The sash window design feels quintessentially British. With so many sturdily built Victorian and Georgian houses still standing across the country today, sash windows have remained a prominent and elegant feature that has played a key part in defining the history of British architecture.
There is still some dispute as to who first created the sash window, with some crediting inventor and scientist Robert Hooke, while others look toward the ‘Yorkshire Sash’ as being the bedrock of the design. Some believe the windows were imports from the Caribbean but in fact, they were exported to colonies of the British Empire.
The 17th century first saw the introduction of the window, initially made to offer a solution to a practical problem, rather than being driven by aesthetics. With houses typically built very close to one another, the existing design meant that windows would open outwards, which was far from ideal for neighbouring tenants. The sash window was designed to remove this issue, allowing residents to open their windows without fear of impeding on others.
Starting from the 18th century, right through to the beginning of the 19th century, the Georgian period saw the sash window design grow in popularity, particularly amongst the British aristocracy. Kensington and Hampton Court Palace are among many of the grand houses that incorporated the sash style. Although the multi-paned versions we see today were primarily installed for how they look, they also left a smaller closing gap, which kept out the rain and reduced the likelihood of wood rot.
Split into evenly divided panes, a sash window was far cheaper to install and replace compared to the high cost of single sheets of glass. In fact, because of the improvements made in the manufacturing of glass over the past 500 years, sash designs have largely been informed by the advancements made in the window industry.
Window manufacturing significantly improved in the Victorian period, which allowed for even larger panes of glass, turning the installation of the windows into something of a fashion statement. The size of the pane of glass on show was also a display of wealth and prosperity, but this produced a further problem due to the increased weight. This is when sash horns were introduced, helping to strengthen the mortice and tenon joints of the window.
Due to the high manufacturing costs of sash windows compared to cheaper, mass-produced alternatives, the Edwardian Era saw the popularity of the design slowly begin to wane. The 1930s was really the last period that saw them fitted on a large scale, heavily influenced by the Georgian version of the window. While modern manufacturing processes and improvements in window design have led to the decline of sash windows being installed, they are still manufactured in smaller quantities today.
With such a rich cultural history, it is unlikely the design will ever disappear completely, despite being replaced in most modern refits. There is an undeniable character found in the design of a sash window, reflecting the practicality, strength and durability found so commonly in the people of Britain themselves.