History of Timber Windows

Have you ever been interested in how a 'window' became a 'window and where it come from?  Well read on and you will be given a short excurse to the past.


It’s not surprising, that the earliest windows were very different from those of today. To the best of our knowledge, the first use of the word itself referred to an unglazed hole in a roof and early versions of the window were simply a hole in the wall that provided fresh into the house. Later, cloth, paper, animal hide and flattened horn were all used to provide temporary respite against the rain and wind.


The origins of the timber windows have been the subject of much investigation and speculation. We can safely assume, that the Romans were the first to experiment with glass in their windows – this initially appeared in Alexandria around 100 AD. But it’s vital to note, that the glass was thick and opaque. Luckily, for the next thousand years this would be the only developing alternative to other, less weatherproof alternatives.


We have every reason to believe, that the use of the word 'window' first appears in the 13th century and originates from the language of the Vikings, the Old Norse, for 'wind-eye'.


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Until recently, the general opinion tended to be that sash windows were developed and widespread in Holland in the late 17th Century. At this ambiguous point it is important mentioning something about the construction of the window. In buildings such as Hampton Court Palace, sash windows frame were constructed in a similar way to today, built out of sections. However a method that was widely used well into the 1720’s.


Another interesting mechanism of producing timber windows, which can often be used as a useful guide, is the sash pulley itself - the wheel which the cord passes over, and which is attached to the sash weight. In early sash windows, this wheel was of brass where funds permitted, or boxwood or oak. The wheel was set either with a pin directly into the frame, or into a separate wooden block, to facilitate removal and repair.


Later improvements as the 18th Century progressed, the construction of sash windows improved. The most important development was that glazing bars became steadily thinner as the century progressed.


The grooves in which the lower sash moved were not painted – a practice that went on to the 1830’s. It was a sensible idea, because the sashes would not jam or stick. In some areas the outer channel of the pulley style is still left unpainted.


Although early sash windows were mainly constructed of oak, imported Baltic softwoods became widely used for sash windows. However oak and, later, mahogany, continued to be used up until recent times. In most work, oak was used for window sills, the rest of the window being constructed of soft wood, which remained the common practice from the mid-18th Century until the Second World War.


Today Now, in the twenty first century, it is possible to walk down Victorian streets and see a selection of replacement windows dating from 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. A practice often seen in late Victorian and Edwardian villas was to run an elaborate moulded cornice or transom across the meeting rail. This was usually mounted on the box frame, with the sash operating behind it. Sometimes, however, the meeting rail itself had a miniature dental cornice, or was curved, as may be seen in districts such as Muswell Hill, North London. In the same districts can be seen elaborate multi-curved sashes. It can be alarming to see that as many as three-quarters of the original sash windows have been lost.


In the past fifty or so years, however, their popularity declined. But with the growth of a more enlightened attitude towards conservation and growing appreciation of the craftsmanship and design that went into everyday buildings of the 18th and 19th Centuries, sash windows once more enjoy a revival.


People appreciate their aesthetic and functional contribution to the house, and they are now restoring and reinstating sash windows that were removed in less enlightened days.

DMC Firewall is developed by Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd