extremely rare example of sliding shutters: this window in
the hall of a late 16th century manor house in Norfolk is
a projecting oriel window, so it would always have been glazed.
a vital if often overlooked feature of many historic houses. In
the medieval period, when most windows were unglazed, shutters
kept out wind, rain, insects and birds. In later periods, when
houses had cosier rooms with fireplaces and glazed windows, shutters
provided extra draught-proofing and privacy. The common use of
fastening bars with security devices implies that shutters were
also regarded as protection against intruders. External shutters
also protected windows from vandalism, and were common on the
ground floor windows of vulnerable buildings like public houses,
at a time when glass was expensive.
It is rare
to find shutters dating from before the late 17th century and
most date from the 18th and 19th centuries. They are perhaps the
least-studied feature of historic houses and our knowledge of
their dating and development will remain limited until more research
has been done. Many have been covered with so many layers of paint
that they no longer open, while others have been brutally stripped
of all paint using blowtorches and the like, exposing pine panels
that were never intended to be seen. However, many house owners
who appreciate their historic value also attest to their usefulness
in making houses warmer and more secure,
so the shutter is far from obsolete.
|Above left: panelled
shutters in a house at Latteridge, South Gloucestershire (1686)
with a second leaf of just three inches wide, yet fully panelled.
The small iron bar on the sill is pushed through the iron
hasp on the central mullion to hold the shutters closed. The
edge of each shutter is cut away to accommodate the hasp. Above right: the
outer face of these shutters at a house in Sproxton, Leicestershire
(1810) have fielded panels, while the inner face, hidden when
the shutters are open, has plain recessed panels. Often the
narrower central leaf, concealed when the shutters are folded
back, is a plain plank.
buildings had hinged shutters whether or not the window was glazed.
An early example is the Queen's Chamber at Guildford Castle, which
in 1245 had glazed windows with opening casements and internal
shutters. Other entries in the Liberate Rolls of Henry III (1232-
69) refer to shutters of fir, some painted with the royal arms;
others in Cambridge in 1432 were oiled (Salzman, p255-8). Construction was the
same as for doors, with planks, ledges and battens. Few have survived
intact, but the pintles on which they hung often remain. Many
were closed by a wooden or iron bar passed through a substantial
iron hasp set into the central mullion; sometimes the stonework
is expanded at this point to provide a hole for the bar (illustrated
stone window from a farmhouse in Meare, Somerset with typical
evidence of long-lost shutters: iron pintles for the hinges
survive in the jambs, and the expanded portion in the centre
of the mullion would have held a small iron bar to fasten
buildings had either hinged or sliding shutters, and many had
both. Hinged shutters could be hung to open sideways or upwards;
the position of surviving pintles and hasps (for fastening), or
the holes for them, will show which type was in use. Grooves for
sliding shutters survive above the windows in the main horizontal
timbers of many medieval and 16th century houses. The base of
the shutter was usually held in a separate timber nailed to the
face of the wall, although occasionally the sill was wide enough
to contain the runner (Martin and Martin, p77). When these shutters went out of fashion,
applied rails were taken down to allow for the removal of the
shutters, so these rails rarely survive. However, the timbers
below a window often still display the telltale marks of nails
or, less commonly, peg holes showing where the rails once were.
The upper grooves, usually about 25mm (one inch) wide, have sometimes
been filled in with plaster and painted over, or hacked off altogether
leaving a rough surface or an unexplained rebate.
are vertically sliding shutters, often used where space was restricted
or where there was a continuous run of windows. A document
of 1519 refers to 'many pretty windows shut with leaves going
up and down' (Salzman, p256) , and one has been reconstructed at the Weald and
Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester. Wooden pegs or some
sort of rope and cleat arrangement would have held the shutters
fully or partially closed. Grooves for vertical shutters can be
seen on the first floor of the Guildhall, Thaxted (Essex) and
the top floor of the three-storey Chantry House, Henley-on-Thames,
probably built in the late 15th century, which had a continuous
run of windows facing the river.
suggests that from the later 16th to the later 17th century the
increased use of glazing may have caused shutters to be abandoned (Martin and Martin, p75).
Oriel windows added to Priory Cottages, Steventon, Oxon in 1570-71
were glazed but retain no evidence of shutters, although another
building of 1571 near Chesham, Bucks had sliding shutters throughout,
with unglazed windows at the back and oriels, presumably glazed,
at the front. However, little research has been done on this,
and the extent to which shutters were used in the 17th century
is not clear.
medieval unglazed window in a farmhouse at Pebmarsh, Essex
with a shutter groove in the horizontal rail above: damage
and a peg hole below the window show where the bottom runner
for the sliding shutter has been removed
Evidence for hinged shutters is easily overlooked
as it may be as slight as the presence of holes in the side or top members of
the window where pintles (the hooks on which the hinges hang)
have been removed, or nail holes left by simple butterfly hinges (Martin and Martin, p81-3).
Many houses may have had external shutters, which remain common
in Europe and America. However, surviving
examples, which are more common in towns, appear to date from
the 18th or early 19th century, and iron shutter stays on the
outside wall are evidence of shutters now gone. These can be highly
decorative, although English examples seem to be plainer than
American ones, which are placed at the bottom of the shutter;
in England they are more likely to be part way up the long sides.
Shutters comprising two panelled leaves hinged together appear
in the 1680s. Early examples survive at The Wardenry, Farley,
Wiltshire, which was built in 1681 with large wooden-mullioned
cross-windows. The shutters fit within
the mullions rather than passing over them, and the upper lights
are unshuttered. Each shutter has two leaves of equal size, joined
with decorative H-hinges, with mouldings around each panel. Iron
bars fastened to the outer frame swing up to overlap in a large
open hasp on the central mullion, holding the shutters closed.
Commonwealth House in South Gloucestershire, dated 1686, has shutters
covering the entire stone cross-window, with unusual methods of
fastening and construction. The shutters
are composed of two leaves each; the central leaf is only about
75mm (three inches) wide, yet is fully panelled to match the main
leaves. There is no internal architrave or boxing and the shutters
simply fold into the window reveals which are only slightly smaller
than half the window width. This explains the very narrow central
leaves. To hold the shutters closed, a small iron bar, 6mm (a
quarter of an inch) square in cross-section, is passed through
an iron hasp set in the central mullion.
most commonly associated with Georgian houses, in which internal
shutters fold back into architraves to form the window reveals,
was common throughout the 18th century and until the 1840s. The main
leaves are panelled on the outer face to form a panelled surround
to the window. The fielded panel is common in the 18th century,
with plain recessed panels or flush panels in the early 19th century.
shutters in Holywell Street, Oxford with stays near the top
of each side, and a central bolt for fastening the shutters
together when closed. This would have to be done from inside
the house by raising the sash window. If external shutters
were used with earlier casements, they could only have been
fastened on the outside, as English casements, unlike European
ones, always open outwards.
The number of leaves depends on the width of the window; two panelled
leaves and one extra leaf is a common arrangement. This third
leaf is usually a plain unadorned plank, and all the leaves are
rebated to fit tightly together. Others have two leaves each side,
both panelled, while some have one leaf on one side and three
on the other. In this case the third leaf is a simple narrow plank,
while the second one is panelled but to a simpler design than
the main leaves. It has been
suggested that so many shutters were required in the 18th century
that specialist joiners mass-produced the main panelled leaves
to standard sizes. Adjustment to the width of the window was made
on site, hence the plain central leaves (Ayres, p73). This assumes that window
heights were more standardised than their widths, although no
statistics are available to confirm this.
and butterfly hinges were used in the late 17th and early 18th
century, superseded by plain H-hinges or rectangular hinges. Service
rooms such as dairies had plainer plank shutters with strap hinges.
Some shutters were split horizontally, allowing the lower half
to be kept closed for privacy with the upper half open for light
and ventilation. Sometimes panels are pierced with ovals, circles
or hearts to allow a small amount of light in even when closed.
Sliding shutters were occasionally used, either sliding horizontally
out of the wall on one or both sides of the window, or rising vertically from the sill; the
latter are called sash shutters. Sometimes
all that is left are the grooves on either side of the window,
with pulleys at the top to take the sash cords. They tend to be
found where the walls are relatively thin, or when a brick skin
has been laid over an older timber-framed wall, leaving a thin
gap, as at the Old Vicarage, Cheam, Surrey.
By the ascendancy
of Queen Victoria in 1837, curtains had become more fashionable.
Shutters were no longer used in the grander houses, although they
continued to be used in smaller houses with front gardens through
the 1840s, and they remained popular in street-fronting terraced
houses until well into the 1860s.
shutters on casement windows in Sandwich, Kent: the pair on
the left are plank shutters of uncertain date, with stays
halfway up the sides; on the right is a shutter with early
19th century flush moulded panels.
shutters in The Close, Salisbury: these have central locking
bars as used on internal shutters. Where there is no gap between
the shutters, the bar doubles as a stay holding two adjacent
shutters open. The outer ones have small stays on the outer
held closed by various forms of iron bar; usually fixed to one
shutter while the other has some form of housing for it. The bar
hangs down vertically when not in use. Crudely carved recesses
in the opposite shutter leaf accommodate the projecting parts
of the ironwork when the shutters are folded back. Some windows
have removable bars held in hasps on either side of the frame.
The simplest form of attached bar is a long hook which engages
in a loop. Longer bars were used
in the Queen's Bedchamber at Kew Palace, dating from c1720-30.
In theory, an intruder could raise
the bar from the outside by passing a knife or other implement
through the gap, although the rebated ends of the leaves should
make this difficult. Nevertheless many shutter bars have some
form of security device to prevent this. A County
Durham house of 1752 has a bar which passes over a hasp and is
held in place by a small iron pin attached to the end of the bar
by a length of chain. More common, and generally later, are the press button and
swivel fasteners. The latter have a small bar suspended from the
fixing plate of the housing, which has to be swivelled to one side
to allow the bar to be opened or closed. Most are plain, but there
are a few beautifully decorated examples.
Press button fasteners
have a concealed tongue within the housing which engages a hole
in the end of the bar; a press button below the housing releases
the pin. In another version found at a Sussex house of circa 1809
a decorative plate
holds the bar; a projection on its inner face engages a small
hole in the end of the bar and is released by pressing the base
of the plate. Similar devices at Kew Palace, however, have been
dated to the late 19th or early 20th century.
involve bars set diagonally; one has split shutters with one diagonal
bar on each, with open hasps to hold the ends. A house in Bury
St Edmunds has split shutters, with the bar split to form an elliptical
shape to hold both shutters closed. The fact that so much ingenuity was expended on making
shutters secure from outside penetration suggests that burglary
is not just a modern phenomenon, and more variations are still
External shutters are common on chapels and meeting houses,
as here at the Friends' Meeting House, Brentford (1785). These
have decorative S-shaped stays halfway up each side. 1785
seems early for flush panels, so the shutters may be later
replacements. Above Right: Early 19th century horizontal sliding
shutter from a house in Whitby: on each side of the window
a shutter slides out from a hole in the wall, concealed behind
a hinged flap which forms part of the window architrave when
- James Ayres,
Domestic Interiors: The British Tradition 1500-1850, Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 2003
- Linda Hall, Period House Fixtures and Fittings 1300-1900, Countryside Books,
- Nathaniel Lloyd, A History of the English House from Primitive Times to the Victorian Period, 1931, The Architectural
Press, London, 1975
- David Martin and Barbara Martin, Domestic Building in the Eastern High Weald Part 2, Windows and Doorways, Hastings Area Archaeological Papers, Robertsbridge, Sussex, 1991
- Steven Parissien, The Georgian Group Book of the Georgian House, Aurum Press, London, 1995
- Louis Salzman,
Building in England Down to 1540: A Documentary History, 1952, Sandpiper, Oxford,
article is reproduced from The
Building Conservation Directory, 2007
is a freelance lecturer and surveyor of historic buildings.
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