Today we take windows for granted – they are used on every building across the globe to protect us from the elements, from each other and to provide light. It is hard to think of a time before todays modern sheets of clear glass but thousands of years went past before glass was even invented let alone used as windows for buildings.
The word ‘Window’ was first recorded being used in the early 13th century, and originally referred to an unglazed hole in a roof. The term Window replaced the Old English word ‘eagþyr’ that literally meant ‘eye-hole’.
The earliest windows were just holes in a wall or roof structure. Animal hide, cloth, wood and in the Far East, paper was used to fill windows. Shutters that could be opened and closed followed after. Glass wasn’t used in windows until 100 AD. Glass had been used by many Stone Age societies across the world for the production of sharp cutting tools and later jewellery or trinkets but because it was so rare it was extensively traded. By the 1500 century BC extensive glass production was occurring in Western Asia, Crete, Egypt and Greek. The first ever glassmaking “manual” dates back to 650 BC.
With the discovery of clear glass by glass blowers in Alexandria circa 100 AD, the Romans began to use glass for architectural purposes. Windows were built that both protected the inhabitants from the elements and transmitted light: mullioned glass windows, which joined multiple small pieces of glass with leading, paper windows, flattened pieces of translucent animal horn, and plates of thinly sliced marble.
Cast glass windows, albeit with poor optical qualities, began to appear in the most important buildings in Rome and the most luxurious villas of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Over the next 1,000 years glass making and working continued and spread through southern Europe and beyond.
Modern-style floor-to-ceiling windows became possible only after the industrial glass making process was perfected. In England, glass became common in the windows of ordinary homes only in the early 17th century. So for over 500 years we have not found a better substance to fill our windows! Glass making techniques have continued to develop and evolve along with peoples tastes, needs and modern architecture.
So when you are moaning about the cold weather this Spring try and remember a time when our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of glass windows to keep the cold at bay and the wind out of the house!