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Anglo Saxon Windows

Photo borrowed from this article about Anglo Saxon Churches.

And a quote from lower down *the same page as this photo* - and phrased, I thought, somewhat emphatically given that it is talking about a period over a thousand years ago, where the vast majority of the buildings that were standing then, are standing no longer.

"there are NO pointed arches from the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods: they simply did not exist."

The reason I found this article was that I was trying to work out why all the descriptions of early Anglo Saxon houses are emphatic that they had no windows. I still can't figure this out. OK, no window glass. But lack of glass surely does not mean lack of windows. So far as I can see, all the evidence of Anglo Saxon houses that exists is pretty much holes with post-holes in them, and clearly they did know about windows in churches...

I looked at a bunch of reconstructions. So far, all the ones I've found either have very dodgy-looking walls, so that lots of light comes through the chinks (brrr!) or they have left half a wall off so that people inside can see what they are doing. Neither of these strike me as likely solutions. A 'weaving-shed' where you can't actually see your loom seems impractical.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
22nd Jun, 2013 21:15 (UTC)
On the other hand, it also lets the wind in, thereby defeating the wall's purpose.
22nd Jun, 2013 21:34 (UTC)
Well, you'd need shutters for night and stormy days, of course.

But that seems more practical than just using open doors for light (and the doors, where detectable, don't seem to be wide enough...)
23rd Jun, 2013 02:04 (UTC)
Surely two good things about windows for light (and fresh air) as opposed to doors is that they don't create a floor level draught, so don't raise dirt, and do freshen the air at breathable height where smoke accumulates?

I agree with you; I don't believe there were no windows. Small windows, obviously, and probably few of them; but I suspect that many Anglo Saxon houses let in so many draughts through the walls that windows were less of a problem than we think; also, chimneys create enormous draughts - but did many Anglo Saxon houses have chimneys?
23rd Jun, 2013 08:22 (UTC)
The orthodoxy seems to say 'no chimneys' - or at least, no evidence of stone or brick chimneys.

On the other hand, they definitely did have ovens, sometimes in bakehouses and sometimes in houses, and if you have an oven with a flue in your house, surely that is very nearly a chimney - why wouldn't you extend the flue so the smoke went outside...? ( The idea seems to be that ovens were a fire risk, hence separate bakehouse - sometimes. But if an oven is a fire risk, how is an open fire inside a thatched house with no chimney not a fire risk? :boggles: )

But yes, windows:draughty. I'm not sure why the *walls* should be draughty though? Clearly they were able to make watertight boats, and holes in daub walls would be so easy to fix with extra mud... The reconstructions can look draughty, but I have a suspicion that this is because they are largely built by people who don't have to sleep in them in February.

... I was only trying to find some reference information for a painting, but it's annoying to find so much stuff that just doesn't seem to make sense when you try to assemble it into one image.
23rd Jun, 2013 09:06 (UTC)
My little cottage was unbelievably draughty, despite having walls over a foot thick! That's probably at least part of why I find it so hard to believe AS houses weren't. Also, I think it would be very hard work to maintain an Anglo Saxon house so it stayed draught-free, even if it started that way, and I don't know that people at the time would have seen that as important. NZ has incredibly cold and often draughty houses, and people here don't seem to see it as a particular problem - they just wear more clothes (and have dogs that sleep on the bed to act as hot water bottles in winter).

A fire will create huge icy draughts at floor level to feed itself and maintain the convection, in my experience.

Thatch is (said to be) less combustable than people realise; apparently it's possible to roll burning coals down the outside slope and for it not to catch fire. The inside thatch would be drier, of course, but there's not much energy in a spark. Otoh, if/when you get larger bits of burning material rising and getting lodged.... I would think that's a huge fire risk.
23rd Jun, 2013 11:39 (UTC)
Oh, sorry, I was misled by your mention of walls. A lot of the reconstructions have wooden walls that are practically like lacework, with all sorts of holes where a knot has fallen out or the planks have not been properly butted up together - and I just can't see people actually living with that, even in a shed it would be impractical, walls with that many holes in would surely just rot away.

In my experience, the draughts in old cottages creep under doors or round windows and down chimneys or take advantage of temperature differentials, but they don't come *through* the walls.

(My Gran had a very old timber-framed cottage. There were draughts, as you'd expect in a single-glazed building, but it was a lot warmer than our Victorian house next door, which was phenomenally draughty and chilly as it had bigger windows, more doors, and stone walls that were nothing like thick enough.)
23rd Jun, 2013 11:59 (UTC)
... I think you are right about draughts though. I find I am much less sensitive to them than Pp, who grew up in a properly insulated house with double glazing!
23rd Jun, 2013 09:41 (UTC)
The Year 1000 by Lacey & Danziger says (p43)
"The Englishman's own home was certainly a wooden structure, based on a framework of sturdy beams stuck into the ground and fastened together with wooden pegs.... Roofs were thatched with straw or reeds, while windows were small gaps cut into the walls and covered with wattle shutters"

For this last comment they reference Daumas, A History of Technology and Invention Vol 1, p489,
23rd Jun, 2013 09:47 (UTC)
(That reference may refer to the windows themselves or to a comment they go on to make about glass composition and manufacture, which I haven't bothered typing out because it's irrelevant to this discussion.)
23rd Jun, 2013 11:58 (UTC)
I'm going for an earlier period though - by 1000, there seems to be some admission that Windows Are Acceptable after all.
24th Jun, 2013 19:02 (UTC)
I suppose the arch quote technically is correct, because those aren't proper arches, as they don't have voussoirs and a keystone.

I do like those windows. They're very, very pretty.
24th Jun, 2013 20:39 (UTC)
Ah yes, that makes sense - they're not saying no pointy windows, they're saying no pointy *arches*. Got it. -N
24th Jun, 2013 20:41 (UTC)
I do feel though, that if he meant 'there are no extant pointed arches with voissoirs and a keystone from the Anglo Saxon period' then he should have said so!

They are lovely, and don't you think that sort of pointed top would work really well in wood, which is not so heavy, so no need for a keystone, and where you could easily peg the two top bits together?
25th Jun, 2013 19:20 (UTC)
Heh, you know architects. It's like they speak a different language sometimes. I suspect that to be an arch, it MUST have voussoirs and a keystone.

Pardon my iggorance, but do Anglo Saxons do arches, full stop? I'm trying to cast my mind back to Jarrow and the like, but not succeeding. The reason why I'm curious is because arches are just SO Roman - and I would have thought the Anglo-Saxons would be quite aware of Roman architectural practices and how useful the arch can be.

Yes, that does look like a method of construction transposed from carpentry. Or from an area where the stone breaks naturally into planes, like slate, or shale or whatever.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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