Posted: 12 December 2023
Sash windows have been part of the UK’s architectural landscape for over 350 years. Ham House, a stately home in Richmond upon Thames, boasts the oldest sash windows in the country – these were installed in 1670 during the reign of King Charles II. But it was during the Georgian period, between 1714 and 1837, that sash windows really became popular, and not just in lavish country homes and imposing townhouses. Georgian sash windows are likely to be found in any surviving property of the era. Their unique style contributes to Georgian properties being voted the most desirable in the UK in a 2019 study by Anglian Home Improvements.
Georgian sash windows are most easily recognised by their “six over six” design. This means they are comprised of two vertical panels, or sashes, one above the other, each containing six panes of glass, three across by two up.
This gives Georgian sash windows a distinctive appearance, which we automatically associate with other Georgian architectural features such as exposed wooden beams. But this is actually through necessity, and the aesthetics are almost incidental. Back in the 18th century, window panes were made by glass blowers, and it was practically impossible to make a smooth and even pane above a certain size without introducing imperfections and bubbles. So, small panes were the only choice until new manufacturing processes were invented later on in the Victorian era.
Most commonly, the upper sash is fixed in place, and the lower one can be slid up for ventilation. Sometimes, both upper and lower sashes can be slid up and down. In a Georgian sash window, this is accomplished by an ingenious set-up of a counterweight operated by a cord or a chain on a pulley. As this mechanism is housed in a box to the side of the window, the term “box sash” is sometimes used to differentiate between these traditional sash windows and more modern ones with a spring sash mechanism – but more on those in a moment.
Sash windows remained popular long after the Georgian period came to an end in the 1830s. In fact, it was not until the 1920s that casement windows suddenly became the style of choice.
However, Georgian sash windows are quite distinctive compared to the later Victorian and Edwardian ones, and the main way to recognise them is by those smaller panes in a “six over six” format – or sometimes even more for more oversized windows.
Even with these small panes, you will often notice that original Georgian window panes have imperfections known as “ream”, which give optical distortions. Quality control was a little more haphazard 200 years ago than it is today!
Victorian and Edwardian sashes have larger panes of glass and are typically two over two instead of six over six. It gives a cleaner, less fussy and more modern look than Georgian sash windows and is commonplace in the millions of late 18th-century homes that are still around today.
Even the newest Georgian property is almost 200 years old, and many are much older. That means that factors such as listed building status or being in a conservation zone often come into play. But even without such formalities, removing and replacing something that has been in place for so long is a matter that needs serious consideration.
There are restoration specialists who claim they can restore just about anything, but realistically, if the glass is cracked and frames are rotten, it can become a case of “Trigger’s broom” with little of the original still remaining.
Replacement is usually the most practical decision, as a new timber sash window that will look just like the original but with the benefit of double glazing, 21st-century insulation, and Pas 24 compliant security features can be made. Even with a listed property, it is usually permissible to replace windows if they are in poor condition, provided the replacements are of the same design. Of course, every case is unique, and you must check what is and is not allowed first.
We mentioned earlier that Georgian properties are the most desirable. With demand outstripping supply, it should be no surprise that the Georgian style is still very much alive in 21st-century architecture, especially among premium country homes. With modern materials, better insulation and lower maintenance costs than a 200-year-old property, some might argue that it is even better than the real thing!
A Georgian-style property needs Georgian-style sash windows. At Lomax + Wood, our timber sash windows have Georgian elegance combined with 21st-century protection and thermal performance that meets and exceeds the new Building Regulations that come into effect in 2024. We recently had a client who chose to have modern Georgian sash windows for their new build in Margaretting, Essex.
In the case of a more modern building, you may even forego the classic box sash. A spring sash is a modern alternative that looks the same from the outside but uses a simple spring mechanism instead of the pulley and counterweight. It’s a lighter, more straightforward, lower cost and lower maintenance solution that makes sense if you are not a stickler for period authenticity.
Sash windows were popular in both Victorian and Georgian architecture. Georgian sash windows are characterised by their '6 panes over 6 panes' design separated by glazing bars. Victorian sash windows usually have a two over two-panel grid design.
Sash windows can be fitted to any property and could even increase its value. Georgian style sash windows generally look best on Georgian style properties that have plenty of exposed wood. On a more modern style, Victorian sash windows might be better, but it is all down to personal taste.
200-year-old windows can be a security risk, but new sash windows from Lomax + Wood meet the latest security standards in terms of resistance to forced entry by intruders.
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