Early Casement Window Furniture

Linda Hall


Windows are one of the most important items for giving character to an old house, and the more original window furniture that survives, the more character the house will have. Put in the wrong type of windows and the house, be it ever so old, will look modern. Retain the correct window details, and preferably the original windows, and the house will look its correct age.

A beautiful scrolled turnbuckle of circa 1700 from Blanchworth Gallery, Alkington, Glos
Figure 1 A beautiful scrolled turnbuckle of circa 1700 from Blanchworth Gallery, Alkington, Glos


Medieval houses generally had unglazed windows; it was not until glass became less expensive during the reign of Elizabeth I that the ordinary householder could begin to afford glazing. Elizabethan windows were usually divided into several small ‘lights’ by mullions (the vertical dividers of wood or stone) and sometimes also by transoms (horizontal dividers), but they rarely had more than one opening casement. This could be quite small in the late 16th and early 17th century, often taking up only about two thirds of the height of the window. 18th and 19th century casements tend to be much larger, and always take up the full height of the window. In the 17th and 18th centuries, cross-windows (Figure 2) were common. These have a central mullion and a horizontal transom set somewhere above the mid point, and the casement takes up the whole of one of the lower lights. The fixed lights were held in place with wire which attached the leadwork either to vertical stanchions or to horizontal bars known as ‘saddle bars’. Stanchions were slender bars of either iron or wood, square in section, which were set diamond-wise in the centre of each light. Commonly they were set into mortises in the window frame, but some iron ones had broad flattened ends which were nailed to the wooden window frame (Figure 6). This design appears to be a later development, often appearing in late 17th century and 18th century windows. Occasionally windows have two stanchions per light: these are for security, rather than for fixing the leaded lights, and generally seem to date from the later 17th century. Saddle bars were either square in section or, in the 18th and 19th centuries, round, and there were two, three or more in each light. Windows with saddle bars will commonly also have a stanchion to provide security in the opening light.

Figure 2. A typical cross-window
Figure 2. A typical cross-window. This window typifies many of the features of the 17th and early 18th century transomed window, divided by a stone mullion and a transom into four lights, only one of which opens. Based on an attic window of 1707 from a farm house at Pilning, Gloucestershire, the window catches and their ‘turnbuckle’ handles are embellished with a typical Gloucestershire open heart design and the handle at the bottom of the casement is simply ornamented with a knob.

The glass panes of leaded lights were diamond-shaped in the early period and this shape continued in common use throughout the 17th century. This is a far more economical shape than the later square or rectangular panes, as oddments of glass – which was still a relatively expensive material – could be used up in the small triangles at the edges of the window. The Elizabethans sometimes used an assortment of geometric shapes for their leaded lights, making wonderful patterns.

In the later 17th century square or rectangular panes came in. Letters written between 1692 and 1695 from the steward to the owner of Levens Hall in Westmorland refer to the use of ‘quarry’ glass (meaning diamond panes) in various buildings around the estate, including the stables and the clock house.

The accounts for Levens Hall contain the following item: 'put into severall windos 14 squers of new glass att 2d the squer'. Presumably the now old-fashioned diamond panes were acceptable in the socially inferior buildings but not in the main house. The accounts also refer to 'naylls to sett the glas in the wood windos'; these must be the 17th century equivalent of the modern glazing sprig.

In probate inventories of the early 17th century the opening casements were regarded as moveable items, to be valued with the other contents. They are hung in the same way as a door, on iron pintles protruding from the frame, and can easily be lifted off. The casements are made of wrought iron and have a variety of ironwork fittings; catches to hold them shut, stays to hold them open, and handles for moving them.

Iron casements continued in use throughout the 18th century and even into the 19th century, often being used for attics and service rooms while the rest of the house was given fashionable sashes.

Fig 3. Diamond-paned casement

Figure 3 (above) A wrought iron casement with horizontal saddle bars and diamond leaded lights in Cheddington, Bucks. Note the spiral handle at the base of the casement and the plain hook stay. Date uncertain.

Figure 4 (upper right) Window catches from dated houses (from ‘Fixtures and Fittings in Dated Houses’)

Figure 5 (lower right) Window catches from 38, Latimer, Bucks illustrating the great variety of window catches found in this house which dates from the second half of the 16th century. Only the spring catch in the hall chamber is likely to be original. The dairy chamber catch is late 17th century, the parlour chamber catch probably early 18th century, and the others any date up to the early 20th.

Figure 4. Window catches from dated houses


Window catches from 38, Latimer, Bucks


Catches took two distinct forms, the spring catch and the turnbuckle. The spring catch seems to have been popular throughout the 17th century. This design has a baseplate, usually decorative, attached to the iron frame of the casement (Figure 4A). The catch itself is a horizontal bar which engages a small iron plate set into the window frame; the spring is a second bar which forces the latch into place and holds it shut. There were several variations on this design including vertical spring catches such as the Woodman catch which is found in the South East. In this design the spring bar is attached to the window frame; in another the spring is attached to the casement (Figure 7).

  An iron stanchion with an expanded foot.
  Figure 6 Church Farm, Haddenham, Bucks. An iron stanchion with an expanded foot. The casement has a very unusual handle and a modern bar stay.
  Vertical ‘Woodman’ catch.
  Figure 7 Crossways Farm, Abinger Hammer, Surrey. Vertical ‘Woodman’ catch. The window has lost its leaded lights.

Far more common is the turnbuckle catch, in which the baseplate attached to the casement carries a swivelling catch or turnbuckle (Figure 4B). If the surround is of stone, the catch can simply fasten against the metal frame of the window, but if it is timber the frame is usually omitted and there is either a projecting metal plate or a slot to receive the catch.

The baseplate is simply there to provide an anchorage for the turnbuckle, and may be small and plain, but in many instances it was used as a vehicle for the most elaborate decoration (Figure 1 for example). The designs vary enormously and probably each blacksmith had his own favourites; a double scroll or open heart design is common in south Gloucestershire (see Figure 2), but as yet not enough recording or research work has been done in other areas to be able to note regional variations.

Sometimes the actual turnbuckle has a design which matches or complements that of the baseplate (as in Figure 2), but quite commonly it is fairly plain, often comprising little more than a loop and the expanded end (see Figure 8). Unfortunately turnbuckles are easily broken and there are many examples of baseplates with either no turnbuckle at all or with what is obviously a much later replacement in a contrasting style.

The most simple of all the window catch designs is the cockspur catch (Figure 4C), a small latch attached to a handle with a spiral end and commonly fixed directly to the outer rim of the casement. These are found with both iron casements and with the later wooden ones, which in Gloucestershire seem to have started being used at the end of the 17th century. Cockspur catches have been found in houses dated 1716 in Suffolk, 1720 on the Isle of Wight and 1721 in Surrey, and in 18th century houses in East Sussex (see Figure 4C).

Dating can be difficult, but many iron casements with turnbuckles belong to the later 17th century and the early 18th century. The elaborate use of decoration occurs on many items of furnishings after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660; people seem to have reacted against the enforced plainness of the Puritan regime by looking back to the great age of Elizabeth I, when decoration was used in great abundance. Even if the date of the house is known, the casements may have been replaced at a later date. This is especially true in a house which has a number of different designs; if all the window details match, they are more likely to be original to the house.

One house with a huge variety of window fittings is 38, Latimer in Buckinghamshire (Figure 5). It has one spring catch, matching turnbuckles in two of the bedrooms and a different one in the third. Other windows have the simplest variety of catch, with a plain turnbuckle comprising a flat-sectioned ‘latch’ and a round-sectioned handle, all slightly different and carried on varying small undecorated baseplates. Such catches are difficult to date, but are unlikely to be earlier than the 18th century and could be considerably later, even early 20th century vernacular revival. It is tempting to imagine that a previous owner bought a job lot of casements and inserted them in the house, but as they all fit the windows it may simply be that casements were replaced at different dates as wear and tear made necessary.


To avoid putting undue strain on the catch when opening and shutting the window, casements were usually provided with a handle attached to the bottom rim. Some very elaborate designs are known, but most take one of three forms; the tulip leaf, the spiral or the knob (Figure 10). As with the catches, the date range of each type is large and they cannot as yet be used for more precise dating. Tulip leaf handles are known from 1620 to 1687, spirals have been found in 1645 and 1721 and knobs from 1624 to 1727, but they may all have a much wider period of use.

Window handles from dated houses
Window stays from dated houses
Figure 8 Window handles from dated
houses (From Fixtures and Fittings in
Dated Houses).
Figure 9 Window stays from dated houses (From Fixtures and Fittings in Dated Houses).


Many handles incorporate a hole in the base for a hook stay, a long hooked rod located either outside or inside the window which holds the casement open (Figure 11A). Alternatively there may be a separate iron loop next to the handle. The hook stay is usually very plain, but some have a twisted shaft.

This type of stay can only hold the window open at a fixed distance, unlike the more modern version with a series of holes in the bar and a peg on the sill. In order to provide more variation, the house at Latimer has three stays for each window, all of different lengths, so that the casement can be fully open, half open or almost closed. In each case the longest stay is fixed to the outer sill, the other two to the inside of the window frame.

The alternative way to hold a casement open was the exterior quadrant stay (Figures 9 and 10). This is a flat iron bar in a quarter circle which is fixed to the outer window sill. Usually it has some form of decorative scroll at the end. Many have a notch near the end to hold the casement in place, or else the bar gets thicker towards the end so that the casement wedges against it. The disadvantage of this type of quadrant stay is that it will only hold the window fully open; there is no halfway position. The problem was overcome by using a split bar, so that the upper portion acts as a spring and will wedge against the casement at any point along its length.

Again, dating is difficult. Many of the quadrant stays are in 17th century or early 18th century buildings, whereas hook stays are found at much later dates as well.

The fact that whole casements can be replaced so easily means that original window furniture is not as common as it might be. The owner of a house in Endon, Staffordshire for example, remembers that every window in the house had beautiful and highly elaborate window catches before her father removed all but one. Elsewhere decorative catches show the evidence of daily wear and tear, and many are damaged in some way. It is therefore all the more important to retain any that still remain; even partial or broken catches and handles tell us something of the house’s history and should be kept. The catches in particular, with their wonderful variety of forms, are a marvellous reminder of man’s basic creativity and ingenuity, and are worthy of more attention than they usually receive.

A decorative turnbuckle of 1637 Hook stay and tulip leaf handle
Figure 10 Manor Farm, Compton Greenfield, Glos. Wooden mullioned window of 1637. It has an iron stanchion, a decorative turnbuckle which engages an iron plate set into the mullion, and an external quadrant stay. Figure 11 Church Farm, Haddenham, Bucks. A tulip leaf handle with a hole in the base for the hook stay. Alongside is the modern bar stay, which clearly would not be able to hold the window this far open.



Recommended Reading

  • James Ayres, The Shell Book of the Home in Britain, Faber and Faber, London, 1981
  • Stephen Calloway (ed), The Elements of Style: An encyclopedia of domestic details, Mitchell Beazley, London, 1991
  • Linda Hall and NW Alcock, Fixtures and Fittings in Dated Houses 1567-1763, Council for British Archaeology, York, 1994
  • Nathaniel Lloyd, History of the English House, (1931), The Architectural Press, London, 1975
  • John McCann, 'Antique Ironwork: The Development of Glass and Wrought Iron Windows', Part 2', Period Home, vol 3:1, June/July 1982
  • David Martin and Barbara Martin, Domestic Building in the Eastern High Weald Part 2 – Windows and Doorways, Hastings Area Archaeological Papers, Robertsbridge, 1991


This article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory 2001. It outlines the historic development of early fittings, including window latches, catches and casement stays.


LINDA HALL read archaeology and history at Southampton University and has studied vernacular architecture, particularly in south Gloucestershire, for many years. She is a member of the Vernacular Architecture Group, The Institute of Field Archaeologists, and the Regional Furniture Society.

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