A Careless Candle

Canons’ Cloister contains some of the oldest buildings still standing within Windsor Castle and they require regular care and attention to keep them in good condition. At present a team is working hard on the refurbishment of one of the houses there: No. 4 The Cloisters. However, that building – and perhaps much more – was nearly lost to us through careless behaviour in the mid-nineteenth century.

Construction began on the Canons’ Cloister in 1351; this makes it one of two surviving mid-fourteenth-century timber-framed structures that survive within Windsor Castle, the other being the Round Tower. Royal accounts from the time name the carpenters working on the Cloister as John Glymmesford, Simon Hurlee and John Dunstaple. For £107 6s 8d they constructed twenty-three chambers. Kentish Ragstone and Reigate stone were used for the walls and the door and window frames. The roofs were leaded in 1353 by Robert Horeworde at a cost of £350. Much of the original wooden framing survives as a ‘skeleton’ within the walls of the north, east and south sides of the cloister. The houses have been continuously occupied since 1355.

From 1852-1885 the resident of No. 4 was Canon Frederick Anson. A report in The Times from his time recalls that on 8 January 1859 Algernon Russell – the 24 year old son of Anson’s colleague Canon Lord Wriothesley Russell – caused a terrible accident during an overnight stay in No. 4. Russell had fallen asleep without first putting out his candle and was woken some time later when his bed clothes caught fire. Fortunately, he was in time to escape from the room and raise the alarm.

“Had not the fire been discovered until a few minutes later,” the reporter goes on to speculate, “there is every probability of the ancient cloisters, as well as St George’s Chapel, Cardinal Wolsey’s Chapel over the Royal Mausoleum [known to us now as the Albert Memorial Chapel], and other buildings being reduced to ashes, as, from the position of Mr Anson’s house, no engine could be brought to play on the flames.”

As it was, the “energetic exertions” of those who heard Algernon Russell’s calls for help were able to get the fire under control before it spread and the only casualty of the dramatic night was the furniture of Canon Anson’s guest bedroom.

Other occupants of No. 4 have included George Evans (Canon 1660-1702), a distinguished antiquary whose research into the history of the Chapel was used by Elias Ashmole in his history of Berkshire; William Derham (1716-1735), who produced the most accurate measurement of the speed of sound of his day, made extensive studies of clock making and built the sundial on the south front of St George’s Chapel; John Keate (1820-1852), concurrently Head Master of Eton and infamous for his use of the birch cane to strengthen the authority of the masters; John Neale Dalton (1885-1931), childhood tutor to Prince George (later George V) and Prince Albert Victor, and the first person to produce a full catalogue of St George’s Chapel’s archives.

It was in 1927, when Canon Dalton was resident, that electric lighting was installed in No. 4 and the use of candles at night finally ceased to be necessary!

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.