Sash Window History and Evolution Through The Years
Table of Contents
When were sash windows invented?
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 in Holland during the Eighteenth Century they were often called the English window. 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, although he may be referencing shutters, 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
Sash Window History
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, London 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
The new tall sash windows offered many advantages, including reduced draughts, at a time when an easily blown out candlelight was the norm, but primarily they allowed the penetration of substantial daylight into the interior of buildings. Bringing light indoors brought about 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 a protruding open casement does.
Georgian Sash Windows
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 a common timber used for construction, with thicker glazing bars to hold the small handblown, and valuable, crown glass panes. 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 very narrow glazing bars became the norm.
Victorian Sash Windows
Victorian 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.
Queen Anne style was a revived form of English Baroque architectural styles and is considered to span 1880–1900, although the popular style persisted for another decade. The style was named and popularized in England by the architect Richard Norman Shaw. Queen Anne homes were embellished with bay windows and oriels. Lower window sashes usually had only a single pane of glass with the upper sash being multi-paned in a six over one configuration. More elaborate windows featured sashes with stained glass in the upper portion.
Edwardian Sash Windows
The Edwardian period began when Edward VII became king in 1901 and is generally recognized to have lasted until 1920 – 10 years after Edward’s death. Although the Edwardian period was only short, the housing boom at that time meant that the architecture of that time still heavily dominates our present homes. Edwardian style borrowed freely from the eras that preceded it, combining the best features of the Georgian and Victorian styles. Double hung Edwardian sash windows commonly incorporated a six over two glazing configuration.
By the early 1900s, side hinged casement windows became increasingly popular. A popular style for the casement window was to be grouped into a bow window featuring a decorative Art Nouveau or Neo-Georgian lead lights on the upper section.
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.
Modern Sash Windows
Throughout the sash windows history the classic design has continued to be developed and refined. As new techniques and materials appeared they were soon incorporated into the traditional 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.
Lasting Legacy – 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?