queen and Philip will hold a private dinner Thursday evening, followed by a ball for about 600 people, in the largest of the rooms that has been restored, St. George's Hall.

Windsor, which sprawls over 13 acres on a hilltop beside the Thames River 25 miles northwest of London, was set alight on Nov. 20, 1992, when a spotlight being used by workers apparently ignited a 15-foot curtain in the Private Chapel. The blaze quickly spread through about one-fifth of the castle.

Fortunately, the fire started between two rooms that had been emptied of their treasures for maintenance work, so those were all saved.

But nine principal rooms, and more than 100 smaller ones, were destroyed or damaged by the fire, which burned 15 hours. The biggest loss of a work of art was the destruction of a vast 19th Century canvas portraying King George III.

Windsor, the largest inhabited castle in Europe, was started by William the Conqueror in 1070 and additions were made by other monarchs over the years. King George IV, one of the greatest patrons of the arts among British rulers, had the castle extensively restored and redecorated in the early 19th Century.

Much of that restoration covered over medieval construction and decoration, and the fire had the important advantage to archeologists of laying bare medieval elements.

A 14th Century undercroft, used for storing wine and other provisions, was found beneath St. George's Hall. In the Great Kitchen, the fire revealed 14th Century timbers in the lantern roof, which had been covered over by George IV, and even a 14th Century cesspit, which enabled archeologists to learn much about people's diets and food preparation in the Middle Ages.

The most extensive change made in the restoration was to the 235-foot-long St. George's Hall, which had been remodeled in Gothic style under George IV.

Journalist Adam Nicolson, who has written a book on the restoration that was commissioned by the royal family, said the hall "had previously been a long and rather dreary box." Architect Giles Downes designed a higher roof with a steeper pitch to give the room more proportion.

Prince Charles, heir to the throne and head of a committee that selected architects, expressed particular pleasure over Downes' reworking of St. George's Hall.

"I think that what was done during King George IV's time to Windsor in some parts of the castle was disastrous," he said. "What was done to St. George's Hall I think was awful."

Charles made his comments in a film to be shown on British television Thursday night that was produced by his brother, Prince Edward, who called the restoration "breathtaking."

Prince Philip played his part in the work, suggesting that a mounted figure in armor that had been in another part of the castle be placed on a balcony at one end of St. George's Hall. He also made a sketch outlining his ideas for stained-glass windows in the Private Chapel, but his plan was only partly followed.

One of the most elaborate restoration jobs involved the huge, ornate chandeliers that adorn the Crimson Drawing Room, the Green Drawing Room and others. Thousands of glass facets were salvaged from the ashes, and the chandeliers have been returned to pristine condition.

Many of the British craftsmen and women who worked on the castle had gained previous experience at Uppark, a stately home destroyed by fire in 1989 and since rebuilt, and Hampton Court Palace, also heavily damaged by fire in the 1980s.

Micheal Peat, keeper of the privy purse and the man who oversaw the restoration, said more than $20 million has been spent on a computerized fire-protection system to try to make sure Windsor does not burn again. "We had an automated fire-protection system before, but it was not as comprehensive as what we have now," he said.

Seventy percent of the restoration work has been financed through fees charged to visitors to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. The palace tours, started because the public balked at a proposal to pay for the restoration through taxpayers' money, will continue at least through the year 2000, officials said.

The remaining 30 percent of the restoration cost has come from the annual grant-in-aid that the government provides for maintenance of the various royal castles.

Architecture: Barriers to change at Windsor Castle: The restoration of St George's Hall was settled before 'consultations', says Amanda Baillieu

in The Independent  AMANDA BAILLIEU    WEDNESDAY 07 JULY 1993

AFTER the big fire last November, the debate about Windsor Castle's restoration has failed to ignite. Conservationists thought the challenge of Windsor would clarify issues about restoration: it would be a textbook case of how to rebuild a ravaged historic building.

If conservationists imagined Windsor being restored to its exact former state, architects hoped contemporary design would be used to set Windsor aright - especially St George's Hall, an unremarkable example of Regency 'Gothick' designed in the 1820s by Sir Jeffry Wyatville, in which plaster walls imitated stone and the plaster ceiling imitated wood. The fire destroyed the roof of the hall.

At the end of April, it was announced that St George's Hall would be restored 'as it was before', although the possibility of further discussion about the roof was left open. Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, said that the Royal Household had been consulting with the leaders of the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and English Heritage about Windsor's rebuilding. But, in fact, crucial decisions regarding refurbishment had already been taken in principle months before this public relations exercise in consultation. The need for swift action was justified officially by the desire to cover St George's Hall with a new roof to protect what remained from the weather.

Last month Buckingham Palace announced that Donald Insall, the respected conservation architect, had been appointed as the co-ordinating architect for phases three and four of the reconstruction, which includes the ceiling of St George's Hall.

So the case for rebuilding St George's Hall in a contemporary style was scuppered before it had a chance of being developed seriously. Soon after the fire, the RIBA had argued that there was now an opportunity for the Queen to commission a dramatic new roof for the hall. The Royal Household itself had been divided. The Prince of Wales favoured a new, albeit conservative design - an oak hammer beam roof.

The Palace still insists that only a few irrevocable decisions about refurbishment have been made; nevertheless, work went ahead in February and March on drawing up the Palace's specifications for the new roof of St George's Hall, before the consultation with the experts of British architecture and heritage.

Lord Rodgers, director-general of the RIBA, says: 'I think in the end it was a disappointing outcome. We had been led to believe that everything was open to discussion. But it became plain that decisions had already been taken.'

Oddly, Lord St John of Fawsley, chairman of the RFAC, failed to make a case for a new roof at a meeting held on 22 April at Windsor chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh. The RFAC is normally a champion of modern architectural causes. Lord St John, who had been invited to Windsor in a 'personal capacity', agreed with English Heritage that the Wyatville interior should be restored. He must have known that his view about Windsor would not match that of his fellow commissioners.

When it became known that the Windsor meeting had taken place, Lord St John faced a rebellion. The commission met in May and agreed unanimously that to restore the Wyatville interior at St George's Hall would be wrong.

The Royal Fine Art Commission is empowered by a royal warrant to intervene in any project or development that 'may appear to affect amenities of a national or public character'. Several commissioners thought it odd that they had been debarred from doing just that in this case.

So after the fire we have the ashes of British muddle, a bungled consultation. As one senior conservationist working at Windsor admitted, 'People at the top put their foot down. We will never know what we could have had because the debate about Windsor's future was never thrown open.'

Giles Downes is a British architect most notable for his work at Windsor Castle following the fire in 1992.

 Design work at Windsor CastleOn 20 November 1992, a major fire occurred at Windsor Castle, lasting for fifteen hours and causing widespread damage to the Upper Ward. The fire spread quickly and destroyed nine of the principal state rooms, and severely damaged over a hundred more. There was considerable debate over how to repair the castle. Some suggested that the damaged rooms should be restored to their original appearance, but others favoured repairing the castle so as to incorporate modern designs. The decision was taken to largely follow the pre-fire architecture with some changes to reflect modern tastes and cost, but fresh questions emerged over whether the restoration should be undertaken "authentic" or "equivalent" restoration standards. Modern methods were used at Windsor to reproduce the equivalent pre-fire appearance, partially due to the cost.

Parts of the State Apartments - the area broadly covering the current St George's Hall, the Lantern Lobby, the Octagonal Dining Room and the Private Chapel - had been completely destroyed in the 1992 fire and the architectural partnership of Siddell Gibson were selected to conduct the design. Giles Downes, a partner at the firm, was commissioned to produce a coordinated set of designs for the rooms. Downes style of design in the castle, sometimes called "Downesian Gothic", involves "the rather stripped, cool and systematic coherence of modernism sewn into a reinterpretation of the Gothic tradition". Downes himself argues that the style avoids "florid decoration", emphasising an organic, flowing Gothic structure.

Downes' new roof of the St George's Hall is the largest green-oak structure built since the Middle Ages, and is decorated brightly coloured shields celebrating the heraldic element of the Order of the Garter; the design attempts to create an illusion of additional height through the gothic woodwork along the ceiling. Commentators have noted that Downes' work does much to compensate for the originally flawed dimensions of the hall. The Lantern Lobby features flowing oak columns forming a vaulted ceiling, imitating an arum lily. The new Private Chapel is relatively small, only able to fit thirty worshippers, but combines architectural elements of the St George's Hall roof with the Lantern Lobby and the stepped arch structure of the Henry VIII chapel vaulting at Hampton Court. The result is an "extraordinary, continuous and closely moulded net of tracery", complementing the new stained glass windows commemorating the fire, designed by Joseph Nuttgen.

 Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Starting on Monday, 12 September, BBC One will broadcast The Queen’s Palaces, a three-part landmark television series presented by BBC News reader Fiona Bruce.

The series tells the stories behind the creation of Her Majesty’s official residences – Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse – of the Kings and Queens whose vision and taste left their mark on these great buildings.

Throughout each programme Fiona meets curators from the Royal Collection and discovers how the works of art housed within the Palaces shed light on both the history of the royal residences and the artistic development of the nation.
Series schedule on BBC One

Buckingham Palace: 9pm on Monday, 12 September
Windsor Castle: 9pm on Monday, 19 September
Palace of Holyroodhouse:  9pm on Monday, 26 September

The Queen's Palaces, review, episode 1
Serena Davies reviews the first episode of BBC One's The Queen's Palaces, presented by Fiona Bruce.
12 Sep 2011 in The Telegraph

The Queen’s Palaces is perfectly timed, appearing a handful of months after the Royal Wedding to scoop up a nation of ardent monarchists with an hour of primetime television about the Queen’s soft furnishings and chandeliers. BBC One’s new three-part series will visit Windsor Castle, Holyroodhouse and, tonight, began with Buckingham Palace.

In the BBC’s now entrenched tradition of assigning non-experts to subjects which require erudition, Fiona Bruce has written and presented the series. As ever, Bruce was blandly appealing, dressed in the same elegant but dull shirt dress throughout (a nod to cost cutting at Auntie?) and delivering both the bleeding obvious and the genuinely arresting as if both were a matter of revelation.

She took the time to explain, for instance, that a marsh was “boggy” with “pools of smelly, stagnant water” and to show us that chandeliers made a pleasant tinkling noise, but also informed us of the more intriguing tidbits that Marble Arch used to be in front of Buckingham Palace and that Victoria and Albert liked to sing Mendelssohn in harmony together (a not unimpressive feat).

The latter detail provided the cue for the most entertaining of the spurious illustrative sequences that the producers had come up with so that Bruce had something to do other than wander decoratively along golden corridors. They’d already sent her to Venice (because George III collected Canalettos), out on a horse (because the site of Buckingham Palace was once a park) and down a sewer (below Buckingham Palace). Finally she was forced to sing a Mendelssohn hymn accompanied by an organist. Her voice was reedy but certainly in tune, and her embarrassment made her rather endearing.

The whole film provided an enjoyable if toothless tour around the history and halls of our most famous royal residence. The shame is that Buckingham Palace is rather less architecturally interesting (and old) than our top 20 stately homes, but the blame for that can hardly be laid at the feet of the presenter.

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