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History Of The Sash Window


The origins of the vertical sliding sash window are still subject to speculation and debate, but it would appear that the design probably derived from the much simpler horizontal sliding sash commonly known as the ‘Yorkshire Sash’.  For many years it was believed that the vertical design had originated in Holland, during the later part of the 17 Century; although during the Eighteenth Century they were often called the English window in Holland. Others claimed it to be of French origin, as the word ‘sash’ is derived from the French word ‘chassis’, meaning frame.  However the French sash had not yet developed counter-balancing and so the sliding sash frame was held in place by a swivel block.   The earliest recorded account of a sash window may be that of W.Horman who in his 1589 ‘Vulgaria’ wrote-

“Glasen wyndowis let in the lyght, and kepe out the winde” ….. “I have many prety wyndowes shette with levys goynge up and downe”.   Vulgaria p. 242


Sir Christopher Wren’s master joiner, Thomas Kinward, recorded probably the earliest specification of a fully developed counterbalanced sash window whilst working at Whitehall Palace circa 1669; ‘a line and pulley to the window in ye Queens Stoole room’.  With this royal patronage and  adoption by Wren, wooden sash windows soon became a fashionable status symbol across Britain and the Colonies.  Examples include Chatsworth House (c1676 – 1680), Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace.  Many earlier casement windows were replaced and sliding sash windows were used almost exclusively in new buildings, from royal palaces to simple cottages. The sash ruled supreme and remained popular until the end of World War Two.

And all these Glories glitter to the sight
By the advantage of a clearer Light
The Glaziers work before substantial was
I must confess, thrice as much Lead as Glass,
Which in the Suns Meridian cast a light
As it had been within an Hour of night,
The Windows now look like so many Suns,
Illustrating the noble Room at once
The primative Casements modell's were no doubt
By that through which the Pigeon was thrust out,
Where now whole shashes are but one great Eye
T'examine, and admire thy beauties by
And, if we hence look out, we shall see there
The Gardens too i'th Reformation share

(Cotton 1683)


The new tall sash windows offered many advantages, including reduced draughts at a time when lighting by candle was the norm, but primarily allowing the penetration of substantial daylight into the interior of buildings brought a revolution to indoor living.  Aesthetically the sash is constructed from delicate sections of wood, with large areas of glass that add a certain grace to the facade; even when open they do not detract from the facade as an open casement does.

Georgian architecture embraced sash windows wholeheartedly, improving the design from a single moving sash, with the top being fixed, to the more familiar system of two sliding sashes. Oak was the common timber used for construction, with thicker glazing bars to hold the small, valuable crown glass panes which were hand blown.  The ‘bulls eye’ formed at the centre, by this manufacturing technique, was commonly used at the rear of buildings.  As glass manufacture improved larger panes started to appear and the ‘classic’ Georgian design consisting of six over six panes, with narrow glazing bars became the norm.

For the Victorians, box sash windows were a central focus to the character of their buildings, inside and out they lavished ornamentation and decoration on their homes.  Curved horns, multi-arched heads, intricate mouldings, leaded lights and latticework started to appear in the sashes, which were often grouped into impressive bays and offset with ornate stone reveals. Graduating the size of windows from the ground upwards not only improved the perspective but also increased the amount of  light to the lower rooms.

By the turn of the century the sash  was the most widely used window, but since the first world war their popularity has been in decline.  This decline is probably due to the labour costs involved in their manufacture when compared to the easily mass produced wooden or metal casement window.

Sash windows have continued to be developed and refined over many centuries, as current techniques and materials improved these were soon incorporated into the sash window.  At Sash Window Specialist we are pleased to continue with this process of development by incorporating today’s advances in window technology into your existing windows.  We can improve energy efficiency, security and the comfort of your home, whilst leaving the appearance unaltered.

Their popularity over several centuries shapes the character of our remaining historic buildings today with an estimated 10 million sash windows in the UK alone.  Would the streets of our towns and cities hold the same charm without the influence of the sliding sash window?  Can we afford to lose this part valuable aspect of our heritage?

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