Inside Windsor Castle – from 18,000 bottle wine cellar to 1,000 rooms and Old Masters

Her Majesty’s Berkshire residence Windsor is the oldest and largest castle in the world that’s still lived in.

It was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, and the outside walls still lie on the original foundations.

Since then, it’s been home to 39 monarchs and the Queen spends her weekends in among the castle’s 1,000 rooms, also taking up official residence for a month in spring during the grandly titled Easter Court.

The castle has upper, middle and lower wards, but the central focus is The Round Tower.

It isn’t strictly round, as it has a straight side, but it does offer spectacular views thanks to George IV’s insistence to have it raised by 30ft to improve the skyline.

St George’s Hall is the biggest room at 55.5m long and can seat up to 162 for a banquet in honour of visitors, which have included US presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump in recent years.

The Great Kitchen, meanwhile, is the oldest working kitchen in the UK. It contains seriously industrial equipment, while the chef has a whisk that can hold up to 250 eggs at a time!

The clocks are set five minutes fast to make sure Ma’am is always served dinner on time.

The Windsor wine cellar holds 18,000 bottles. You’d be forgiven for imagining these were vintages costing hundreds a pop, but, given the sheer volume of events hosted at Windsor and the bottles needed for each, the Queen is rather thrifty.

Jancis Robinson, who advises the monarch on wine, says, “Outsiders might assume that we spend our time picking out the plums from the world’s vineyards for Her Majesty’s cellar, but the reality is very much more prosaic.”

What is not prosaic is the castle’s decor, from the imposing Waterloo Chamber, where investitures take place, and the royal library, which houses a collection of paintings from the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Even the state apartments contain works by Canaletto and Rembrandt.

The Upper Chamber is where the Queen’s private apartments are located – she and Philip spent the first Covid-19 lockdown there with a reduced staff, dubbed “HMS Bubble”. Embroidered rugs, ornate gold, and floral sofas abound, but there are homely touches too, including the china and silver corgis that take pride of place on the Queen’s desk.

Her passion for animals extends to the royal budgies kept in an aviary at Windsor.

She was given two Liberty budgies as a child and now has over 100 birds.

Graham Stone, the keeper of the royal budgerigars (how’s that for a job title?), says the Queen has a fascination for them and even saved the life of one that had caught its leg in the wire caging.

The Castle grounds extend to 13 acres, but the Crown Estate also owns the Great Park, with an additional 1,800 acres of land including Long Walk, the three-mile avenue leading up to the castle.

Another 500 acres make up Home Park, where Frogmore, the site of Victoria and Albert’s mausoleum lies, along with Frogmore Cottage, used by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after their wedding.

Wartime at Windsor

The Queen spent much of her childhood at Windsor when the king evacuated his family there during the Second World War.

Windows were blacked-out, rooms were reinforced and the princesses sometimes slept in the dungeon during the Blitz.

Other precautions involved art works packed away and chandeliers lowered in case of bomb damage.

Royal nanny Crawfie revealed she was once shown the hidden Crown Jewels by the king's librarian: “He took us to a stack of hat boxes… but when we examined them, we were soon unwrapping the Crown Jewels.”

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The Doll's House

Windsor Castle is home to the largest doll's house in the world, involving the work of over 1,500 craftspeople and boasting its own architect.

It has a fully stocked wine cellar, running water in the baths and sinks, electricity, working lifts, its own immaculate gardens and a library with stories handwritten by Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

We'd quite like to move in if it's ever up for rent!

The Great Fire

On November 20 1992, fire swept through the castle after a faulty spotlight ignited a curtain.

The flames spread rapidly causing the fire to rage for 15 hours, destroying nine state rooms.

It took 1.5 million gallons of water to put the blaze out. Many priceless art works and other items were saved thanks to some of the rooms already lying empty due to a renovation and, according to Ingrid Seward, with the help of Prince Andrew.

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“He played a big part in rescuing a lot of the artefacts because, as a child, he'd spent time there and knew all the secret passages and doors and how to get in and out of places.”

The castle wasn't insured so Buckingham Palace was opened to the paying public, funds from which paid for the £37 million restoration, overseen by Philip.

• See rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle for visitor info

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