Robin Longbottom sheds light on how windows have developed over the years – and spotlights surviving examples of styles in this area

IN the local South Craven dialect, a window was often referred to as a ‘lowp oyle’ (low pronounced as in how).

The origin of the phrase comes from loop hole, a narrow vertical slit commonly associated with castles, and for firing arrows through.

However, in early domestic architecture, windows were often vertical loops – sometimes single, but more commonly side by side and divided by a timber or stone upright.

The word ‘window’ comes from the Old Norse ‘vindauga’, literally meaning the wind's eye, an opening not only to let in light but also fresh air. In common domestic houses windows often remained unglazed into the 18th century and were closed by blocking them with a piece of wood. This gave rise to the old Yorkshire phrase ‘put wood in t’oyle’ – a request to shut a door and stop the draught.

Windows gradually developed from two to three, or more, loops – particularly after glass became more available. Local examples survive in yeoman houses built in the 17th century. They are more commonly known as mullion windows; the mullion is the stone divider that supports the panes of glass. The disadvantage of this type of window is that they only let in a limited amount of light, and this meant that rooms were often very dark. Townend Farm, a house in Haworth, has particularly fine mullion windows grouped in multiples of two to six loops. Each loop has an arched top, a design that had not been altered since Norman times and that can be seen in windows at Adel church, near Leeds, built some four hundred years earlier.

However, in the last quarter of the 17th century, window design changed dramatically with the development of sash windows. They are said to have been invented by Robert Hooke shortly after the Great Fire of London in 1666, although the Dutch dispute this. The design did away with the dividing mullions and the large rectangular aperture was fitted with a wooden frame that supported moveable panels, known as sashes. The panels, one above the other, were offset so that when they were raised up, or down, they could pass one another. Each panel had multiple panes of glass held in place by thin wooden glazing bars. A weight with a cord and pulley, hidden in the sides of the window frame, counterbalanced each panel allowing it to remain stationary at any height.

The new design let more light into a room and was quickly adopted. Early examples of sash windows in Yorkshire can be found at Nunnington Hall, near Pickering, built in the 1680s, and at Castle Howard, dating from 1699.

In Keighley and South Craven, the gentry were eager to embrace the new style. Ingle Nook, a house in Upper School Street, Steeton, is one of the earliest dated houses known to have had sash windows. It was built for Edmund and Elizabeth Garforth and has their initials and the date 1710 in an oval cartouche above the door. The front elevation of the house was fitted with three sash windows on the ground floor and three on the upper storey.

The gentry, keen to update their properties, often avoided the cost of a complete rebuild by simply adding a new front elevation and rooms to their existing houses. Surviving examples include Sutton House in Sutton-in-Craven, Cononley Hall in Cononley and 40 and 42 High Street in Keighley (once a single property).

Sash windows remained the dominant window style for housebuilders in Keighley and South Craven throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. However, casement windows began to replace them after the Great War. These were iron framed with a hinged panel that opened to the side or top. Casement windows with wooden, or UPVC frames, are usual in modern buildings.