The Sliding Sash- A Window into History


Cavesham Street, Chelsea. Source: Le Lay Architects

Growing up in the market town of Knutsford, I can vividly recall the numerous shop names and frontages that lined the high street over 20 years ago. As a child, my attention was pulled towards the watch makers cabinet or the barber’s pole or the endless choice of pic-n-mix in the newsagent’s window. Yet it was only years later that I noticed the street for more than what was presented at eye-level. A focused glance upwards and the street took on a new narrative. 600 years of history was revealed at the sight of its variety of English building stock over head, which had up until then quietly propped up the pretentious shop fronts, unnoticed. With so much historic beauty promptly brought into the limelight, the question was, what story did it tell? How could its history be deciphered? Where to begin?

Unlocking History

The architectural feature that is a constant on Knutsford’s high street, or indeed any streetscape, is the humble window. Usually overlooked (or in the least, looked through) the window in fact holds the key to unlocking a building’s history, and for an architect with an interest in building conservation and retrofit, is often the first place to turn when looking to place a building on the timeline of history. This blog series looks into the most perennial of windows, the sash. (The term ‘sash’ can in fact refer to any window- a frame holding a pane of glass- but it is almost exclusively used to refer to the sliding sash- a window with movable panels of framed glass). Whilst the horizontal sliding sash (or ‘Yorkshire sash’) was the first sliding sash to be introduced, it is the vertical sliding sash that has steadily adorned the elevations of England’s housing stock over the last 400 years.
Due to its prevalence, the vertical sliding sash will be the focus of this blog series. The series will consider its historic use and development over time. It will consider the make-up of its parts and their purpose. And most importantly it will address their significance today and the importance of appropriate stewardship. Due to the nature of our work at Le Lay Architects, most of our projects involve works to sash windows in some form or another and so we make every effort to treat them appropriately and sensitively. If you own a property with sash windows of any kind, this blog series is for you! For specific advice why not give us a call?