The post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle - an awe-inspiring challenge - involved the rescue of a key element in our national heritage, and was a huge task. How did the team set about it? By survey, and assessment.
This started with documentary research of the written record of the living and changing history of this great building: how the defensive fortress gradually yielded to increasing standards of comfort, the demands of an escalating scale of splendour, and how the historic fabric adapted itself to waves of change, and to the social history which shaped it. By befriending and learning about the building and its relationship with its owners and users, we tried to discover its essence, investigating, honouring and respecting its long history.
How did this understanding affect and guide the rebuilding work? At one point we discovered a trompe l'oeil window indoors, in what had once been a defensive curtainwall. Another revealed feature to be accommodated in reshaping the castle was evidence of a pair of Medieval portcullis grooves, concealed under later wall-tiling, and iron hinge-pins which betrayed the surviving history of an ancient kitchen gateway.
Another discovery was the texture and historical evidence of an ancient stone wall, long concealed behind later plaster. And another: the great stone vaulted area of an undercroft, crying out for rescue, but until the recent fire, subdivided and concealed by added partitions. This too has now been rescued. It is thanks to sound survey that all this evidence has been recognised, and saved for future enjoyment.
In terms of Windsor's architectural style and character, and as a clue to the redesign of elements entirely destroyed and now to be renewed, the Gothic Revival quality of the castle's nineteenth-century rebuilding has been taken up and echoed with understanding and sympathy.
Discoveries and essential qualities such as these fall naturally into place and can be positively accommodated when first we survey, appraise and appreciate, in achieving conservation and continuity.