I play a game with windows.
Last time I mentioned this in public my ‘fun’ was dismissed. However, the windows of a building really can tell you all lot; so I dare to say once again, “I’m interested in 18th century windows”.
See these windows above, they’re not common-or-garden windows. Their frames are almost flush with the brickwork and the box of the sash is visible.
In central London so few very early Georgian town houses remain and learning a little bit about their windows will help you identify them.
As you may know, most Georgian houses built in London were not expected to last longer than 50 years or so; many were demolished and replaced. The early 18th century house above is in St James’ Place. You’ll find others near Dean St and Greek St in Soho. The fact that these buildings are still standing is either a testament to their original construction or (as is more likely the case as many original building methods were rather shoddy, being thrown up by enterprising builders and their fellow craftsmen during the initial year of their sub-lease, when no ground rent was due) to part luck and part determination and skill of later generations to preserve the buildings.
Why do these windows interest me?
Well, rather than simply just changes in preferred styles, the 1666 Great Fire of London was a catalyst for a series of laws dictating how windows should appear.
The 1709 London Building Act stated that windows of London houses should be recessed by at least 4 inches. This law was extended nationwide in 1820.
Later, the London Building Act of 1774 (also known as the Black Act) provided that houses should be brick, roofs should not overhang and windows must be recessed ‘behind an outer nib of masonry’ to prevent the spread of fire from one to another.
Thus, from 1709 windows in London were recessed by at least 4 inches.
The idea was that if frames were recessed, fire could not lick the wood so easily and the city would be safer. The laws are also one of the reasons why Georgian streets all appear so uniform. (Later note: I was recently reading though that even in the 17th century rows of uniform terraces were already being built in London and when I remember where I was reading that I’ll post a link).
Simple trick, if you see a house in London with flush frames, you know it is early.
A few other signs give away the building’s age:
- an arched pediment on an 18th C property is a sign of a 1710-30 house – though the windows above have flat ones;
- by contrast, post-1730 (after George II came to the throne), a flat pediment would have been more fashionable;
- as time passed, glazing bars also became thinner, as glass became lighter. Thus, the finer the glazing bar, possibly the later the house.
I also recently saw this article on window tax, which sometimes explains why original windows were bricked up (whereas other seemingly bricked up windows were design features, to create symmetry of design). It’s worth a read.