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Windsor Castle - Park, History, Big Royal Dig


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Windsor Castle - Park, History, Big Royal Dig

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle, in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, is the largest inhabited castle in the world and, dating back to the time of William the Conqueror, is the oldest in continuous occupation.[1] The castle's floor area is approximately 484,000 square feet (about 45,000 square metres).[2]

Together with Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, it is one of the principal official residences of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth II spends many weekends of the year at the castle, using it for both state and private entertaining. Her other two residences, Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle, are the Royal Family's private homes.

Most of the Kings and Queens of England, later Kings and Queens of Great Britain, and later still kings and queens of the Commonwealth realms, have had a direct influence on the construction and evolution of the castle, which has been their garrison fortress, home, official palace, and sometimes their prison. The castle's history and that of the British monarchy are inextricably linked. Chronologically the history of the castle can be traced through the reigns of the monarchs who have occupied it. When the country has been at peace, the castle has been expanded by the additions of large and grand apartments; when the country has been at war, the castle has been more heavily fortified. This pattern has continued to the present day.


Over its 1,000-year history, the design of Windsor Castle has changed and evolved according to the times, tastes, requirements and finances of successive Monarchs. Nevertheless, the positions of the main features have remained largely fixed and the modern plan below is a useful guide to locations. The castle today, for example, remains centred on the motte or artificial hill ('A' on the plan) on which William the Conqueror built the first The highly visible landmark of the castle, the Round Tower ('A'), is in reality far from cylindrical, its shape being dictated by the irregular, but seemingly round, man-made hill on which it sits. The castle's layout dates back to the medieval fortifications. The Round Tower divides the castle into two distinct sections known as wards. The Lower Ward ('F') is home to St George's Chapel ('G'), while the upper ward ('B') contains the private Royal Apartments ('D') and the more formal state rooms ('C'), which include St George's Hall, a vast room which has a ceiling decorated with the coats of arms of past and present members of the Order of the Garter.


The immediate environs of the castle, known as the Home Park, comprise parkland and two working farms along with many estate cottages mainly occupied by employees. The estate of Frogmore also lies within the Home Park. Frogmore House and Gardens are open to the public on certain days of the year (the remainder of the Home Park is private). The Home Park adjoins the northern edge of the more extensive Windsor Great Park.


In the Home Park, to the north of the castle, stands a private school, St George's, Windsor Castle, which provides choristers to the Chapel.[3] Eton College is located about half a mile north of the castle, across the River Thames.



King Edward III was born in the castle on 13 November 1312, and was often referred to as 'Edward of Windsor'. Beginning in 1350, he initiated a 24-year rebuilding program by demolishing the existing castle, with the exception of the Curfew Tower ('T') and some other minor outworks. He placed William of Wykeham in overall charge of the rebuilding and design of the new castle. Henry II's keep (the Round Tower) was replaced by the present keep, although it was not raised to its present height until the 19th century. The fortifications too were further increased. The castle's chapel was substantially enlarged, but plans to build a new church were not executed, probably due to the scarcity of manpower and resources following the Black Death. Also dating from this time is the Norman Gate ('M'). This large and imposing gate at the foot of the Round Tower is the last bastion of defence before the Upper Ward ('B') where the Royal Apartments are situated.

In 1348 King Edward III established the Order of the Garter, whose annual ceremony still takes place in St George's Chapel, the principal chapel of the castle. In 13531354, he had the Aerary Porch built.

The lower ward in the 1840s. St George's Chapel is on the left and the Round Tower is centre right.

In 1390, during the reign of Richard II, it was found that St George's chapel was close to collapse, and a restoration process was undertaken. The clerk of the works was one of King Richard's favourites, Geoffrey Chaucer, who served as a diplomat and Clerk of The King's Works. Whatever his skills as a surveyor and builder were, within 50 years of his restoration the chapel was again ruinous.

King Edward IV (14611483), the first Yorkist King, who was said[who?] to be addicted to 'the advauncement of vaine pompe' (sic), began the construction of the present St. George's Chapel. In reality the chapel, begun in 1475, is more a miniature cathedral and royal mausoleum than a chapel. Its architecture is an exercise in the Perpendicular Gothic style. During the reign of Henry VII, some of the original chapel of St. George was demolished to make way for the Lady Chapel, which the King then abandoned. The building was one of the first truly grand pieces of architecture within the castle precincts.

The construction of the chapel marked a turning point in the architecture of the castle. The more stable political climate following the end of the Wars of the Roses meant that future building tended to be more considerate of comfort and style than of fortification. In this way the castle's role changed from that of royal bastion to that of a royal palace. One example of this is the 'Horseshoe Cloister' ('H') from 1480, built near the chapel to house its clergy. This curved brick building is said to be in the shape of a fetlock: one of the badges used by Edward IV. Restoration work in 1871 was heavy, and little of the original building remains.

Big Royal Dig

Windsor Castle was one of three royal sites excavated over four days on behalf of Channel 4's Time Team from 25 to 28 August 2006. It was undertaken by Oxford Archaeology. In the United Kingdom, Channel 4 devoted an evening television program to each day's findings, presented by Tony Robinson, and also followed the dig live on More4, together with a simulcast on the internet.

Timed to help celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, along with many other events ongoing throughout 2006, this marked the 150th dig conducted by Time Team. For the first time, the Queen gave permission for trenches to be dug in the Garden of Buckingham Palace, as well as in Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. The Big Royal Dig is an example of the Queen opening up her homes for greater access to the public, as she did during her Golden Jubilee Weekend in 2002 and throughout 2006 for her birthday.

The archaeologists had an unprecedented opportunity to probe the geophysics and history of three royal residences over a four-day period, with teams working concurrently in the three locations.

Windsor Castle was the scene of two remarkable finds:

  • In the Upper Ward, the foundations of the Round Table building erected in 1344 by Edward III were discovered, and also, among other finds, a spectacular decorated mediaeval tile in situ.[8] In Edward's day the Round Table building, 200 feet (60 m) in diameter, was used for feasting, festivals, and theatrical re-enactments of the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend.
  • In the Lower Ward, the Great Hall of Henry III's palace was located and one of its walls, still standing, was found. This has assisted archaeologists in assessing where Windsor's first palace actually stood.

These finds have added to knowledge of the location, history, and uses of the Round Table and the Great Hall.[9]


Although this has been less well publicised than Buckingham Palace, security at Windsor Castle has occasionally been breached, most recently when an intruder (the self-styled 'comedy terrorist', Aaron Barschak) 'gate-crashed' the birthday party for Prince William. Police from the Thames Valley Police and from the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department of the London Metropolitan Police provide the main element of physical security. The Windsor Castle Guard of the Foot Guards of the Household Division, provided by a public duties battalion in London, or by the battalion at Victoria Barracks, Windsor, contributes to this.

The Foot Guards battalion at Victoria Barracks, a quarter of a mile from the Castle, is supported by the armoured reconnaissance squadron of the Household Cavalry based at Combermere Barracks, Windsor, one mile (1.6 km) from the Castle. In times of emergency at the castle, several thousand soldiers, as well as the FV107 Scimitar Light Tanks of the Household Cavalry, would be able to respond quickly to protect the castle and its occupants.



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