Newest Review: ... in the state apartments first and could come out later to see the doll's house. Prior to mounting the grand staircase we entered the und... more
Her Majesty's Pied A Terre.
Member Name: garymarsh6
Date: 28/07/13, updated on 29/07/13 (90 review reads)
Advantages: Fantastic day out and a great insight into Windsor Castle.
Disadvantages: Lots of walking and queues.
After two unsuccessful attempts to visit Windsor Castle I finally managed to get to visit the castle last week. The first time I had booked on line and unfortunately I became ill the morning of the visit, the second time we actually got to Windsor along with the rest of the world so it seemed. The queues were enormous and stretched right down into the town. Last week I did not tempt fate again or book on line so we just turned up. The queue to go in took approximately 45 minutes to get to the ticket office and stretched back along the road.
A little background information.
Windsor Castle is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Europe and you cannot fail to notice it if you are driving along the M4 motorway or taking off from Heathrow airport with the frequent planes flying right over the top of it. This is the preferred home of the Queen and you may be lucky enough to see her driving around Windsor on her way to the Castle.
The castle was built in the 11th Century by William the Conqueror as part of the defences around London to protect the river Thames and the outskirts of London against invasion. Most of the defence castles were built along the same lines with an outer fortified wall and an inner tower built on a motte (mound) which was a man made hill surrounded by a bailey which was a fenced in yard. In total the area covers approximately 13 acres within the castle walls. The castle is built on top of a hill 30 meters above the river Thames and basically consists of three parts, the lower, middle and upper wards. The lower ward acts like an initial defence and contains a thick outer wall which acts as the initial defence. The middle ward contains the castle keep known as the round tower which can be seen for miles around. It is built on an elevated mound surrounded by a moat. The moat had been dug out and the chalk used to raise the hill even higher to fifty metres. The round tower is built on top of the manmade hill and not only affords fantastic views which stretches for miles around but acts as a last means of defence for the inhabitants. Much of the castle was built of wood but over the centuries it was fortified and built of stone. The upper ward contains the state and living quarters of the monarch.
The lower ward.
The lower ward contains a large inner courtyard and King Henry VIII gate is where you exit the castle following your visit. It is here where the beautiful church of St. George is situated. Many members of the Royal Family have been interred there. It is also the mother church of the Knights of the Garter a service is held here every year led by the Queen who leads the knights from the upper ward of the castle down to St. Georges chapel for the service of thanksgiving. There is also accommodation which is still used today to house some of the poor knights a lesser order of chivalry who maintain the order of St. George and step in for the Knights of the Garter. At the lower end are chapter houses for the clergy of St. George and the oldest part of the castle is found here including the curfew tower which forms part of the outer defence wall.
The middle ward.
As previously stated the middle ward contains the castle keep. It was originally a wooden building which offered a final line of defence for the king. Over the years it was rebuilt and a stone building was erected. It was again added to in the latter part of the 19th century and the height extended. It currently houses many of the Royal archives.
The upper ward.
The upper ward is where the Royal residence is found and consists of a large quadrangle surrounded by the state rooms on one side and the private apartments on the other including the accommodation of the Royal family. Many state occasions are held here especially when the Queen is hosting visits by heads of states of other countries. St. George's hall is usually where state banquets are held for foreign heads of state.
The outer parklands.
The grounds of Windsor castle are quite extensive and stretch out for miles around. It includes the long walk, a tree lined avenue that stretches for 3 miles, many small cottages inhabited by castle employees. There are a couple of farms and Frogmore house another Royal residence. There is also the burial place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert Frogmore Mausoleum at Frogmore which is only open to the public on a couple of occasions a year however this year restoration work is taking place.
I would first advise you to make sure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy shoes as there is quite a lot of walking to do. After buying our ticket from the ticket office we entered the grounds of the castle approaching King Henry tower and the closed off gate to the Quadrangle. On the way to reach this there is the Jubilee garden where there is a small bandstand and nice little garden which was presented to the Queen on her golden Jubilee.
There are some nice views of the accommodation on the outer walls of the lower ward of the castle and of course the towering round tower. Looking through the gated entrance you can see into the Quadrangle which is closed off to the public. At the nearest end to the gate there is a bronze statue of King Charles II on horseback dating from the 1600's. The quadrangle is quite large and contains a lawned area in the middle. The covered main entrance to the castles state apartments looks quite grand and imposing. Visitors would alight from their vehicles under cover of the archway and the procession they were travelling in would drive off around the perimeter of the courtyard.
I could picture the disastrous fire that struck Windsor castle back in 1992 and see the lawn covered with fire hoses and precious pieces of art work as flames and smoke bellowed fifty foot out of the roof of the state apartments. It was fortunate that so many items were removed just the day before and some of the remaining articles were able to be removed by the staff, soldiers and others including Prince Andrew who happened to be at the castle at the time doing some research in the library. Although much of the State apartments were involved in the fire 80% of the castle was actually damage involving 100 rooms. It has now thankfully been restored.
We walked along the internal road past the garrison buildings and arms storage rooms below the round tower to reach a large square area in front of it. Looking over the wall of the moat it has been transformed into a floral garden with rose shrubs and other flower beds. The mound is covered in grass and shrubs up to the beginning of the stone walls of the round tower. The round tower looks very majestic and proud. At certain times of the year you are able to take a tour of the round tower up onto its roof but apparently it is not advisable if you suffer from claustrophobia or have a fear of heights. It was closed while we were there.
We then continued across the courtyard through an archway leading onto the North terrace overlooking the town below and the River Thames. We then went to the entrance to the State rooms. There was a separate queue for Queen Marys Dolls house which was very long indeed. I suggested we went in the state apartments first and could come out later to see the doll's house.
Prior to mounting the grand staircase we entered the undercroft where there is a large vaulted room currently displaying art painted by different members of the Royal family going back to Queen Victoria's reign. There are watercolours by both her and her husband Prince Albert and also some from Prince Philip and Prince Charles. There are many pieces of works here so expect to spend at least half an hour here.
The Grand staircase.
Entering through the main entrance up the grand staircase it certainly was beautiful and one sight that would leave you quite in awe and impressed. The public enter through this doorway from the North side whereas visiting heads of state enter from the Main entrance on the south side in the quadrangle. On either side of the staircase there were two mounted horses of knights in armour. High above your head the ceiling had glass which made the stairway quite light plus the wood was of light oak which also made it look quite welcoming. The first room you enter is the arms room and as the name suggests there are various weapons fixed in patterns around the walls including swords, muskets, knives and other ancient looking pistols. There are also two small sedans on display that belonged to Queen Charlotte. She employed four men that were at her beck and call to take her to wherever she needed to go in the Sedan. They had been sold off after her death but Queen Victoria bought them again and they are preserved here for everyone to see.
The Waterloo Chamber.
The next room we entered was the Waterloo chamber which is absolutely stunning. It was originally a courtyard but by adding a roof it was transformed into a very large hall and made into a beautiful dining room. The walls are covered with wood halfway up the walls and paintings dotted around this great chamber. The upper area is decked out in gold leaf that looks almost like damask wall paper and the roofing is supported by carved wood. It is a stunning room. The carpet on the floor was made by prisoners in Agra Jail for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. It is the largest seamless carpet in the world and weighs 2 tons. Thankfully it was rescued during the fire but it took 50 men to lift it. The centerpiece of the room is the dining table which can seat 60 people. It also doubles up as the table used for banquets in St. Georges hall and once extended can seat 160 people. The Queen has lunch here with the Knights of the Garter following the Service in St. Georges Chapel.
The Kings private quarters.
You then enter the Kings apartment which consists of five rooms. Including
* The Anti-throne room.
* The king's drawing room.
* The king's bedchamber
* The king's dressing room
* The king's closet.
Each of these rooms are very ornately decorated and only the most important people would have been allowed access and being granted an audience with the King in these apartments.
The drawing room is decorated with an olive green damask wall paper and the custom started by Queen Victoria was to have the name after an artist whose paintings were on display. This room has been called the Rubens room.
The bedchamber furnished with King Charles II's four poster bed. The walls are covered in crimson damask paper and a large oil painting over the fire place. The plaster ceiling is really quite ornately decorated with a circular centre piece showing an ornate cross with a crown from which hangs a crystal chandelier. Off this room is a tiny closet room which is where it is believed the King actually slept rather than in this room.The king's Dressing room as far as I can remember appeared nicely decorated but was rather dark in appearance. I cannot recall much about this room.
The Queens apartments.
Moving on to the Queens apartment which includes -
* The Queens drawing room
* The kings dining room
* The Queens ballroom
* The Queens audience Chamber
* The Queens Presence Chamber
* The Queens guard Chamber
The Queens drawing room is quite formal looking with red and gold damask wall paper. The ceiling is plastered and decorated with gold leaf. It was covered with old masters at one time and was called the picture gallery but these have been moved around to make it more formal looking. It then leads on to the Kings dining room which could be accessed by both the King and Queen. This room looks quite formal and imposing with a lot of panelling and a dark mural ceiling. In the canter of the room is a marble fire place over which there is a very ornately wooden carved decoration that is food orientated. The room is currently empty except for some small crockery units and a red carpet.
The Queens Ballroom is quite a large oblong shaped room with air force blue damask and silver paper. There is a solid silver table which is on one side of the room. Apparently there used to be six of them but often with Silver it was melted down and sold when times were hard. On the walls are paintings of five of Charles II children. There are two massive crystal chandeliers equally spaced down the centre of the room.
Surprisingly for me the Queens Audience chamber was very dark although looks quite a formal room there was a very dark ceiling with a mural depicting Queen Catherine Braganza in a chariot. To me at a certain angle in two of her paintings she has the appearance of having a five O'clock shadow. This room leads onto the Queens Presence chamber which was essentially used as a waiting room for her visitors. You leave the Queens apartment via the Queens Guard room where soldiers would be stationed to stop anyone attempting to enter the Queens Quarters.
St. Georges Hall.
The largest room in the Castle is St. Georges Hall. Most of the interior work had been completely burned during the fire which started just off the hall at the opposite end in a small anti-chamber after an arc lamp had been inadvertently left on. The fire raced through the castle at a rate of speed. The whole roof of St. Georges hall succumbed to the intense heat from the fire finally collapsing. Much of the wood panelling burnt away leaving but a shell. Around the room are shields of the Knights of the Garter. Each person had his name etched on the wood panelling with his name and a family coat of arms above it. There are some blank shields on display that represent those that have been shamed and their order has been removed from them.
The Queen holds magnificent banquets here when a visiting head of state visits the country. The table that is used is the table from the Waterloo room which extends to seat 160 people. It takes an army of people to lay the table which is so big that staff actually walk up and down the table wearing special covers over their feet ensuring everything is in place right down to measuring with rulers spaces between the plates, cutlery and glassware especially when you consider there may be several courses and several types of wine for the meal. Not only this there will be grand floral displays and much table decorations gold or silverware, candelabras and condiment sets.
At the far end of the hall there is a knight on horseback wearing a suit of armour. It was his role to ride into the palace of Westminster and three times throw down a gauntlet to anyone who challenged the New King and his authority. It is over the entrance to the Lantern Lobby where the fire started. This room was originally the private chapel of Queen Victoria but after the fire it has been transformed into the Lantern room. It is quite beautiful with a central marble design in the centre of what looks like an Octagonal room. It is made from English marble and the centre Red Cross is made from marble from the Duke of Devonshire's estate in Derbyshire.
The Semi State apartments.
After visiting these rooms you are led into the spectacular semi state apartments created for George IV. Although the rooms were damaged during the fire most of the furniture had already been removed as they were going to rewire the apartments. They consist of
* The green Drawing room.
* The Crimson Drawing room.
* The state dining room.
* The Octagonal dining room
* The China corridor
* The Grand reception room
* The Garter throne room.
These rooms are really ornately decorated with rich colours, gilt and gold leaf after all they are built to impress foreign dignitaries and visiting heads of state. The Green Drawing room is quite large and contains lots of beautiful chairs and little coffee tables. It is quite useful to be able to sit in smaller groups in this room whilst entertaining. The walls and furniture are inlaid with Green damask whilst the frames are covered in gold. Unfortunately the beautiful carpet that was designed for this room and was displayed during the Great exhibition in 1851 was damaged by the water from the fire. It is in such a delicate state now that you are not permitted to walk on it and during our visit some of it was rolled up to prevent you walking on it.
The next room you come into is the Crimson Drawing room which suffered terrible damage during the fire. The roof burnt and so did the floor. The roof was a steel roof which buckled forcing the potential collapse of the walls. It has been completely rebuilt and furnished as it originally was. There is a black marble fireplace in the centre of the room which survived the fire but the chandelier was completely ruined. Either side of the fire place are paintings of The Queen mother and the Queens father. The ceilings are gilt covered with a central chandelier. It is a very regal looking room.
The state dining room is where the queen entertains guests and friends who either have lunch here or for those lucky enough to stay the night will have dinner here. The room was completely destroyed in the fire but has been restored to its former glory after studying original photos and paintings of the room. The dining table looks quite formal although less so than when an official banquet takes place in St. Georges hall. The table seats around about 22 people.
The Octagon dining room is used as a small private dining room by close members of the Royal Family when they are in residence.
After the state dining room you walk along a long corridor called the China corridor where dinner services are set out in glass cabinets. The largest dinner service you can see is called the Manchester service which is a turquoise colour. There are different sets of Sevres porcelain around the room.
You now enter the Grand reception room which is very large and is really ornate and ostentatious with crimson drapes chandelier's gold ceilings and walls with inlaid tapestries hanging from the walls. At the end of the room is a very large green Malachite urn which was given to Tsar Nicholas I from Russia in 1939. This room was badly damaged in the fire and so was the urn that needed lengthy restoration. The parquet flooring largely survived the fire and those pieces that were singed were turned over and it looks fine.
The final room you enter before retracing your steps through the opposite end of the Waterloo Chamber is the Garter Throne Room.
The Garter Throne room.
It is in this room where the Queen creates the Knights of the Garter. This room is a long oblong room which has a picture of the Queen over the fireplace. It has a deep Navy blue carpet on the floor and there is a row of chairs along the centre of the room with stools along the sides of the room.. At the head of the room is a throne that was presented to Queen Victoria which is made completely of Ivory.
After visiting this room you come out into the Waterloo chamber but at the opposite end and then back down the stairs to the north terrace.
Queen Marys Dolls House.
The Queue for this had gone down quite considerably by time we came out. This is a special exhibition of a dolls house made for Queen Mary. It was not supposed to be played with as a dolls house but is more ornamental. It is supposed to have replicated a fine house somewhere in London. It is quite large and everything is made in miniature and they are actually working pieces for example the house has its own electricity supply, it has running water and even the toilets which are miniature flush too. Many items of furniture were either made by the original manufacturers or by specialist companies. The library is full of miniature books which are the printed inside. There are chandeliers, glasses, suitcases, rugs and carpets all copies of some of the things that are in the palaces. The wine cellars with miniature bottles of wine actually do contain wine and spirits too and all the trolleys work.
What is very clever is that underneath the house there is a draw which when pulled out reveals formal gardens and cars all scaled down to appear life like but in miniature form. The house was never meant to be played with but it was presented to Queen Mary who had it exhibited at different events to help raise money for her charities.
The outside of the building actually lifts up revealing the different rooms around the house. It is approximately 3 feet high. I think this little house would be any little girls dream house.
St. Georges Chapel Windsor.
St. Georges Chapel can be found in the lower ward of the castle. It is the chapel of the Knights of the Garter which is a personal gift of chivalry bestowed to people from the Monarch. It is an order steeped in history going back to 1348 and was founded by Richard III as one of two royal colleges. Members meet formally twice a year at Easter and at the end of June in the Garter room of Windsor castle. New members are created in the Throne room of the Garter room. They then follow in procession through the grounds of Windsor castle to the chapel to attend a service headed by the Monarch. It has been known by several names. Originally it was St. Edward the confessor chapel then the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St. George the Martyr.. The services had been suspended in the 1805 and only started again in 1948 to mark its 600th anniversary of its founding.
There are approximately 26 Knights in the order of the Garter plus more that are known as poor knights who stand in for those unable to attend. Each member is allocated a seat in the choir where their name is placed on the rear of the seat. Their shield is displayed above the choir. When a member of the order of the Garter dies the vacancy is filled with a new member appointed from a list drawn up from the members of the garter. If any member becomes a disgraced member they are stripped of the order and their shield is torn down which is unceremoniously kicked out of the church until it reaches the outer moat of the castle where it would have been kicked out and left in a ditch. This has not happened since the 1700's
St. Georges Chapel.
The chapel contains the remains of many of the Monarchs and members of the Royal family of the United Kingdom. Most recently the Internment of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margarets ashes were also interred in the small side chapel of King George VI the Queens Father.
Entering the chapel through the main entrance for the public you are immediately standing in the south side aisle of the church. The inside appears quite bright due to the high ceiling of the building and all the stain glass windows of portraits of Popes, Kings and princes around the sides of the chapel dating from around the 1500's. There are large pillars stretching up to the vaulted ceiling that fans out giving a beautiful honeycombed visual effect. There are colourful bosses that hide the joints of heraldic shields, portcullis, flowers and dragons. To enter the choir it has a magnificent stone entrance which the Knights enter to reach their stalls. There is a covered oriel stall to the left of the altar built by Henry VIII so that his Queen Catherine of Aragon could observe the ceremony without being seen. The effect is simply stunning. From the walls above the choir hang heraldic flags covered with coats of arms adding to the visual appeal of the great nave.
There are several side chapels dedicated to members of the Royal family some are quite grand but the majority of the internments are inside the Royal vault. I expected to see grand sarcophagi in memory of the Kings and Queens of England but was surprised to see that they are really quite simple tombs. There are a few that are what I expected and they include the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck. Marble statues of them lying down as if asleep are on the top. I wrongly assumed most of the tombs would look like this. I was very surprised to see a simple plain black slab in the middle of the floor of the choir announcing the burial vault of Henry VIII and Jayne Seymour. It also contains the remains of Charles I who was executed and brought to the Chapel for internment plus an infant child of Queen Anne.
There is a very grand chapel as you are making your way out of St. Georges which contains the tomb of the youngest son of Queen Victoria the Duke of Clarence, her favourite son. Originally it was built by King Henry VII as his final resting place but instead he was buried at Westminster Abbey. It was handed over to Cardinal Wolsey and known as Wolsey's Tomb house. However when Prince Albert died Queen Victoria had it converted into a chapel dedicated to her husband hence its name. The reason it has been closed fenced off from the public apparently is due to tourists scratching their names over the memorials which is unbelievably irreverent especially in a place of worship. What is it with these numbskulls it is mindless vandalism to do such a thing have they no respect at all?
Queen Victoria and her husband are buried in their own mausoleum nearby at Frogmore. Controversially more recently the funerals took place of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at St. Georges chapel although they are not buried in the chapel they are buried in the private Royal burial ground at Frogmore.
St. Georges is not all about death and burials it has also hosted marriages of members of the Royal family. Many of Queen Victoria's children were married here and more recently minor members of the Royal family have been married here too. Prince Charles had his marriage blessed here following the civil marriage to Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.
Outside of the chapel in the lower ward there are chapter houses where members of the clergy live and in the curfew tower is a peal of 8 bells which are rung prior to or after services. A special wooden frame was constructed within the tower to house the bells which cause a significant amount of movement when they are being rung.
Services are conducted every day at the chapel so it is best to check when they are happening. You will not be able to enter the chapel when one of the services is taking place unless of course you are there to worship.
Adult Ticket £17.75
Student or OAP £16.15
Under 17 £10.60
Under 5 free.
It may seem expensive for a visit but you can return as many times as you like over the next year as long as you get the reverse of your entry ticket stamped by one of the guards inside the castle plus you need to take proof of identity with you on your return such as a driving license, bank card or passport.
There are some toilets around the grounds of the castle and also a couple of souvenir shops selling quite expensive items. There is a cafeteria near the Round tower selling expensively priced ice creams, tea, coffee and snacks.
If you are interested in history or like walking around palaces then this is the tour for you. Expect to spend at least four hours or more here. You are also given a portable audio device to take around with you and simply press the number on the key pad to give explanations of the various sights around the castle. The room guards are particularly helpful in answering additional questions you may have and will always offer clear explanations.
Overall what did I think?
I absolutely loved my day at the Castle despite it being one of the hottest days of the year and very tiring for the amount of walking you have to do and hardly anywhere you can just sit and catch your breath. It was very crowded but not so much as to mar the visit and a lot of people visiting on tourist buses are usually confined by time limits so tend to rush around a bit. I will definitely return perhaps during the winter months when I would hope to find fewer tourists but as it is such a popular venue I am sure there are always going to be many people visiting. I would have loved to have seen much more of the castle but you are only permitted into the state apartments and state rooms. The grounds and Frogmore will require another days visit. I was disappointed that we were unable to stand in the middle of the Quadrangle. My other disappointment of course was that you are not allowed to take any pictures anywhere inside the castle at all but only in the grounds. A fantastic day out!
Summary: A Brilliant but tiring day out.
- Sywell Aerodrome (Northampton)
- Arbour Low (Peak District)
- Dunvagen Castle (Skye)
- Womack Staithe (Norfolk)
- Horsey Wind Pump
- Valley Wetlands RSPB Nature Reserve (Isle of Anglesey)
- Saughy Rigg Farm (Northumberland)
- The Bishop's Palace (Kirkwall)
- The Earl's Palace (Kirkwall)
- Gap of Dunloe (Co. Kerry, Ireland)