The History of The Sash Window
Apr 14, 2014
You might not think it, but the sash window has taken a long and winding road to become one of the most common window frame fixings that we have. Even its origins are littered with contentious points with many people disagreeing on where they even came from.
It was originally believed that they were invented in Holland in the later half of the 1600's, however research from a certain Dr. Hinte Louw has suggested that they may even have originated in England much earlier in the same century. With the name a derivative of the French word for frame (chassis), there are also suggestions that they originated in France, though it seems as if we'll never be quite sure.
Whatever the case, they came to be associated with royalty and high design when they were installed in Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace amongst others, and as such became symbols of wealth and prosperity.
Sash windows became the go-to for architects who had bored with the older casement windows and even meant that crown glass manufacturers started going to painstaking lengths to blow far longer sheets, which would give the building a stunning reflection when the light struck the pane.
Even at this point the frames to these sash windows were made of oak, as the abundance of great British wood meant that manufacturers could afford to use the best materials.
It was not long after the introduction of these frames that the window tax was introduced in 1696 under King William III. A system which levied higher taxation on wealthier citizens (deeming those who were rich to have larger houses and therefore more windows), further catapulted the sash window design into stardom.
Then came the Building Act of the 1700's which required sash windows to be recessed behind the brickwork in order to avoid becoming a fire hazard. However, most people ignored this legislation, and you can still see a great deal of properties between the 18th and 19th century who still contain traditional frames.
As the centuries progressed, the designs became more intricate, with slimmer and more delicate fretwork and mullions employed, demonstrating the superb quality of the oak used in their construction.
Then as we came into the late 19th century we saw a deluge of patents issued for elaborate redesigns which sought to improve upon the classic weight and pulley system, though really none of them took off as the traditional design's simplicity and efficacy rang true.
It was in the early twentieth century that we saw the sash window in decline as cheap and mass produced steel casement frames became the norm.
Thankfully this is a downswing we are finally starting to see turn around as the conservation movement gains momentum and we find people looking to re-utilise the traditional aesthetic of the sash design.