Advertisement

British government to pay for Windsor Castle fire damage

By MICK THURSTON

LONDON -- Peter Brooke, the National Heritage Secretary, insisted Monday that the government would pay in full for restoration work to Windsor Castle following the fire which swept through the fortress over the weekend.

His pledge came after critics claimed that the queen should help to pay for damage to the castle, which was not insured. Experts say the work could cost up to $90 million, and take 10 years to complete.

Advertisement

'Windsor Castle is the property of the state, and it is the government's responsibility to ensure that resources are provided to maintain it in a manner commensurate with its status,' Brooke told the House of Commons.

'I therefore have no hesitation in saying that resources will be provided to restore this most precious and well loved part of our national heritage,' he said in a statement.

His comments came after widespread calls by lawmakers and public commentators that the queen should at least pay some of the cost of repairing the ancient fortress.

Advertisement

Opposition Labor member of Parliament Dennis Skinner told lawmakers Monday, 'The Queen should be made to pay for it -- that's the market test this weekend -- and instead of talking about all this consumer crap, make sure that she pays for the fire!'

'Ninety per cent of the British public are against paying for Windsor Castle's fire,' he added.

Anne Clwyd, Labor heritage spokesman, said, 'While there is a great deal of public sympathy for the monarch, there is legitimate public concern that the total cost of repair should not be paid exclusively by the taxpayer.'

But Brooke said, 'Windsor Castle is a world famous symbol of this country. I believe it is our duty to ensure that the damage is repaired as soon as possible.'

Brooke said that surveys of the damage were being carried out, and that a full report was expected within a month.

He refused to confirm estimates that the damage to the 11th century castle, the world's largest inhabited fortress, would cost $90 million to repair. 'I cannot myself lend any credence to them at the present time,' he said.

Areas inside the castle severely damaged by the fire included the Brunswick Tower, St. George's Hall, the private chapel, the Crimson Drawing Room, the Chester Tower and the Star Chamber, a fire department spokesman said.

Advertisement

St. George's Hall, the scene of state banquets throughout the centuries, was completely gutted.

But Brooke disclosed Monday that the blaze, which broke out in a private chapel shortly before midday Friday, had only damaged one painting and two other items.

'There was no loss of life and only limited damage to works of art: one picture, one sideboard and one antique carpet appear to have been lost,' he said.

Many valuable items were rescued from the building before the fire took complete hold. Prince Andrew, the duke of York, who was the only royal family member in the building when the fire broke out, helped rescue items from the castle.

Paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Holbein and Leonardo da Vinci, along with valuable antiques, tapestries, furnishings and porcelain were removed from the fortress by human chains as the fire blazed during Friday afternoon.

The cause of the blaze was still unknown, Brooke said in his statement Monday. He said an investigation was underway, and that he would receive a report 'in due course.'

A National Heritage department spokesman earlier refused to comment on reports that the fire was started accidentally by a member of a picture restoration team when a spirit-based chemical ignited after being left near a halogen light.

Advertisement

A more lighthearted explanation as to the cause of the blaze was offered by one opposition lawmaker before Monday's statement in the Commons.

Labor MP Tony Banks said, 'We think Fergie did it!,' referring to the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson.

The castle, like other government buildings and royal palaces, is not insured because its immense value makes the cost of insurance prohibitive.

The castle, about 15 miles west of London, is one of the queen's several official residences. William the Conqueror founded it after he invaded England in 1066, and the castle has been a royal residence for more than 800 years.

The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who interrupted a weekend in Norfolk to drive to Windsor to see the damage, Sunday said outside Sandringham church, 'It's a nightmare and I keep hoping to wake up. The whole family was devastated.'

Latest Headlines