The history of sash windows

With modern techniques able to restore and enhance all but a tiny number of sash windows, there really is no reason for parting with these distinctive emblems of period d├ęcor, especially considering their rich history.

While sash windows were most commonly used in the Victorian era, when they were the most popular type of window, they actually stretch back much further.

Experts think that sash windows were invented across the North Sea in Holland, in around the late 1600s, while other theories suggest France was their country of origin. This makes sense as ‘sash’ comes from the French word for ‘frame’ – ‘chassis’. Either way, they made their way to British shores soon afterwards.

Stately homes such as Hampton Court and Chatsworth account for some of the oldest recorded uses of sash windows, at a time when they were most certainly a status symbol. Not only did they look better, they also let in more light as bigger panes of glass could be accommodated than in the earlier casement windows.

The early 1700s saw the emergence of the classic Georgian six by six panes designs which many associate with sash windows to this day. As the century progressed, the glazing bars in sash windows became thinner and lighter. This added to their look and was also more practical. Some sash windows featured iron, painted to appear as wood. In terms of the wood itself, the main type used was oak, with mahogany introduced later. In more recent times, up until the Second World War, soft woods were used for the majority of sash windows, often sourced from Baltic countries.

The war seems to mark the end of sash window production, as steel casements, which offered easier cleaning, were phased in. Many smaller houses preferred to remove their sash windows for aluminium windows, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. The advantage was thought to be an easy method of double glazing, with whole sash frames taken out and replaced. Only in the 1990s did many homeowners come to consider the sash window an essential part of the Victorian look.

Today the sash window has enjoyed a huge revival, and is seen as one of the most attractive design features of period homes. With advancements in restoration and double glazing methods, it would seem there is every reason to enjoy the very British charm of sash windows in your home.