The history of sash windows

A sash window is made of one or more movable panels, or "sashes” within a frame.  The term "sash window" is used interchangeably with the term "box sash window" in the UK, however here in Australia the term double-hung sash window is used more commonly and refers to the same type of window with two sashes that can move up and down in the window frame.

No one knows for sure who invented this time proven great design, or precisely when. But looking back over the evolution of the sash window is a fascinating journey through history. 

General consensus amongst historians is that they most probably originated in Holland or France (due to the origin of the name “sash” which means “chassis”, or frame in French) during the 17th century, and from there spread to the UK.  Some people consider Robert Hooke, an English scientist and architect, as being the inventor of these windows. In their view, this London surveyor came up with the design of these windows during the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

The earliest windows were not nearly as sophisticated as the later designs, often held open with poles and braces. In 16th Century Britain, glazing remained the preserve of the establishment. Glass was imported, and expensive. High-status buildings like castles, churches and palaces were glazed but the majority of dwellings would use oiled cloth, paper or thin sheets of bone, which were nailed in place.

By the late 16th century the  glazed, horizontal sash, recognisable today, began to appear. But they still had no elegant weighting counterbalance systems. Simply a frame and sash. The top sash was often fixed as originally it was thought only one opener required and this is where the name “hung sash window” emerged. Later when weights and counterbalance introduced, the term “double hung sash window” invented with both sashes being functional.

The pioneers of Georgian architecture later fully embraced the sash window movement, even adding to the design by changing the fixed top to the more modern two moveable sashes. By the mid Georgian era new, counterbalanced and thinner sashes spread and advances in glassmaking drove down prices in this period.  By 1800, even modest dwellings featured sash windows. Baltic Pine helped reduce costs further. Baltic pine is a dependable, long-lasting timber. Glass making improved and panes became larger in size, with the Georgian style of six by six panes becoming popular.

Wooden sash windows soon became the fashion du jour, and the trend swept across Britain, their popularity flourishing until the 20th century, partly due to their practicality but also due to their aesthetic appeal.

Whilst the sash window has it’s origins firmly rooted in Europe these windows are commonly found in older buildings in warmer climates, as they promote airflow and are easy to clean. A significant advantage of double-hung windows is that they provide efficient cooling of interiors during warm weather. Opening both the top and bottom of a sash window by equal amounts allows warm air at the top of the room to escape, thus drawing relatively cool air from outside into the room through the bottom opening. These windows serve to facilitate the even flow of air throughout the house and so this is ideal for the Australian climate.

During the Victorian period in Australia the sash window was taken to a new level in craftsmanship, focussing heavily on elaborate details, incorporating decorative features such as horns, latticework and mouldings into the structures. Bays started to feature ornate stone reveals and the size of panes graduated upwards from bottom to top - allowing more light in.  There are some beautiful examples of these all over Sydney and Melbourne.

During the Federation years sash windows from that period can be seen all over Australia, and have withstood the test of time. There are still thousands of  houses full of beautiful Federation Double hung sash windows of varying styles and glass types, all built by the quality craftsmen.  These window were built to last.

Sash windows have perservered over 500 years.  Many examples survive today.  Their design works in the modern day as it did centuries ago. They suit older style, heritage buildings but also look fantastic in more modern and contemporary homes including beachside and country properties.

We are excited to see so many people choosing to restore their sash windows and bring them back to their former glory!


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