A Brief History of Sash Windows

The trouble with old houses is that there is always an innate reluctance to replace original features even if they are crumbling and not fit for purpose

Sash windows are the gold standard when it comes to period and contemporary homes. Prevalent throughout the UK and beyond, sash windows are most closely associated with the golden age of architecture, the Georgian era, but have been retained well on into the 20th century and can still be seen in new builds today.

Where the sash window originated from exactly has been lost in the mists of time but the earliest recorded specification in the UK is from the master joiner in the employ of Sir Christopher Wren, one Thomas Kinward, who recorded a sash window specification when working at Whitehall Palace in London around 1669. It’s easy to see why sash windows then became status symbols and were used by the aristocracy at Chatsworth House, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court.

Where aristocrats tread, lesser mortals want to follow and soon the sash window was adopted by the gentry as a fashionable status symbol as they were the only people who could afford them and of course, the glass.

The Georgian Era

Tall sash windows were not just a status symbol and feature of the classical Georgian façade, they also added a large amount of daylight into previously dark interiors. The style originated with a single moving sash as the top was fixed, evolving into a more easily recognisable system of two sliding sashes. Offering maximum airflow from the top and the bottom sash, these windows were functional as well as elegant and mirrored the development in glass techniques which was also progressing in parallel at this time.

Small glass panes were formed using the technology of the day. Often called ‘lights’, these were held in place with thick glazing bars. The iconic ‘bullseye’ formation at the centre was often used at the rear of buildings. As glazing techniques improved, so the style of the sash window began to change and the iconic six over-six panes with narrow glazing bars became the cherished norm.

Down through the centuries, sash windows were used in more humble dwellings like cottages where the traditional design of six over six panes with narrow bars was replaced with one single piece of glass as seen in many Victorian properties, a reflection of the improvement in glazing technology.
Sash windows can have soft or rotten areas all around the wooden frame and this must be painstakingly cleaned out, treated, and then repaired and repainted. If your window has more rotten sections than good, then it could be time to think about an entirely new window and this can be retrofitted to the original frames if they are in sound condition.

The Victorian Take on the Sash Window

The Victorians made their sash windows larger and more prominent with designs that protruded from the façade of the building and lots of lavish ornamentation and decoration. Herald the arrival of the Victorian bay window with intricate mouldings and ornate stone reveals. Panes were uncluttered by glazing bars and allowed in the maximum light plus an uninterrupted view.

Around 1880-1900, there was a little period of revival with English Baroque architectural styles made popular by the architect, Richard Shaw. This was an embellished form of the bay window with sliding sashes and oriels. Lower windows typically had a single pane of glass whilst the upper sash was multi-paned in a ‘six over one’ configuration. Stained glass features also appeared on some designs in the upper portion.

The Edwardians

The Edwardians were shameless imitators of the Georgians plus they also filched some styling tips from the Victorians. Windows were double hung with a six-over-two configuration but by the earlier years of the 20th century, the casement window had begun to make an appearance.

The Post War Period

The post-war period saw a move away from the sash window as modern manufacturing processes produced simpler and cheaper windows. The boom in house building saw mass-produced and more functional housing being built in abundance and the sash window disappeared by virtue of its price tag and because it didn’t fit the design aesthetic, whatever that was.

Now, the sash window is back as house builders take pains to develop homes which offer a traditional style. Because sash windows are available in timber or uPVC with double or triple glazing, there is no environmental or energy cost drawback to fitting them to new builds although wooden windows remain much more expensive. However, they are usually reserved for more exclusive developments so still retain the classical cachet that has so appealed to property owners throughout the centuries.

We produce  new wooden sash windows  for contemporary and period properties plus renovate and repair original wooden windows with a mix of modern and traditional techniques to keep your home looking its very best. We can retrofit any size, shape or design of window so that you can enjoy the sash windows that you love plus take advantage of the comforts of 21st-century living with improved glazing and draughtproofing.