Windsor Castle fire: Eyewitnesses remember blaze on 30th anniversary

Thirty years to the day since the fire which devastated Windsor Castle, Wesley Smith speaks to Paul Thomas, one of the firefighters who witnessed it.

November the 20th 1992 was one of the lowest points in the year that Her Late Majesty called her, "annus horribilis."

It was her 45th wedding anniversary, but Prince Phillip was in Argentina, and the Queen, unusually, remained at Buckingham Palace for the weekend.

Unseen by anybody, the fire started in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel, where a faulty spotlight ignited a curtain next to the altar.

Within minutes the blaze was unstoppable and had spread to St George's Hall next door.

During and after the fire on November 1992 Credit: PA

The fire was first spotted around 11:30 in the morning and within three hours 225 firefighters from seven counties were battling the flames.

At the peak of the operation they were using 36 pumps, discharging 1½ million gallons of water.

Fire fighters were drafted in not only from the Royal County of Berkshire, but also Oxfordshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

The Queen inspects the ruins with a firefighter Credit: PA

One of them, Paul Thomas, still works for the service as a group manager in Reading and Newbury.

He'd had only been qualified for a few weeks when the shout came for what would be the biggest job in his career.

"You could see the smoke and flames from the M4," he said.

"I made my way into the Quadrangle with my officer in charge then and it was flames coming out of every window of St. George's Hall and the Brunswick Tower.

"A massive amount of smoke and flames, I couldn't quite believe it to be honest.

"Her Majesty was there, she was wandering round with our officer in charge, it was quite strange seeing Her Late Majesty walking around, quite surreal, really."

Staff carry valuable works of art and furniture to safety Credit: PA
The damaged interior of St George's Hall Credit: PA

The Queen sent a personal message of thanks to the 200 firefighters for helping to save as much as they could of Windsor's heritage.

Amazingly, only two works of art were lost in the fire - a rosewood sideboard and a very large painting by Sir William Beechey that couldn't be taken down from the wall in time.

Luckily works of art had already been removed from many rooms in advance of rewiring work.

The fire was finally extinguished at 2:30am on Saturday, 21 November, but it had burned for 15 hours.

A huge restoration project ensued, costing more than £36 million, which led to the opening of royal palaces to the public, and a reform of how the royal family is funded.

The Queen contributed £2million of her own money, and in 1993 became the first British monarch to pay income tax since the 1930s.

Firefighter Paul Thomas says he'll never forget the historic night

Meanwhile Paul has just been awarded his long service good conduct medals.

He'll always remember the night the Royal Berkshire Fire Service lived up to its name and did its Royal duty, earning a place in Windsor's long catalogue of historic events.