Be waste of time patching up old wooden windows because they’re labour intensive to maintain, they rot, rattle and let in draughts. Better to replace them with something cheaper and more convenient. He will tell you there are plenty of double-glazed modern alternatives that can be bought off the peg in a variety of historic styles, and if you choose windows made of UPVC, you won’t even have to paint them. This is the general view of the building trade today, and of many owners, too, and it is having a disastrous effect on the character of our towns and villages. It assumes that there is an ‘either/or’ choice between preserving original windows and the benefits of double glazing.
But it is possible to have your cake and eat it, as the Edinburgh based joiner Gordon McLean admirably demonstrates. Newtown Renovations, his company of three craftsmen and an apprentice, repairs and replicates old windows using reclaimed crown glass. They have devised a specially designed double-glazed unit called a slim light, which has a cavity of 3ml, as opposed to the usual 6ml, and a special seal that allows it to sit in the rebate of the glazing bar (or astragal, as it is called in Scotland) of a traditional sash window.
‘The first choice must always be to repair,’ says Mr McLean, who has worked on many listed buildings. ‘Old windows are so well made, using seasoned wood of excellent quality, with a close, tight grain. They have lasted more than a century; with proper care and maintenance, they can last another.’ Rotten areas can be removed and new bits scarfed in using a matching timber. The problem today is sourcing durable timber of comparable quality, although there are several good sawmills that supply the company. Planks are sawn up in the workshop, where everything is hand made working to carefully recorded measurements, profiles and dimensions.
About 50% of the company’s work involves making new windows copies of originals using glass salvaged from old windows that have been dumped in skips. Mr McLean is one of only a hand- ful of craftsmen in Britain using a putty lamp a device imported from Sweden that allows panes to be removed from old windows without breaking them.
If no old glass is available, it can be obtained from the London Crown Glass Company, which mostly imports it from abroad. However, with his colleague Jim Hickman, Mr McLean has been experimenting with making an imitation crown glass ‘we’re 98% there’.
Newtown Renovations makes windows of any style, although mostly they are sashes, ranging from 17th-century examples, with thick glazing bars and wooden pulleys, to Victorian ones, which tend to be heavier because of their larger panes. Where Georgian windows have been adapted with plate glass, the work- shop can re-fit the original frames with glazing bars and smaller panes. A typical new sash window costs £800. Compare it to a window with modern panes; see how the glass incorporates wonderful blooms and blemishes, how it brings the building alive and sparkles.
Gordon McLean: 0131?4774952; www.newtownrenovations.co.uk
Fountainbridge Glass: Makes traditional windows and glass?0131?557 2121
The London Crown Glass Company: supplies period window glass?01491 413227; www.londoncrownglass.co.uk
Moulder Joinery Ltd: Repairs and remakes old windows 01666 824797; www.moulderjoinery.co.uk
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on July 20, 2006.