Friday, December 18, 2009

Windsor castle, part 3

George IV found his father’s quarters too dilapidated and inconvenient to suit his luxurious tastes and he persuaded Parliament to vote 150.000 pounds for renovations; as with most estimates the sum fell far short of requirements and in the end, after sixteen years of continuous work, over a million pounds was expended transforming the castle back into a romantic fortress with a gorgeous palace within. The work was carried out under the supervision of the well-known architect, Jeffry Wyatt, who, with the king’s leave, changed his name to Wyatville, probably to make it worthier of the knighthood subsequently bestowed upon him. His achievements at Windsor were extensive, but some have been a target for criticism. For instance, exception has been taken to the hollow stone crown, some thirty three feet in height, which Wyatville fitted to the top of the Round Tower. But had he not done this, the Round Tower would have appeared absurdly squat beside the buildings of the Quadrangle to which he added an extra storey. This imbalance had indeed been apparent long before and artists had sought to conceal it in their pictures of the castle by surmounting the Round Tower with an outsize Royal Standard. It is thanks to Wyatville that the distant view of the castle is so dramatically beautiful, for it was he who first conceived the possibilities of the castle as a composite building. Moreover, despite being constantly hampered by inadequate funds, he built so soundly that the castle has needed little restoration since his time.
Among the interior alterations he made, one of the most important is the Grand Corridor, 550 feet in length, which extends round two sides of the Quadrangle. It is not perhaps a handsome addition, but it was a very necessary one, for previously there was no communication from one side to the other except through a maze of private apartments or across the open courtyard. The Grand Corridor became notorious during Queen Victoria’s reign, for in this ill-heated tunnel ministers and other visitors had to wait for an audience with Her Majesty. It was there also that the queen would sit after dinner on less formal occasions and each of her guests would be summoned to talk to her in turn while the remainder of the company stood uncomfortably in the draughts or surreptitiously leant against the wall to ease their aching feet.
Another creation of Wyatville’s is the Waterloo Chamber, built over a small courtyard known as the Horn Court. It was designed to gratify a whim of George IV who saw himself among those responsible for freeing Europe from the tyranny of Napoleon. He had commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all monarchs, statesmen and warriors who had contributed to the final victory, and the Waterloo Chamber was built to house this collection. It is a magnificent hall in which the problems of lighting have been skillfully solved by adding a clerestory and the huge room with its vast dining table, large enough to seat 150 persons and its immense seamless carpet (80 feet by 40 feet) lends grandeur to a series of portraits of great historical interest.
After Wyatville’s death in 1840 the few alterations to the castle were mostly those already envisaged in his original plan, but postponed for lack of money. New and commodious stables were built at a discreet distance from the castle with stalls for a hundred horses. Such vast stables are still in regular use since Windsor become an important centre for polo and other forms of equitation. The Lower Ward contains some red brick houses of pleasing appearance but the Gothic revivalists yearned for a uniform grey stone castle as being more romantic and several brick buildings were swept away, including the only one in the castle designed by Wren.
Later in the nineteenth century a gentler policy was adopted and many of the old and quaint houses belonging to the College of St George have been carefully and sympathetically restored. The chapel itself underwent a complete overhaul in the 1920s during which the whole vaulted roof was magically renovated and the pinnacles outside received a fresh collection of King’s Beasts to replace those removed as being unsafe on the recommendation of Christopher Wren in 1681.

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