Are Sash Windows a Peculiarly British Thing?

Sash windows are about as British as the oak tree (actually an import from Norman France around 1,000 years ago but so ingrained in our culture that no one can remember), the pheasant (an oriental bird which acquired its Brit status around the 15th-century experts think), and tea, that iconic British drink, and ritual, with…

N o one can quite agree on the exact genesis of the sash window, but the style is definitely European and represents just a small fragment of the centuries-old British love affair with all things continental. Some say France, some say Holland, but no one knows exactly where. An architectural tour around Europe will reveal numerous different versions of sash windows in period and historic properties across different countries.

However, like many things in our culture, Britain has adopted sash windows as one of its own and now they are the quintessential addition to a contemporary home or the sought-after feature on a period property.

The British Obsession with the Past

We Brits cherish our history, pageantry, and our antiquities. If it’s old then it must be good, it has a cachet, and Georgian architecture and design are one of the best representations of this.

Housebuilders, long criticised for producing uniform boxes in the later years of the 20th century, now build to a classic Georgian style where they have the budget. That means regularity of design, Georgian-style windows, and even a chimney. The Georgian house is the epitome of classic British architecture and even today, this is held up as the gold standard when it comes to designing new properties.

Modern sash window designs incorporate elements we can track through history and that’s because they work. The small panes were there because glaziers didn’t have the knowledge to create larger pieces of glass. Recreated with glazing bars for that period authenticity on more modern properties, later styles have larger panes. The rope and pulley system has been improved and adapted through the years and is still a feature on modern sash windows. They knew a thing or two these craftsmen of yesteryear.

Modern technology has made the sliding sash window a comfortable addition to the 21st-century lifestyle. Now, lightweight glazing offers supreme thermal regulation in just a single pane meaning you can keep those traditional sash windows and still cherish your Energy Performance Certificate. This new glass offers better security and soundproofing plus you can finally get rid of that hallmark sash window rattle!

Modern hardwoods like Accoya offer that authentic timber look and finish and minimise the amount of maintenance and repair the homeowner needs to do because they are more durable and weatherproof.

What’s going on in Europe?

Each country does its own thing and there are plenty of period restorations across Europe that have sash windows. The gamechanger is new windows and in Germany, for instance, you will virtually never see a sash window – turn and tilt are far away the most common window design. In the USA, sash windows are enduringly popular and conversely, turn and tilt is virtually never seen.

Turn and tilt or TNT windows are very efficient when compared with the competition across those important different elements of condensation, sound, and air leakage. They are also very secure when closed. The fact is that not just the Germans but Europeans in general, have their windows like this most of the time, that’s open but always secure. Maybe the British dislike fresh air compared to our continental counterparts or perhaps it’s the rain although tilt and turn windows prevent any ingress of water. Or maybe it’s just a quirk of this country, a bit like carpets in the kitchen (and everywhere else) or it could just come down to our love for all things old and traditional and that’s just part of the peculiar British psyche.

A Latter-Day British Success Story

Make no mistake about it, British architecture has done the sash window to death with just about every different type of conceivable design and permutation. Most sash windows don’t have a formal name but are described by their styling so the shape of the design and the number of panes of glass, plus reference to specific features like stained glass and sash window horns. They’re also referred to collectively by the era in which they were designed which usually references the current monarch, another ‘Britishism’.

When glass became easier to make and more affordable, the sash window design changed literally every decade so if you’re looking for authentic period detail, then there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Regional variations and differences to reflect building materials, style of building, and wealth mean that the UK probably has more sash window variations than anywhere else in the world.

Sash windows are replicated all over the globe – well, they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Perhaps we just have a higher concentration of period homes in the UK and of course house building was at its peak during the industrial revolution which accounts for so many of those Victorian terraces with large sash windows in a classic bay design.

We refurbish, repair and manufacture sash windows for all ages and types of property, from period homes to contemporary new builds. We offer an almost limitless range of sizes, shapes, and paint colours, traditional craftsmanship blended with modern materials to offer 21st-century soundproofing, thermal regulation, and security, truly, the best of both worlds.

Contact us here to learn more about our sash window design service and repair and restoration services.