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Victorian and Edwardian
sash windows

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Although Victorian and Edwardian houses are still giving good service today, few have their original windows. Most have been fitted with replacement UPVC windows designed to look like the originals.

My mother's written recollections of life in her childhood in the early 1900s frequently mention sash windows. So I wanted to learn more about what they were. This page is about what I discovered.


Appearance of sash windows

Sash window pre 1900

Detail from an early 1900s photo showing an original sash window. It is slightly open with its lower section slid up inside its upper one. In Victorian and Edwardian times the frames were made of wood.

old sash window, the worse for wear

Modern photo of a Victorian sash window. The flaking paintwork illustrates how the wooden frames need to be painted regularly to stay in good condition.

replacement sash window with UPVC frames

Modern photo of a replacement window. There are several styles which preserve the two-section appearance of Victorian and Edwardian sash windows. This one opens by tilting rather than sliding. When closed the cross bar appears thicker than in the Victorian or Edwardian counterparts.

A 'sash window' is a window in two sections which opens by sliding one or both of the sections up or down over the other. Little effort is required because of an ingenious system of pulleys and counter balancing weights which keep the window open or closed in any position. Each section is known as a 'sash'. The outer one is the top one.

I understand that sash windows were in use as early as the 17th century, and they were commonplace before the onset of the commercial use of plastics in the middle of the 20th century. In their heyday sash windows always had wooden frames.

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Sash window cords

The principle of how sash windows open and close easily and stay in position

The principle of how sash windows open and close easily and stay in position with a system of pulleys and counterbalancing weights. Schematic and not to scale.

Each window section (ie the upper and the lower sash) is hung on cords which pass over pulleys and connect to weights which are concealed inside the window frame.

Old sash window from inside showing the sash chain that replaced the sash cord in better-off households and the sash window locking mechanism

This photo taken from inside, shows not only a chain (rather than a cord) but also the sash window locking mechanism and the internal horns on the top of the lower window section.

Sometimes the sash cords would snap with wear while they were being opened or closed. Then the window would crash down onto fingers. It was very heavy and could hurt a lot.

Sash windows in the better-off houses and public buildings tended to have chains instead of cords. These, of course, snapped much more rarely.

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Sash window weights

Old sash window weights, tied together in pairs of equal weights

Old sash window weights about 30 cm long, tied together in pairs of equal weight, photographed at a car boot sale. They were very heavy!

The weights counterbalance the weight of the window so that it can be raised and lowered with little or no effort and then stays in whatever position it is left in.

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Sash window frames

The frames of the sash windows were made of wood. So they expanded in damp weather unless they were painted regularly. The expansion changed the fit, so they often stuck. Then in drier weather the wood contracted and the windows rattled around in the wind.


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Sash window horns

'Horns' on the upper section of sash windows

The 'horns' on either side of the upper sash window. They prevent the sections from sliding down so far behind the lower sash that it can't be reached. You have to look carefully to see them in the above 'original' photographs. (There were similar horns inside on the lower sash section - see the photo.)

There are projections called 'horns' at the lower edges of the upper sash window - see the sketch.

These horns prevent the top window from sliding down so far behind the lower sash that it can't be reached from inside.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.