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Vindauga, or ‘wind eye’ in English, was the term the Old Norse used to describe the hole in the wall that let light in but also let arrows out – clearly if you stood too long by the hole peering out, you’d soon suffer from wind eye! Vindauga isn’t so detached from the current word window, the name which came about over 1000 years of British history. The windows themselves have also changed.
They began being covered in order to grant protection from the elements, usually by animal hide, cloth, or wood – this leading to shutters that could then be opened or closed depending on the weather. In approx. 100 AD, the Roman Egyptians began to use glass to cover their windows, although this wasn’t like the glass we see today. Only small bits of glass were available, and the quality of the glass would be so muddy that you wouldn’t have been able to see out of the window. In the UK, the small pieces of glass that became available would be put together into a ‘window’ with leading, allowing people to be protected from the elements but still enjoy the light coming in through the window. People were still using other materials, such as thin slices of marble or translucent bits of horns, so the idea of clear glass windows that we have now was still a long way off in the future!
Not until the 17th Century did glass windows become a common feature in the home, and only when plate glass making was invented were people able to have windows which were clearer and made up of larger panes of glass, from early 1900s! The traditional English casement window made with lead lights was the most common window at the time, which were inconvenient and there was still much improvement to be made.
From narrow open slits which let the elements into the building as well as light, through fixed panes of glass allowing light in but not allowing ventilation, the next window invention was the sash window. Sash windows were the first type of movable window invented, which of course let the light in but also offered the choice to ventilate a room or to close the window against the weather!
It is thought that the sash window came in to being due to a request from Sir Christopher Wren, who worked as an architect on many prestigious buildings over his life time, had come to work for King James II and is recorded as having asked his employee, master joiner Thomas Kinward, to put “a line and pulley to the window in ye Queen’s Stoole room” (i.e. the bathroom as we know it today). This is the first recorded specific mention of the creation of a sash window, and the earliest mention of the use of sash windows. People are not certain whether it was Thomas Kinward or Sir Christopher Wren who thought up the characteristic mechanism of using sash window weights to counter balance. Due to the implementation in royal palaces and building across the country, sash windows flew into fashion and were the only type of window being put in to new builds, becoming a staple feature of Georgian architecture, remaining as the height of window fashion for 2 centuries.
Initially the sash window would have been ‘single hung’, with only the bottom half of the window being movable up and down within the frame, and the top half being fixed in place. By the mid 1700s, double hung sash windows reigned supreme, with both halves of the window being able to be moved up or down to suit. Due to counter balancing innovation, you can place the movable part of the window wherever you like within the frame, and it will hold in position without any effort or props or wedges. At this point, glass was still not produced quite as efficiently as it is today, and some of the discarded or cheaper bits of glass were created by the blower’s rod, which gave some sections of the glass a ‘bull’s eye’, which would be put into a pane on its own and either discarded or sold cheaply to be used at the back of a house. As it was still used despite being not as an attractive option as the purer glass panes, today people try to mimic this appearance for use in modern houses.
As glass production improved and became more precise, the trend became first to have thinner casings for the panes of glass, and the traditional setting would be six panes over six panes for each window.
The Victorians took this creativity further, and began to again use smaller pieces of glass but with precision this time, and sash windows became more decorative with lattice work, or up to twelve or even 16 pane sash windows! Also, as the sash window can be opened so marginally, and at the bottom or top of the window, it offers much more flexibility to have ventilation without rain coming through the gap – in comparison to windows which open outwards where the rain would be much more successful at getting in! Additionally, as the mechanisms of a sash window are housed inside the window frame itself, and are never on display as with other window types, they are both more aesthetic and also less susceptible to wear and tear or distortion or rust.
Unfortunately, the beautiful sash windows have been on the decline since early 20th Century, and newer builds tend to feature alternative options, which is a shame for the architectural scenery of the UK. Thankfully, due to modern alternatives being produced for sash windows incorporating double glazing and being made with wood alternatives, there is now the option for architects and builders to opt for traditional looking sash windows, whilst still being confident of prioritising insulation and longevity for the future home owner or business property consumer. Let’s say no more to the soulless looking mega-builds with boring features, and let’s say yes to traditional beauty with modern day technology!
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