In November 1962, not having received any encouragement from my parents in one of my passions – the sash window – my others being palaeontology and archaeology, I decided on Guy Fawkes night 1962, (when I was 9), to give up my interest in sash windows and joinery, which resulted in the 16-paned Edwardian sash window my uncle had found me from a Crown Estate building in Nottingham being ceremoniously broken up for the Guy Fawkes bonfire. Interestingly, the evening was a wash-out – perhaps this was an omen! My parents were very pleased with my decision as I was starting at a new boarding prep school the following April and my other interests were considered far more ‘normal’ and …groan… respectable!
By 1965, enthralled by the fine details in my Edwardian prep school building, replete with Art Nouveau stained-glass and unusual sash windows, my interest in old buildings was reborn. That September my father employed a wonderful new tutor primarily to help me with maths in the school holidays. He was an inspiration. Edward Wyre was born in 1915 and had been to art school. He was a great fan of William Morris, had a passion for 18th century buildings, and actively encouraged the rebirth of my old interest. We both realised my mother’s strong opposition to any ‘window collecting’, as she put it, particularly those ‘awful old slider windows I used to catch my fingers in, when the cords broke, when I was a little girl living with my horrible aunt in the early 1920’s.’
Edward Wyre also had a passion for my mother! He was a great ladies’ man. As a result, he won her over to the idea of me collecting one sash window
example. After her first failed attempt in the summer of 1966, to ‘rescue’ a 1890s sash window from a pair of terraced houses in Guildford, she
managed to acquire a wonderful example in October that year. Whilst visiting the Victorian indoor swimming baths in Castle Street, Guildford, with
our Danish au-pair girl, she noted that four (circa 1810-15) terraced houses were being demolished adjoining the baths. These houses would now
be listed and lovingly restored, however in 1966 they were just a small part of Guildford’s slum clearance scheme. I had just returned to school
after my 13th birthday when my mother undertook this ‘rescue’ on her own, accompanied by our part-time gardener. She gave the foreman a generous
tip of ten shillings and a packet of cigarettes, and he removed the last remaining complete example which, as she said in her letter to me, was
different to anything I had had before. It was in fact a ‘3-over-6’ sash window – only the upper sash was double-hung. The lower sash was movable
but was not counter-balanced – a common feature of cheaper housing in the early 19th century.
On the 21st of October 1966, I was collected from my prep school for my usual fortnightly home break. I was delighted when my mother showed me this window, and on seeing it I realised it was quite early. Although disappointed it was not a fully-operational example, I was totally enthralled by its typical Georgian mouldings, including the beaded outer lining, cast-iron sash-weights clearly marked ‘Carron’ and the fact that the use of cast-iron frame pulleys and a non-working lower sash was typical of the effects of Georgian economy.
Edward Wyre encouraged me to restore it, which I undertook in the way one did in those days, with brilliant white gloss paint, that had only just been introduced, re-glazing one of the panes in the lower sash and discovering 19th century blind fittings, etc. My tutor encouraged me soon after this to establish an architectural Study Collection and also strongly suggested that if I gave up my collection of war relics and he would actively help me in my mission to preserve Georgian and Victorian door furniture and other pieces. He was a strong pacifist and was even less keen on my collection of antique flintlock pistols which my father had bought me in desperation in his earnest mission to distract me from my interest in old building details. So, on 21st October 2016, I celebrated the institution of what is now known as The Brooking National Architectural Museum, and has been a lifelong passion ever since!
The Collection now contains several thousand windows and is used as a reference source by the National Trust, Historic England, the Georgian Group and the S.P.A.B., along with conservation professionals, the general public, artists, sculptors and designers, etc. It is truly fascinating, and a marvel to me, to see Mumford & Wood reproducing sash windows which, in the 1960’s, fed so many demolition bonfires and were then considered an outdated window type!