History of Sash Windows
Sash Windows have been around for centuries and have found themselves to be a wonderful showcase of British culture. The sliding box sash window has its origins in 17th Century London. However, the word sash comes from the French “chassis” meaning frame. Sash windows were invented to solve the problem of windows being needed where gaps between adjacent buildings were incredibly small. The traditional sliding sash window then was a relatively simple way to solve this, with early versions probably being held open by wooden wedges. Sash windows East London have put together a brief article on the history of sash windows.
The idea of two separate windows being able to independently move up and down against each other was a brilliant idea but didn’t come without problems. Because of the sheer weight of large panes of glass, these had to be counterbalanced by very heavy weights. Typically, steel, lead or cast-iron, that needed to be hidden so as not to spoil the aesthetic qualities of the window. They were housed within the frame so couldn’t be visible and facilitated ease of movement with a pulley system. Not only this, but they also prevented damage from, for example, a heavy top pane being dropped. The pulley cord could then be tied off around a cord lock to hold the window at the desired height. Because sash windows are, after all, windows, the development of different designs was governed largely by the technology limitations of glass.
In the decades after the Great Fire of London, more and more precautions were taken in various industries in order to prevent the chance of something so devastating from occurring again. In 1709 the Building Act gave conditions for new installations, where “no door or window frame of wood shall be set nearer to the outside face of the wall than four inches”. This is specifically a condition for London, but as with many things that began in London, the style began to be adopted far and wide over the next twenty years.
The Georgian era of 1714-1837 saw multi-paned sash windows become increasingly popular. They became a sign of affluence, with the upper classes spending their money on the latest and most elegant designs. The technology limitations meant that large single panes of glass were incredibly difficult and expensive to make, because they could quite easily be defective, therefore leading to the designs of multi-paned windows. Earlier Georgian sash windows didn’t necessarily have even sized panes of glass – sometimes with smaller panes at the edges compared with in the middle. Bowed sash windows became popular, particularly in narrow streets, in an attempt to allow as much light in as possible.
The Victorian era of 1830-1901 saw huge development in glass technology. Now glass panes could be made bigger, strong and with much more reliability, which led to requiring fewer panes than before. Glazing bars were no longer such a necessity and removing this need could give uninterrupted views to the outside. “Six over six” is heavily associated with this era, as opposed to “eight over eight”, strongly associated with the Georgian era. However, it didn’t stop there, and even “one over one” became possible, which was not only excellent for allowing maximum light, but also a sign of wealth.
The Edwardian era and onwards, from 1901, saw a more experimental attitude where unique combinations of styles from different eras were explored. Custom designs began to be created, combining different configurations to create unique styles. For example, a multi-paned top sash with a single-paned bottom sash.
Some modern designs are something of an illusion. When going for an earlier style, for example, a Georgian “eight over eight” sash window, these can be made with a single pane of glass. Then the glazing bars sit adjacent to the panes and simply break up the visual into sections. Although sash windows wear over time, in most cases a repair is a far better, easier and more cost-effective solution than a full replacement.
Sash windows remain popular today for many reasons. They are timeless, showcasing parts of our history that still look stunning to this day. But it’s not all aesthetics, it’s function too. They are exceptional at keeping you cool in warm weather. Because you are able to move both panes, you can create two openings to the elements, which allows convection currents to rotate throughout your home. Cooler air in at the bottom, warmer air out of the top. Modern window technology applied to sash windows allows double, even triple glazing to be an option for particularly cool homes.
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