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The Flat Cap on ... Windows

Earlier today The Flat Cap was looking out of his kitchen window and admiring the small garden beyond. To be honest he’d also noticed that the windows in general could do with a bit of a clean. It was whilst he was debating whether or not to clean the downstairs glass that The Flat Cap’s mind began to wander. He began to think about windows themselves and resolved to find out more about their origins.

The first thing he learned was that windows haven’t always been made from glass. In fact the earliest windows were just manufactured holes in the roofs of buildings. They were put there to let in light and the glass covering didn’t come about until around 100 AD when the Romans began to fill the spaces. These Roman windows weren’t very practical for looking out onto the garden and early versions were more akin to sticking the bottom of a jam jar across a gap in the wall. As techniques improved people got themselves windows they could see out of. These were jolly useful for peering through. Before decent windows if someone knocked on your door the tendency was to answer it. Once homeowners could see who was on the doorstep they had a choice whether to bother answering, or not. We all know of someone whom we’d sooner not answer the door to.

Early window coverings consisted of animal hide, cloth or wood. Then somebody decided that if you put gaps between the wood you could have shutters. Shutters are still used today and can be open or closed; so can windows. If you lived in Far East countries like China, or Korea or Japan your ancient windows were more likely to be made of paper. The Flat Cap thinks paper windows would probably be quite draughty and not much use whenever it rained. Also ancient paper windows would rustle a lot if it was particularly breezy. This wouldn’t be much good if you were trying to listen to your favourite music, or follow a sports commentary on the radio. It would also stifle conversation. History doesn’t really record how weatherproof paper windows were, but the likelihood is not very much.

Over several centuries glass window manufacture began to improve and by the seventeenth century there were plenty of glass windows in the homes of well-to-do Europeans. In 1696 legislation was passed in England to levy a window tax. The bigger your house, the more windows it likely had and the higher the tax you paid. That seemed fair, and fairly easy to administer also. At the time of its introduction a window tax was more acceptable than income tax; the latter reliant on people having to disclose their personal income which was considered a gross intrusion (and still is according to Ted who drinks in the same pub as The Flat Cap). The Window Tax lasted until its repeal in 1851 and was replaced by a tax on inhabited houses. Income tax came to stay from 1842 after earlier being repealed in 1815. At that time Parliament decided all documents connected with the loathsome (income) tax “should be collected, cut into pieces, and pulped”. That would have pleased people like Ted.

There are lots of names for lots of different types of windows and to explain them all would prove a very boring read. The Flat Cap decided therefore to pick out the names of some of the more common types of window and these are listed below, plus a couple he made up. So, in no particular order here goes: Cross, Sash, Fixed Eyebrow, Gumbo, Lantern, Mullion, Hopper, Casement, Skylight, Rapper, Transom, Skylight, Picture, Bay, Hexagonal, and Oriel.

Having looked into windows for a while, no pun intended, The Flat Cap decided to supplement his research by inviting an experienced double glazing salesperson into his home. Posing as a potential customer he telephoned one of the many national double glazing companies and a chap called John duly arrived the following evening.

After four hours with John The Flat Cap had gathered the following windows related facts:

  • The first version of Microsoft Windows was released on 20th November 1985

  • If you want to sell double glazing door to door you have to successfully complete a three weeks college course and learn the names of more than forty seven different types of window

  • The biggest plate glass window ever was made by UK company Pilkington. Seventy feet in length it was cut down to fifty feet by eight feet for a window and displayed at the 1950 Festival of Britain in London. Currently the biggest curved glass panes can be found in the Apple Headquarters building in California. They measure 47 feet by 10.5 feet

  • The British children's television series Play School (which ran from 1964 to 1988) used to introduce short films by looking through either the square window or the round window or the arched window. Later on a triangular window was added

  • “When I’m Cleaning Windows” is the most popular song about windows ever recorded. Released in 1936 by Wigan born comedy genius George Formby it was initially banned by the BBC because of its saucy lyrics. Another song about windows was recorded by Tina Turner. Its title was "Steamy Windows" and it wasn't nearly as funny as George Formby's song

  • There are more than 19 trillion windows in the world, with 0.2% open at any one time

  • Even today not all windows are made from glass. Some are made from transparent plastic

  • The main window of The Queen’s Window in Westminster Abbey has 22 panels. It was designed by David Hockney

  • “Mark” is the most popular name for a window cleaner. In 2018 there were more than four thousand “Marks” cleaning windows across Great Britain

  • The word “window” originates from the Old Norse words for “wind” and “eye”

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