A short history of sash windows

By Sash Windows
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Sash Window Hero

It’s been said that the windows are the eyes of the house. Look closely at your sash windows and you may discover an important piece of architectural history. If you’ve ever wondered who invented sash windows or how they became to be such a popular feature in British homes, read on.

What are Sash Windows?

A sash window arrangement consists of several sliding panels known as sashes. They form a frame that holds the panes of glass together, and are themselves separated by an astragal bar. To open or close the window, you slide the sashes up or down.

Before sash windows existed, casement windows were the norm; they were side-hinged and opened outwards. Back in the mists of time, these would be relatively small windows fitted with leaded glass, and they were notoriously dark, draughty and chilly. Lead being a relatively soft material meant that it was difficult to incorporate large glass panes into the window architecture. What’s more, when the casement windows were fully open, they interfered with the overall look of the building.

The invention of Sash Windows

Sash windows came along in the 17th century. No-one knows for sure but indications are that the concept was invented in Holland or France, from where it made its way to the British Isles. They quickly found favour with wealthy owners of mansions and grand country houses as they enhanced the appearance of the building instead of detracting from it. Sash windows swiftly established themselves as the cutting edge of window design. The earliest surviving examples of sash windows in the UK date back to the 1670s and can be seen at Ham House, now a National Trust property, in Richmond, Surrey.

Wisteria on the front of a house

Georgian sash windows

Georgian sash windows, including those of the Regency period, are characterised by having 6 panes over 6 panes that gives us the enduring appeal you can still find today. Georgian sash windows were designed with simplicity in mind. They were minimally decorated as only the lower sash was intended to be operational. In the early 1700s, a system of ropes, pulleys and weights became a standardised feature in sash window design. The pulley system meant that the weight of the sashes could be balanced and both the top and the bottom could be opened.

The Industrial Revolution during the Victorian era saw to it that the use of sash windows in Victorian houses became increasingly popular, and their design increasingly ornate. It was now possible to manufacturer larger glass panes, while advances in precision engineering enabled complex woodworking tasks to be achieved. Sculpted window furniture in grand design styles with engraved ornamentation became widespread. One of the most popular styles of sash window design was the Venetian arrangement, which consisted of a central sash with two lights to each side. Sometimes, only the central sash was openable, in other properties all three sashes were made to open.

During Edwardian times (1901-1914) sash windows grew in size. Imposing floor-to-ceiling windows were often used to make a grand statement. In other areas, multi-paned upper sashes were routinely placed above single or double paned lower sashes. Sash horns were introduced in around 1850 as a decorative feature and as reinforcement to counteract the added stress large, heavy panes of glass placed on the timber joints. Stained glass was another popular feature during the Edwardian era.

Fast forward past two World Wars and today nearly three quarters of the UK’s original box sash windows have been lost, either as a consequence of modern window replacements or as a result of buildings being demolished. Sash windows not only became unfashionable in the post-war years but there were noticeably more costly to maintain compared to their UPVC counterparts.

Of course, it cannot be denied that timber sash windows require periodic maintenance to keep them in tiptop condition. Wood is a natural, organic material that expands and contracts, while UPVC plastic does not. Luckily, as the importance of architectural conservation is being recognised once again, and many 21st century homeowners are keen to restore their period properties, original sash windows are receiving much needed attention.

Why we’re experts in Sash Windows

At Sash Window Experts, we are passionate about doing what we can to help preserve our British architectural heritage. With a team of highly skilled and dedicated craftsmen at our disposal, we carry out a wide range of services aimed at repairing, renovating and restoring these beautiful classic features of our homes.

If you would like to find out more about restoring your sash windows to their former glory, please get in touch with our team of artisans on 0800 197 0129 or send us a short enquiry via our contact page.

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Hi, I’m Mark, owner of Sash Window Experts. I’d love to talk to you about restoring period windows. Please fill out the form or call me on 01403 602701 to arrange your FREE no obligation window survey and to discuss your requirements.

What Our Customers Say

Helen Thomas
If I could clone you for all the other work we need to do over the next few years, I would! Thank you Mark for having such a good team in place. And huge thank you to Gary, Alex, John and Glen for taking such care of our windows and giving them what they needed after years (decades?) of neglect. Your attention to detail and 'doing it right' was very much appreciated, and your ability to solve problems was awesome. Helen & Tim, Godalming
Roxana Avanu
Amazing service from start to finish, no issues and no drama. The name Sash Window Experts is well chosen. Mark and his team - Gary and John were extremely helpful and professional and the end product - new sash sound proof double glaze windows upstairs and the kitchen triple sash window restored was top quality. I am very grateful to Sash Window Experts.
Amy Clarke
Cannot fault Mark and his team. We replaced the original sashes to our 1890's home with new like-for-like hardwood double glazed sash windows, and apart from being warmer, quieter, cleaner and altogether much smarter, you really wouldn't tell the difference - an amazing feat! They are absolutely beautiful windows, so well crafted and fitted, and the restoration of rot on the original box is imperceptible. Gary was friendly, clean, professional, and safe throughout the fitting, and very thoughtful in causing minimal disruption to the home. Absolutely thrilled with everything from the service to the price to the final finish. Delighted with them. Would recommend in a heartbeat.
Alison Fordham
We were nervous about getting our Victorian French windows restored and had received a ridiculously high quote. Sash Window Experts came in at a good price, gave a timeframe that worked with our schedule and did a great job. All as promised. The fitter, Gary, put the doors back in with great care and took time made sure they worked smoothly and also discussed any queries with us. Definitely made the job value for money. Very happy customers! We are looking forward to beign able to open our doors again and enjoy the garden. Thank you Mark and Co!
Peter Jones
Our house is Edwardian and has the original sash windows from 1906. I really want to make sure that any double glazed windows did not look out of place - so the woodwork, including the side bars etc should still be very thin to match the originals. I was fearing ending up with fat wooden bars but Mark took me to see a previous customer and I was happy to see the woodwork there and it put my mind at rest. We went for the thin Krypton windows. Now the windows are in they look very good and match very well. To be fair to everybody, we will not know until the winter how well they remedy our warmth and condensation issues in the house but are confident we made the right choice. Other suppliers would not do separate window panes and instead would only do a large window with a false wooden strip down the middle to make them look like two. We did not want that. The carpenters, Steve and Gary turned up on time (early actually) and got on with the job very efficiently and left no mess behind. I am very happy with the company and the windows.
Natasha Birley
Mark and his team are amazing. They restored our sash windows and doors. Mark is really knowledgeable and passionate and explained the process to me so I knew exactly what they would be doing. Once the work commenced I was amazed by how well they draft proofed the windows. They took so much care and the guys were polite, tidy, timely and a joy to have around. I would absolutely recommend the team to anyone thinking of restoring their windows, they look AMAZING!
Rachael Smith
Absolutely outstanding quality, value for money and service from Rob. This is the second time Rob has done work for us and we can highly recommend him. The sash windows are like new! Thanks Rob 😀
Jon Reed
Used these guys to do a total refurbishment on the windows of my 1870s Victorian Villa style house. Incredibly happy with the work and the guys doing it are just superb. On time to the minute every day, clearly take pride in the work they do and super friendly. Would not hesitate to use again!
Geoff Parsons
Excellent service from Mark. The windows installed last week. Look elegant and noise reduced considerably.
S Attewell
Very pleased, very sound work done, very professional and friendly team. Highly recommended!!