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Piece by Piece, Windsor Castle is Being Restored

May 23, 1996

WINDSOR, England (AP) _ Piece by delicately crafted piece, Windsor Castle is returning to its ancient self.

Three and a half years after a fire capped what Queen Elizabeth II dubbed her ``annus horribilis,″ a $60 million project to restore more than 100 rooms is on target, and visitors will be allowed back into two of them in July 1998.

``It is very lifting to the spirit to see things taking shape again,″ Hugh Roberts, director of the queen’s art collection, said Thursday, standing in the shell of what once was the silk-lined Crimson Drawing Room.

Repairing the 900-year-old royal residence begun by William the Conqueror meant reviving some ancient skills.

For example, craftsmen are now restoring architect Jeffrey Wyattville’s 1820s decorative plaster ceilings in three rooms. That meant making more than 300 molds to create plaster pieces needed to cover 6,500 square feet. It is the largest reconstruction of historic plasterwork this century, architects say.

``Almost everything we are doing here is the largest of its sort this century,″ John Tiltman, deputy director of property services to the Royal Household, told reporters.

But, he said, ``we will meet our target date and come in under budget.″

The fire in 1992 capped a year that also saw the collapse of the marriages of the queen’s elder sons, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew. As the royal mystique faded, grumbling grew about the royal family’s lavish lifestyle.

On Nov. 20, a curtain brushed a lamp in the private chapel at Windsor Castle, the queen’s favorite weekend home 20 miles west of London.

The queen rushed there from Buckingham Palace to find a blaze that took 250 firefighters 15 hours and 1 1/2 million gallons of water to extinguish. Many of the rooms were being rewired and were empty.

While much of the work involves restoration, some also involves change.

In St. George’s Hall, a plaster ceiling is being replaced with a Gothic arched roof in oak, an idealized version of an English king’s banqueting hall.

``We have a modern architect’s drawing, but we are using medieval carpentry principles to put it together,″ said carpenter Mark Gascoyne.

Nothing was too small to salvage: Bits of a shattered antique chandelier were picked from a mountain of ash left in the chapel; scorched pieces of ceiling have been replaced among new plasterwork.

Behind it all is a modern network of sophisticated fire alarms and devices to monitor humidity.

The government is picking up one-third of the tab. To raise money for the rest, the queen has opened Buckingham Palace to paying tourists each summer since 1993.

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