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Windsor Castle, Berkshire

Historical Description

Windsor Castle, an extra-parochial royal seat in Windsor district, Berks, on the Thames, and within Windsor borough, 22 miles W by S of London. Its origin connects with Old Windsor, and is lost there in antiquarian doubt. Some very ancient vestiges on its own site have been thought to be of the time of Caractacus or Julius Caesar. A palatial building seems to have been early erected at Old Windsor, and to have been occupied by several of the Saxon kings. Some kind of fortified mansion belonging to the Crown and subordinate to the royal residence at Old Windsor seems also to have stood on the site of Windsor Castle in the time of Edward the Confessor, to have been then inhabited by Earl Harold, and to have been given by the Confessor to St Peter's Abbey at Westminster; and this was purchased back, and probably reconstructed, by William the Conqueror. Henry I. either enlarged, restored, or rebuilt it. Stephen did nothing to it, yet is supposed to have regarded it as a highly important fortress. Henry II. made some additions to it. Richard I. and John repaired it; and the latter took refuge in it before the scene at Runnymede, and withstood in it an assault of his incensed barons. Henry III. commenced and carried on a great reconstruction of it, substituting solid masonry for timber work; and he used it as a rendezvous of his forces in his Civil Wars. Edward I. and Edward II. made it their favourite residence, and the former completed the reconstruction of it begun by Henry III., while the latter extensively repaired or renovated portions of its walls, its towers, and its bridges. Edward III. was born it, and he commenced, and very extensively carried out, under William of Wykeham's superintendence, the erection of a large proportion of the pile as it now exists. Richard II. completed some portions of Edward III.'s plan respecting it, which were not finished at the latter's death. Edward IV. rebuilt, on an extended scale, St George's Chapel; Henry VII. made several additions to the chapel and to the upper ward; Henry VIII. rebuilt the principal gateway, that which still bears his name; Elizabeth built, in the peculiar architecture of her age, a gallery still named after her; and Charles II. made numerous additions and changes of very questionable taste, and grandly-enlarged and prolonged the great terrace.

The subsequent monarchs, on to George II., did little to it except trifling repairs; but George III., in a great degree at his private cost, renovated much of it, embellished its chapel, and improved the N front of its upper ward; and soon after that king's death a purpose was adopted to strip the entire pile of excrescences, to free it from all features of doubtful taste, to mould it into symmetry, and to extend and beautify it into uniform magnificence. The execution of this purpose was committed to Mr Jeffrey Wyatt, afterwards Sir Jeffrey Wyatville; was defrayed by parliamentary grants of money amounting in all to nearly £1,000,000; and was mainly completed about 1836. Other works, both renovations and additions, have been done since that year, but they are comparatively of small extent.

The site is an isolated and commanding eminence, somewhat precipitous on the N, but gently sloping on the other sides. The area is about 12 acres. The interior is divided into the lower ward on the W and the upper ward on the E, separated from each other by the great round tower. The public entrance from the town is near the W end of the S side of the lower ward, and consists of Henry VIII.'s gateway, flanked by two octagonal towers and approached by a bridge. Five towers, besides those of the entrance gateway, are on the lower ward's cincture; first, the Salisbury Tower, at the SW corner, appropriated to the knights on the later foundation; second, the Garter Tower, at the middle of the W side, appropriated to the guard, and restored from a dilapidated condition in 1862 up to a height of 64: feet; third, Julius Caesar's or the Bell Tower, at the NW corner, furnished with a peal of fine-toned bells; fourth, the Winchester Tower, at the NE angle, named from William of Wykeham; fifth, Henry III.'s or the Wardrobe Tower, at the SE angle, profusely mantled with ivy. A long low line of houses, appropriated to the military knights, extends from the vicinity of Henry VIII.'s gateway to the vicinity of Henry III.'s tower; and is surmounted on the centre by a tower for the knights' governor. St George's Chapel occupies the central part of the lower ward; is cruciform, with transepts ending in octagonal apses; is all, with slight exception, in Later English architecture, reputed to be the finest in England; measures 232 feet from E to W, and 104 feet along the transept; comprises a nave of seven bays with aisles, a choir of seven bays with stalls of the time of Henry VIII., and eight chantries, called the Urswick, St Mary's, the Rutland, St Stephen's, the Lincoln, St John Baptist's, Bishop King's, and the Bray; contains a rich profusion of splendid decorations, and a multitude of royal and other monuments; is the place of the installation of the Knights of the Garter; and has a collegiate chapter, comprising a dean, four canons, and three minor canons. A vault beneath the choir contains the remains of Henry VIII., Queen Jane Seymour, Charles I., and an infant daughter of Queen Anne. A royal tombhouse, now called the Albert Chapel, in form of a lofty chapel built by Henry VII., and afterwards much altered, projects from the E end of the choir; and a royal vault, 16 feet deep, was formed beneath it in the time of George III., and contains the remains of George III., Queen Charlotte, George IV., William IV., Queen Adelaide, and a number of princes and princesses, among the latest being the Duke of Clarence, who died in January, 1892. Shortly after the death of the late Prince Consort, Her Majesty resolved to restore the chapel as a memorial to him, and the work has been carried out with such magnificence that the chapel has now one of the most splendid interiors of any ecclesiastical building in the world. In the centre of the chapel is the cenotaph, consisting of an altar-tomb of marble, supporting an exquisitely sculptured figure of the late Prince Consort. The deanery, the dean's cloister, the canons' cloister, the canons' houses, the horse-shoe cloister, and the lord chamberlain's office, occupy other parts of the lower ward.

The Round Tower stands on a lofty artificial mound between the two wards; is engirt by a belt of low ground, once a fosse, but now filled up or transmuted into a shrubbery and garden; is approached by a flight of 150 stone steps, commanded at the summit by a piece of ordnance, has a circular form 302½ feet in circumference; includes a surmounting flag tower added in 1828; has posterns opening on a curtained battery mounted with seventeen pieces of cannon; lifts the top of its flag-pole to the altitude of 295½ feet above the level of the Little Park; commands from its battlements a most magnificent and extensive view, comprising parts of twelve counties; is now the residence of the governor and the lieutenant-governor of the castle; and was formerly used as a state prison, and numbered among its captive inmates John of France, David of Scotland, James I. of Scotland, the literary Earl of Surrey, the Earls of Lauderdale and Lindsay, and the Mareschal de Belleisle. A gateway built by Edward III., and called the Norman Gate, is at the N base of the Bound Tower, and leads from the lower ward to the upper ward. The N, the E, and the S sides of the upper ward are great ranges of building, continuous and uniform, in the pure domestic English style of architecture, all battlemented, and exhibiting a profusion of noble towers and gateways; and together with the Round Tower at the W end enclose a very spacious court called the Great Quadrangle. The suite of State apartments to which the public is admitted consists of the Vandyck Room, the Zuccarelli Room, the State Ante-Room, the Grand Vestibule, the Waterloo Chamber, the Grand Reception Room, St George's Hall, the Guard Chamber, the Queen's Presence Chamber, and the Queen's Audience Chamber. They possess such wealth and variety of splendour that any attempt to describe them would carry us far beyond our limits, but great as are these treasures, the private apartments, which are open to comparatively few persons, are equally rich and splendid. The Queen's private apartments occupy the E side of the quadrangle, and the visitors' apartments the S side. The principal entrance from the exterior is George IV.'s gateway, nearly in the middle of the S side, 24 feet high in the arching, surmounted by apartments for the attendants, and flanked by York and Lancaster towers. The Queen's private entrance is at the SE corner, and forms a superb portico, projecting 30 feet from the line of the main building, surmounted by a splendid morning room, and flanked by octagonal towers. The principal entrance to the State apartments is opposite George IV.'s gateway, and has a very spacious projecting square tower, with open-arched basement; and the entrance for visitants to the Queen on any occasion of ceremony is beneath a small square tower immediately S of the former, and leads through a vestibule to a splendid corridor 520 feet long, furnished throughout with a series of magnificent cabinets, containing what is perhaps the finest collection of Chelsea, Oriental, and Sevres china in the world.

A terrace 2600 feet long commences at Winchester Tower, goes round the exterior of all the upper ward on to George IV.'s Gateway, and is perhaps the finest promenade in the world. The Slopes descend from the terrace toward the Home Park, and are planted with shrubs and trees and intersected by walks. The royal stables stand about 250 yards SW of George IV.'s Gateway, are a modern erection at a cost of about £140,000, have a frontage of about 300 feet, and include a riding-house 170 feet long, 52 wide, and 38 high. The Home Park comprises about 500 acres, measures about 4 miles in circuit, and figures as the scene of some of the most amusing passages in Shakespeare's " Merry Wives of Windsor." Frogmore, the residence of successively Queen Charlotte, the Princess Augusta, and the Duchess of Kent, is near the road to Runnymede, and has been separately noticed. The Great Park is separated from the Castle by part of the town, and by the high road; comprises about 1800 acres; is traversed on a line with George IV.'s Gateway by the Long Walk, nearly 3 miles in length; has, at the extremity of that walk, on Snow Hill, a colossal equestrian statue of George III. by Westmacott; and contains, about half a mile south-eastward thence, Cumberland Lodge, inhabited by the hero of Culloden, and a royal chapel in the Early English style, restored or rebuilt in 1866. Windsor Forest lay on the W side of the park, measured about 120 miles in circuit, and, excepting some patches of wood and common, is now all enclosed arable land.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Civil Registration

Windsor Castle was in Windsor Registration District from 1837 to 1974


Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Berkshire is available to browse.


Maps

Online maps of Windsor Castle are available from a number of sites:


Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Berkshire papers online:

CountyWindsor and Maidenhead