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The Inner Hall and Grand Staircase at Windsor Castle

Release date: Friday, 20 September 2019

As the Inner Hall is opened up and once again provides a link between the North Terrace and State Entrance, we look back at how this part of the Castle has been changed by monarchs over the centuries.

In Edward III’s reign, the main entrance at Windsor was a small vaulted space behind the Great Gate (known as the State Entrance from the 19th century). Charles II made the first significant alterations to this area as part of a major reconstruction of the Castle. His architect Hugh May turned the series of closed-off rooms and courtyards on the ground floor into a grand baroque-style entrance hall with classical columns and wall niches for the display of antique sculpture.

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The ground floor of the Upper Ward before (above) and after (below) Charles II’s renovations, with the entrance hall and Queen’s Stairs outlined in red.

The ground floor of the Upper Ward before (above) and after (below) Charles II’s renovations, with the entrance hall and Queen’s Stairs outlined in red. ©

Beyond the entrance hall, directly opposite the Great Gate, May installed a three-quarter turn staircase, known as the Queen’s Stairs, which led to the apartments of Charles II’s consort, Queen Catherine of Braganza. The staircase was decorated by Antonio Verrio with classical scenes of the battle of the gods and giants. To reach the King’s apartments, visitors would use the King’s Stairs to the right of the entrance hall, approached through a courtyard, known by this time as the Horn Court.

Charles II’s changes remained largely intact until the early 19th century, when George III commissioned the architect James Wyatt to renovate the Upper Ward in the Gothic style. Wyatt introduced a vaulted ceiling in the entrance hall (part of which is still visible today) and replaced the Queen’s Stairs with the Grand Stair, which rose in long straight flights north of the Great Gate.

George III’s Gothic Grand Stair looking north from the Great Gate.

George III’s Gothic Grand Stair looking north from the Great Gate. ©

Above the Grand Stair, Wyatt installed a high fan-vaulted ceiling, with plasterwork by Francis Bernasconi (which can be seen in the Grand Vestibule today). The work came to a halt with George III’s final illness in 1811.

The octagonal lantern designed by James Wyatt for the Grand Stair and now the ceiling of the Grand Vestibule.

The octagonal lantern designed by James Wyatt for the Grand Stair and now the ceiling of the Grand Vestibule. ©

The ground floor of the Upper Ward after George III’s renovations, with the entrance hall and Grand Stair outlined in red.

The ground floor of the Upper Ward after George III’s renovations, with the entrance hall and Grand Stair outlined in red. ©

On his succession to the throne, George IV continued his father’s remodeling of the Upper Ward. He invited four architects to submit designs, and Jeffry Wyatville, nephew of James Wyatt, won the competition. Wyatville extended the entrance hall the full depth of the building, from the remodeled State Entrance (previously known as the Great Gate) to the new George IV Tower on the North Terrace. The Grand Stair was demolished to create the Inner Hall, giving an uninterrupted north-south view across the ground floor of the Castle.

To the left of the Inner Hall, directly between the State Entrance and North Terrace, a new Grand Staircase installed. This had a wide first flight rising to a landing and twin upper flights leading back. Wyatville’s renovations were incomplete by the time of George IV’s death in 1830, but under George’s successor, William IV, work continued. By 1832 the Grand Stair had been demolished and the new Grand Staircase was finished.

The ground floor of the Upper Ward after Jeffry Wyatville’s alterations, with the extended entrance hall and new Grand Staircase outlined in red.

The ground floor of the Upper Ward after Jeffry Wyatville’s alterations, with the extended entrance hall and new Grand Staircase outlined in red. ©

George IV’s Grand Staircase, looking down from the first landing.

George IV’s Grand Staircase, looking down from the first landing. ©

Queen Victoria approaching George IV’s Grand Staircase from the State Entrance.

Queen Victoria approaching George IV’s Grand Staircase from the State Entrance. ©

During renovations at Windsor in Queen Victoria’s reign, the Inner Hall was closed off. A screen wall, designed by the architect Anthony Salvin, divided up the long entrance hall Wyatville had created into a sequence of separate spaces. A new east-west entrance hall was made in Edward III's former cellar to the left of the State Entrance. The Grand Staircase was remodeled into two separate flights of stairs rising to a landing, where they joined to become a double staircase. The stairs were reached from the new entrance hall and what is now known as the China Museum. Queen Victoria disliked the changes and in December 1867 wrote in her journal: ‘went with Louise & Baby to look at the alterations being made in the Grand Staircase & State Entrance which I think dreadful! They will have to be altered again.’

The ground floor of the Upper Ward at Windsor Castle in 2018, with Queen Victoria’s new east-west entrance hall and Grand Staircase outlined in blue.

The ground floor of the Upper Ward at Windsor Castle in 2018, with Queen Victoria’s new east-west entrance hall and Grand Staircase outlined in blue. ©

No further significant changes were made in Victoria’s lifetime, and the Inner Hall remained a storeroom until it was converted into the Drawings Gallery in 1964. Now, as part of Future Programme, the Inner Hall has been restored, creating the large, open entrance hall George IV had envisaged.