14Mar 2016

A Brief History of Windows.

Posted in: News and Period Homes  –  By Patchett Joinery

If you’re anything like us, you’ll find yourself wondering about all kinds of things throughout the day. These little flashes of curiosity come and go, but sometimes they can reveal some fascinating things about the world around us. In this guide, we’ll be looking at the humble window and its history around the world.

Window is first recorded in the early 13th century, it referred to an unglazed hole in the roof. The earliest windows amounted to just a hole in the wall to let light in, or in certain circumstances an arrow out! Over time and probably owing to the machinations of the weather, windows were covered with animal hide, cloth or wood. The need to protect the inhabitants from the above, whilst still providing light, led to the creation of windows.

The Romans were the first known peoples to use glass for windows, this technology was likely to have been produced by Roman-Egypt in Alexandria around 100 AD, (The Romans are also the first known culture to use glazed windows, which allowed them to solar heat theirbaths). Because of the well-developed trade relations among the peoples of the Roman Empire, its highway and transport networks, and a Roman administration conducive to economic progress, were ideal prerequisites for the quick spread of the new invention and the art of glassmaking.

A flourishing glass industry was developed in Europe at the end of the 13th century, a glass industry was established in Venice by the time of the Crusades (AD 1096-1270). Despite the best efforts of the venetians who dominated the glass industry to keep the new technologies secret it soon spread around Europe.

The glass that we know today bears no resemblance to the cylindrical shapes flattened into sheets with circular striation patterns, which originally looked like blown glass jars. It would be over a millennium before a window glass became transparent enough to see through clearly, (see the above). Over the centuries techniques were developed to shear through one side of a brown glass cylinder and produce a thinner rectangular window pane from the same amount of glass material. This technique enabled tall narrow windows to be made separated by a vertical support called a mullion. This type of window became the window of choice among the upper class Europeans.

During the 1500’s in England there was a major breakthrough as English glassmaker George Ravenscroft (1618-1681) invented led glass in 1674.

The Window Tax, (1696-1851) was instigated by William the 111 and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, as a direct tax on the peoples was far too controversial. Many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, they believed that the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable governmental intrusion into private matters, and a threat to personal liberty. The Glass Excise Tax (1745-1845), less well-known than the Window Tax, was first levied by Parliament in 1745. All types of glass were subject to this tax, from window and bottle glass to the very finest flint glass. The introduction of this excise imposed a heavy financial burden and admin restrictions on the English and eventually the Irish glass industry.

There was a strong agitation in England in favour of the abolition of the window tax which as stated was repealed in 1851. The glass tax was finally abolished by Sir Robert Peel’s government in 1845, it was said that the deficiency of light in town habitations, in a great measure caused by the enormous cost of glass, is universally admitted to be one of the principal causes of the unhealthiness of cities.

The modern glass industry started to develop in Britain after the repeal of the Excise Act in 1845, this relieved the heavy taxation that had been enforced. Before that time excise duties were placed on the amount of glass melted in a glasshouse and levied continuously from 1745 to 1845.

Two German scientists laid the foundation for modern glass technology, Otto Schlott (1851-1935) and Ernst Abbe (1840-1905), Schlott who was a chemist and technologist, studied the influence of many chemical elements of glass, and in a manner of speaking glass was rediscovered. In the field of optical glass Abbe a professor at the University of Jena and joint owner of the Carl Zeiss firm helped to make significant technological advances.

A new method of producing glass, knows as the cylinder process, was developed in Europe during the early 19th century. In 1832, this process was used by two British brothers, the Chance brothers to create sheet glass. They became the leading producers of window and plate glass. This advancement allowed for larger panes of glass to be created without interruption, freeing up the space planning in interiors as well as the fenestration of buildings, an example of this then is Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 marked the beginning of the discovery of glass as a building material. This revolutionary new building encouraged the use of glass in public, domestic and horticultural architecture.

Sir Alistair Pilkington was honoured with a knight hood in 1970, he invented the “float” method of glass making which revolutionised the industry in the late 1960’s. Although he had the idea in the early 1950’s it took seven years of hard work to prove that he was right. The cost of developing the process was high, this because his company was a small family owned concern. The float glass process was a revolutionary method of high quality flat glass production by floating molten glass over a bath of molten tin, avoiding the costly need to grind and polish plate glass to make it clear.

Windows have changed over the centuries, and glass can be many things, it can be self-cleaning, decorative, help reduce the noise inside your house without sacrificing daylight, improve energy efficiency, and go in some way to reduce your carbon footprint. Historically many nations were involved with the end product that you now see in your home, including, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Venetians, the Germans, the English and including of course the Industrial Revolution which gave us the manufacturing process that enabled the large factories and improved efficiency and output.

Brought to you courtesy of Patchett Joinery, Manufacturers of Wooden Sash Windows