Dating Georgian houses by their windows

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.

Later windows - firmly recessed

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.

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10 thoughts on “Dating Georgian houses by their windows

  1. I really like this post! My knowledge of town planning is rather rubbish, so this is great for me. What it did bring to mind as well was the trend from the early 1980s for mock Georgian houses, as the image you use reminds me of a house my family moved to in 1981 which had just been completed! I think I will try your hypothesis and make a note of the window styles next time I’m out and about though.

    Best wishes, Julie

  2. Fascinating! I could never put my finger on what specifically dates a Georgian window, but now that you’ve highlighted the chronology and reasoning behind the changes, all is much more evident.

  3. A very interesting post – and useful. I’ll be having a closer look at the windows in Georgian period buildings from now on.

  4. An excellent post, so much so that I shall be revisiting your blog regularly. Am now off to check the windows of the few Georgian buildings we have in Darlington. Glad you like “In search of unusual destinations”, by the way. Phil.

  5. Weave several bottle Georgian windows in Whitby North Yorks do you know why these long windows were used, I think it was to do with window tax so they used one long windows covering maybe three floors ie on a staircase.

  6. I’m having a debate with planners about the design for a replica late Georgian sash window. 6 over 6 panes is standard, but should the sash have horns or not. I need to obtain authentic proof one way or another on this issue. Can you guide me to the right information.

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