Victorian Windows – cooler than cool things

Every now and again one comes across something which is so well thought through and executed it fills one with astonished pleasure. Recently I came across a window which delighted me in this way. I guess the carpenter who made it could have done so any time between Waterloo and Suez, say the early 1800s to the 1950s, but if you ask me it was probably late Victorian.

It appeared to be a perfectly normal sash window, if a little small. You lugged it vertically upwards to open it, and the reason it didn’t fall down again was because it was counterbalanced by hidden weights on the ends of pulleys. So far, so traditional.

Window 01

Then I noticed a little spring-loaded brass handle on the right hand upright.

Window 02

“Odd” I thought. And pulled the handle to open the panel. As one would.

Window 03

I opened it and thought about it. It looked as if I should be able to move the window sash towards me, but to do that there’d need to be hinges on the other side and a way of disentangling the rope and the pulley, and of course there couldn’t be hinges, because hinges connecting it to the left hand upright would prevent any vertical movement.

So I looked at the left hand upright. There were hinged catches on the upright, and protruding screws on the sash…

Window 04

…and if you caught the screws in the catches, lo and behold, you had hinges.

Window 05

Ok. So we have a sash window which is designed to go up and down but this particular sash window can also be opened on its hinges like a casement window,which is fairly cool. However the rope and pulley on the right hand side at the top prevent this.

So I tried anyway, first lifting the hidden weight on its rope so that it wasn’t pulling on the sash, and the sash opened towards me like a casement. And then I discovered that the rope could easily be removed from the sash because the upright of the sash was channeled out to accomodate the rope, and the rope had an aglet on the end with a keyhole shaped hole and another prodruding screw to catch it.

Window 06

When I removed the rope from the catch, the window opened towards me freely like a casement and I could, if I so desired, have cleaned it on both sides.

Window 07

Now I know that modern double glazed units achieve the same sort of effect by using levers to engage and disengage two sets of internal hinges, but this is a wooden window almost certainly made over a hundred years ago. It is also absolutely the first time I’ve come across something like this in a window of that age, and as you can tell, I pay attention to windows.

It delighted me when I found it, and it delights me still.


12 responses to “Victorian Windows – cooler than cool things

  1. Many “old” technical solutions are often very beautiful and genius.

    I’m not that knowing in the field of “how to build a house” in spite of redecorating a couple. Lately I’ve been walked through some old homes by a craftsman who knows his profession and more than once it has struck me that seemingly simple arrangements really demands a lot of knowledge.

    *aside* when I noticed this post my first thought was a new theme for a certain computer OS…*/aside*

  2. Both our tenement flat and our sandstone, terraced house in Glasgow had exactly the same arrangement.
    You’re right; clever engineering/workmanship/design – and all round šŸ˜Ž ness.

    It upset me that the recent window replacement at Teuchter Towers ended up being nasty uPVC. I was outvoted.

  3. Ooh, I shall have to look at the window arrangements in my new house (which will be both house and home in five weeks). We have sash windows, so it’ll be interesting to see if they do this as well. How very clever.

  4. I always find that knowing how something is made gives me far more respect for the finished article dragonqueen. What a treat to have a tour of old homes with a craftsman.

    Teuchter, this window was in Scotlandshire, maybe it’s a Scottish thing.

    Good luck with the move, Mr Librarian, it does sound as if yo are moving somewhere cool and special.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting.


  5. Uniting your most recent post with this one, we’ve just put in an offer on a house that was built when Liz I was on the throne.

    Yeah, okay, that’s not really on-topic at all. I’m just so gob-smacked by this place, I keep pulling this Ancient Mariner routine on complete strangers.

    “The beams! The beeeeeeams!”

  6. OOOoooh. Now that IS cool.

    I remember when I lived for a while in one of our Roman towns, that I was able to shut up the world’s third most annoying Texan (“everythin’s biggerr in Texas”) for a whole hour by telling him I was moving into a 350 year old house in a 2000 year old street. I lied about the house though, I think it was 18th century.

    I’ve got a blog lurking in me about 16th Century domestic architecture, but I need to take my National Trust card out to visit a few more 16th C houses before I let rip with that one.

    Good luck with the move. Every time I do it, I say never ever again.


  7. I loved this post and the description of the window. Living as I do in a country that worships “new and improved” to the point of bulldozing historical districts in favor of factory outlet malls, my opportunity to experience this sort of beautiful craftsmanship is sadly limited. I guess this is one of the things that draws my husband to the craft of building Windsor chairs. He does this in the traditional way, using hand tools for everything. When he started buying the tools: spoke shaves, scorp, adze, etc I was entranced by the beauty of them, as they were all hand made, with hand forged blades, and their handles were carved fruit woods designed to fit the hand of the tool user. The chairs are beautiful too.

    Incidentally, I acquired The Crow Road on Bookmooch, (it came to me from Australia!) and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Thanks for recommending it. I think I may have found another author to delve into. I am always glad to come across another good one.

  8. I hadn’t thought that the modernism of the USA and also Australia for that matter, means one doesn’t have access to that sort of craftsmanship. I’ve a taste for old houses, and I’m always aware at one level or another of the decisions and abilities of the people who built and repaired them. I’m also aware when I paint a wall or put up a shelf, that sometime someone will want to change what I’ve done.

    I’m fascinated by old tools. In the old days, craftsmen made their own tools as part of their apprenticeship. I think we’ve lsot so much now that people no longer have skills in their hands.

    Glad you like the Crow Road. Banks is always unexpected and always different. The nearest of his books in tone to the Crow Road that I’ve come across is Espedair Street.

    Thanks for commenting


  9. There were similar handles and metal plates on the windows of a house where I lived in Aberdeen a few years ago.

    At the time, I had no idea what they were for, but now you have described exactly what I saw, I understand that they were indeed for the very same purpose.

    I’m planning to construct and fit my own sliding sash windows to my Victorian house, to replace the terrible 1970’s louvred windows that the previous owners had fitted.
    I think I shall incorporate this excellent idea into my design.

    Thanks for an interesting and informative article.

  10. A pleasure. And what a delight that someone’s going to re-create them today. My walls aren’t built for sashes, alas, so when I get mine done they’ll only have one way to open.

    Good luck, and drop back and let us know how you get on.


  11. Thank you. What is even cooler is that I now live in a house with just that kind of window. When I say cool, I mean draughty. But cool too.

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