History of Sash Windows
February 18, 2015
The word “Sash” is from the French word “chassis”, meaning frame. The word may be French in origin, but sash windows are very British and were to become one of the most popular visual elements in buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, spanning Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. The term sash, describes any window where the glazed panels open either in a vertical or swinging movement. Sash windows replaced hinged wrought iron casement windows which were dark and draughty, they were instantly popular offering greater aesthetics and practicality. The new look windows changed and enhanced the look of the facade, with larger sheets of reflecting glass and their white painted frames. The insides of houses were also transformed with much more light being allowed in.
Glass technology evolved through the eras, with distinct types influencing the design and development of the sash window. As glass making improved, sashes could be made with larger panes and less glazing bars. Harsh window taxes promoted one method of manufacture over another.
Cylinder Glass– handmade mouth blown glass made by blowing a bottle shaped cylinder and removing the two ends. The cylinder would then be cut, reheated and unrolled to give a piece of glass. Popular during mid late 19th century. In 1851 the Crystal Palace was build using cylinder glass made by Chance Bros Birmingham.
Crown Glass – handmade mouth blown and spun glass, made by blowing a sphere which is opened out at one end and spun into a flat disc. Several panes of glass would be cut from each disc. Popular during the Georgian era.
Plate Glass – Slab glass ground and polished and was flat. Very expensive 19th century glass which was limited in use to mirrors and the grandest windows. As the price came down it became increasingly used.
Sheet Glass – First produced in early 20th century, machine made glass drawn out of a glass furnace in sheet form between rollers, consistent in thickness.
The classic pattern for windows from this period was 6 panes over 6 panes. These early windows had chunky timber members, dividing the sashes into small panes to suit the limited supply of poor quality glass available at the time. Early sashes were made in oak and sometimes mahogany, but by the 1720’s cheaper baltic pine had been introduced. Softwoods became popular but required a protective coat of paint. White lead paint, primed with red lead was used until the Victorian period. These softwoods were also popular on the east coast of America, where painted windows were the norm from an early date. The window sills in most cases continued to be made in oak.
Different styles of sash window were developed. The Palladian window with three sections, the side ones narrower than the round arched central one, was used by Inigo Jones early in the 17th century. A century later, this window was in evidence even in quite modest houses. Internal wooden shutters were often found on the inside of the window. The bay or bow window was also popular from the mid 18th century, it was practical especially in town houses, as they admitted more light and extended the front room without increasing the width of the house.
During this time sash windows became more ornate, with architraves, trims and stone surrounds. Proportions were sacrificed in pursuit of maximising light and air. The availability of sheet glass altered the design, glazing bars became finer, with fewer sub divisions. Large panes were the fashion with six and soon four panels becoming the norm. Old sashes were sometimes altered, with glazing bars removed and windows re-glazed with the new large sheets of glass.
The death of Queen Victoria marked the start of the Edwardian era and for sash windows this meant a return to the simple, clean and elegant lines of the Georgian windows, but often on a larger scale. Windows of this time often combined multiple panes of glass with a single pane lower sash. The expanse of glass was much heavier than in earlier windows which put increased stress on the joints, so a sash horn was developed to overcome this issue. Upper sashes often incorporated stained glass, a feature that was to remain popular until the 1930’s. During this time the casement window made a comeback.
The construction of sash windows involved complicated techniques and mouldings which all added cost. This was the main reason for the decline in the use of the sash window post the First World War.
Sash windows were held closed and made secure by the use of a sash fastener, often in brass and later in plated finishes such as nickel. In the Victorian era designs became more decorative. Lower windows would sometime have sash lifts or sash hooks, these allowed for easy lifting of the lower pane. We sell a range of suitable sash window furniture in traditional styles. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.
Listed Heritage Magazine – Charles Brooking
Period Details by Judith and Martin Miller