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The windows of an old property are a great clue to its age.
- Antiques Arcade, 26 High Street, Feb 2007 showing rectangular leaded panes (or "lights")
- 109/110 High Street, Mar 2007 showing string course of four courses of brick at 1st and 2nd storeys
- 129 High Street, Mar 2007, showing Georgian timber sash windows flush with the outside wall
- Bridge House, 131-132 High Street, Feb 2007, showing Georgian timber sash windows, built four inches back from the wall face
- 107 High Street, Mar 2007, showing decorative brick dressings over windows
- 34 High Street, Feb 2007, showing tripartite sashes on 1st floor, and curvilinear sashes on ground floor. Built
- 95 High Street, Mar 2007, showing large central panes, with narrow side panes
In the late medieval and early Tudor periods windows in smaller houses were generally unglazed and fitted with internal shutters. Only the wealthy could afford window glass. Occasionally in the better-class houses windows of traditional Gothic form, with arched stone heads, are found, similar to those in medieval churches, but normally the windows in smaller houses were square-headed and divided into lights by stone or, more often, timber uprights or mullions, square in section and set diagonally. This form of window survived into the seventeenth century for less important rooms such as pantries and dairies.
By the mid sixteenth century window glass was within the means of the builders of medium sized and smaller houses, and the design of the early mullioned windows was modified to take glazing. This was in leaded panes, rectangular or diamond shaped, with iron opening lights (see Antiques Arcade, 26 High Street). The mullions themselves were modified.
In better-class houses and in areas where stone was easily obtained, the mullions were usually of stone. In smaller houses and in all timber-framed buildings the windows were still of timber, the mullions being similar to those of stone, but generally lighter in section.
The earliest glazed windows had mullions with straight splays, but these were soon superseded by those having a slightly hollowed splay, giving a rather lighter effect. This detail was typical of the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century. Later in the seventeenth century this section had given place to one with a convex moulding, with square fillets at the angles. In some areas, however, the hollow splay was revived in the late seventeenth century, but by this period a plain square section mullion was more common, and continued in use into the eighteenth century in some places.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the windows were normally finished with separate hood moulds or weather moulds above the windows heads. This feature, originally intended to protect the windows from rainwater running down the wall face, was also treated as a decorative feature. By the late seventeenth century these separate hood moulds were often superseded by a continuous moulding over all the adjoining windows, and this feature developed into the fully continuous string course, or band course, marking the storey heights.
In the eighteenth century, in brick buildings, the last vestiges of this feature may be seen in the projecting band of three or four courses of brickwork at the various upper floor levels (see 109/110 High Street)
The proportions of the early windows were generally rather long and low, with a horizontal emphasis. By the mid seventeenth century this proportion was changing particularly in the larger houses and those showing the influence of the Renaissance; the windows were becoming taller and narrower, probably echoing the increased ceiling heights now becoming popular. The windows of this type were often only two lights in width, and as well as a vertical mullion they had a horizontal member, a transom, forming a cross in the window opening. In the smaller houses and cottages, less affected by changes in fashion and retaining lower ceiling heights, this change of proportion was less marked.
By the eighteenth century the mullioned and transomed window with its leaded lights and iron casements had, except in some rural areas, given way to the double-hung timber sash window, divided into small panes by glazing bars, so typical of the Georgian style. In early sash windows the frames were flush with the outer face of the wall, and the glazing bars were quite heavy in section, the mouldings being a smaller version of the convex moulded mullions of the previous century (see 129 High Street).
The London Building Acts of 1707 and 1709 required the sashes to be set back four inches from the wall face, and this change later affected other parts of the country (see Bridge House, 131-132 High Street).
Another change may be seen in the design of the glazing bars, which became progressively lighter in section, and very slender indeed by the early nineteenth century.
In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries window surrounds in brick houses were often enriched and emphasized with contrasting brick dressings, and their arches were given projecting, sometimes carved keystones (see 107 High Street).
Later in the century these features were less common, reflecting the general trend of simpler facade designs.
The London Building Act of 1774 required the window frames not only to be set back from the wall face but to be recessed behind reveals, so that little of the frame was visible externally. As with the earlier changes in London, the fashion was eventually adopted in other areas.
By the late eighteenth century other glazing patterns had appeared. Glazing bars might be arranged in a Gothic pattern (see 34 High Street).
In the early nineteenth century one popular design had fairly large panes in the centre of each sash, with a border of narrower panes (see 95 High Street).
By the mid nineteenth century, plate glass became available, glazing bars were omitted and the sashes were glazed in a single sheet. At this time, too, many earlier windows had their glazing bars removed, rather spoiling the appearance of the building.
In the smaller houses and cottages the old mullioned windows were often replaced in the eighteenth century by side-hung timber casements, or by horizontally sliding sashes, both of which were cheaper to construct than the double-hung sashes, and which suited the more horizontal proportions of the windows in these houses. Some earlier windows actually had their mullions cut out to accommodate timber sashes. In other cases timber sashes were fitted between the mullions, replacing the lead lights and iron frames.
When blocked windows are found in old houses it is often assumed that this was done during the period when the Window Tax was in force, from 1695 to the end of the eighteenth century. This is certainly true in some cases, but it is not the only explanation. Sometimes a blocked window indicates an internal replanning whereby the window has become redundant ( see 38-39, 95, 100 High Street). This can only be checked by an internal inspection.
In the eighteenth century, Georgian "pattern book" houses, when a symmetrical facade was considered essential, fake or "blind" windows were sometimes inserted to balance actual windows would often have windows left bricked-in (see north wall of 107 High Street). In these the infilling would be recessed, but it was generally bonded into the surrounding walling, unlike most later fillings. Sometimes the blind windows were painted to simulate actual windows.
An alternative to timber casements quite common in the early nineteenth century was the cast iron casement, divided into small panes, not unlike lead lights in appearance (present in the old Platt's brewery building, later the Laundry). Cast iron was also much used at this time for ornamental balconies to upper windows, particularly in better-class houses and in towns. Various standard designs were produced for these, the anthemion (or honeysuckle) being a popular motif.
It is sometimes possible to see whether a window opening has been increased or reduced in size, and cupboards and recesses in external or internal walls may prove to be former window openings, sometimes retaining their mullions and surrounds.
As previously indicated, the earliest windows were unglazed, often with horizontally sliding shutters. Sometimes the grooves for these may be seen in the head and cill of a window later adapted to take glazing. Alternatively, hinged wooden shutters were sometimes used, secured when shut by an iron bar, and even if the shutters themselves have gone the slot or staple for the bar may be seen in the jambs or mullions.
When glazed windows became more common shutters were still used both to conserve heat and to keep out intruders. The early examples were generally of oak and quite plain, but by the eighteenth century panelled shutters became common, folding back into the window jambs. Sometimes these have been fixed back open, and only the surviving hinges (generally painted over) distinguish them from panelled jamb linings.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries vertical sliding shutters are sometimes found, rising on sash cords with counterbalanced weights similar to, and inside, the sash window itself.
Where early wrought-iron opening casements have survived, they may retain their original fasteners and stays. These were generally made by a local blacksmith, and several examples of similar design may be found in a particular area. In timber-mullioned windows the iron casements were sometimes hinged in the normal modern way, but often they were hung on iron pins or rides in the frame similarly to those in stone windows. In the earliest double-hung sash windows the lower sash was often fixed, and even the upper sash was not always hung on cords and weights. Wooden stops were formed in the frame to prevent the sash opening beyond a certain point. By the mid eighteenth century it was usual for both sashes to be openable, with cords and lead weights.
(Extracted from "How Old Is Your House" by Pamela Cunnington)
- "The Pattern of English Building" - Alec Clifton-Taylor
- "History of the English House" - Nathaniel Lloyd
- "Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture" - R. W. Brunskill
- "The English Country Cottage" - R. J. Brown