If you want to know who invented the sash window and what is its origins you may be surprised to hear that this delightful invention dates back to the sixteenth century. There is a little controversy surrounding the origins, but it is popularly believed that an architect named Robert Hooke designed the first sash windows.
Some argue that it is not a purely British invention and that the origins of these windows are rooted in France and traveled from there via Holland to the English countryside. Its extreme popularity has identified it with English tradition, but no matter the exact origins, it does not detract from the fact that these remain a beautiful and functional addition to any home.
The original designs were not set, but over time a standardized version emerged. This design incorporated two glass panels, each with six panes of glass. The top pane could be adjusted within the frame and as the design became more solid and heavy, a set of sash weights and pulleys were installed inside the frame to aid in lifting the glass panel.
The heavy top frame was difficult to move unaided, hence the invention of the sash weights and pulley system to ensure that the window could be opened easily and with a smooth action. The ingenious idea of concealing this system within the frame has led to its enduring popularity. There is also a popular variation that allows for both panels to be movable within the frame.
Over time a further evolution involved both panes being movable. This meant that an increased flow of air circulation was possible. This was a blessing during the hot summer months when a cool breeze was vital for any stuffy room, but was also a gift during the winter months, when the window could be opened to allow fresh air to circulate without rain being able to penetrate the room.
Johannes Vermeers painting, the Milkmaid, depicts a sash window and is dated to 1658, while the earliest example of this type of window to date can be seen in Ham House, located in London. The hardwood frame of a sash window makes it expensive to manufacture and each window had to be hand crafted by a master craftsman.
Sadly, the recession and the onset of the First World War and the industrialization process meant that this expensive and slow to manufacture type of window lost popularity. They were expensive to manufacture due to the materials needed and soon other more easily and cheaply made frames became more popular. The sash window is still a classic way to beautify the exterior of any home and it is unique thanks to its unique sash weight system.