History of the sash window

Although the horizontal sliding window was in place in England during the end of the 16th Century – Elizabethan and Jacobean 1560-1660 period – it wasn’t until the Restoration House Style of 1660-1714 which gave rise to the sash window in the United Kingdom.

The exact timing of the sash window isn’t precise, but one with a counter balance is easier to date and considered by some historians as actually English in its invention!

It was during this restoration period that followers of Charles II and, later on William III, brought us a taste for Dutch style, Incidentally, it was William who also brought us Gin by way of advocating the mass distilling of English spirits.

Sash windows comprised of two frames – two sashes – divided by glazing bars and created nine, twelve or sixteen lights in each. These were set in a wooden box. At this stage, only one sash moved, but each were glazed with small squares measuring 250mm square. These new vertical sliding windows were employed in buildings toward the end of the Seventeenth Century, the earliest specification perhaps recorded was that of Sir Christopher Wren’s master joiner, Thomas Kinward, whose specification of a fully developed sash window was produced whilst working at Whitehall Palace.

Examples of sash windows toward the close of the seventeenth century include the notable locations of Chatsworth House (1687) in Derbyshire and Ham House, South West London in (1672).

From the 1680’s, the growth of the sash window would largely replace the familiar cross window – the cross window being a single mullion window with a transom set above the centre line forming a cross.

Rectangular lights replaced the diamond shaped lights of the finest houses, and the growth of the sash window would continue as it made its way into the terrace house, erected during the reign of Queen Anne 1701-1714.

The sash window would flourish during the Georgian Period of 1714-1790, but the consequence of The Great Fire of London would alter the position of the sash window via the building act of 1774 in so much as it was recessed behind the brickwork, acting as a fire retardant.

In fact, life itself flourished during this period. Medieval life began to meet modern standards head on. Although the majority of the people still lived on the land, improvements in industry and agriculture led to an explosion of wealth and construction and gave rise to resorts like Bath. Bath would provide beautiful examples of the sash window that live on today, which thankfully remain protected in conservation areas.

After the Georgian period, the notable change here in building style would be with the introduction of stucco during the Regency Period of 1790-1830 – Stucco – think Brighton – was an applied render, then coloured beige and grey to imitate stone. It also disguised poor building, hence the first introduction of the term, Jerry Building. Sash windows were far from Jerry built, but the the common twelve pane sash windows were glazed so thin that metal was often inserted for strength.

Many changes effected the sash window during the period of the Victorians 1830-1900. Despite the disease and uncertainty of employment, the lot of the working classes were to greatly improve. Many could expect to live in a house, and although the finest houses were shaped by revival styles, many were sprawling asymmetrical houses.

As new arrangements of windows arrived due to Italianate and Gothic styles, so did cheaper glazing – and a repeal of the window tax – so for many, sash windows had only two panes each, and for the few wealthy, just one pane each. Glazing bars were still necessary, and without them the frame became so weak, which as a result, we see the now familiar sight on sash windows – horns. Painting became popular now, which resulted in newer changes altogether in the look and life expectancy of a window. Sadly the expectancy of the sash window would dwindle in other ways, though as the by the early start of the twentieth century, the sash window gradually phased out during the Edwardian House Style of 1900-1918, which will be the focus of another yoursashwindows.com blog.

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Posted in Sash & Casement Windows, Doors.

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