A History of Curtains in The UK
As curtains are such widespread and fundamental features of households, it is easy to not give them a second thought. However, curtains have a long and varied history which we, at Paul James Blinds, would like to share the curious story of the development of curtains with you.
Origins of Curtains
The first instances of curtains made from textiles, rather than animal hides, were all the way back in Ancient Egypt. They would be made from fabrics such as linen and cotton and were used as doorway coverings and room dividers for privacy. Further historic evidence of curtain use has been found from excavation sites and mosaics from ancient Greece and Rome.
The Medieval Period
There isn’t much detailed information which survived from the Medieval Period (hence why it is also known as the Dark Ages). It is known, however, that homes would generally have had small windows so as to reduce the amount of cold able to get in. These windows would have had shutters to keep out cold and draughts; it is reasonable to assume in wealthier homes, cloths and tapestries would also be hung over windows and doors for the same purpose.
The English Renaissance
It wasn’t until the Renaissance period that glass-paned windows became available; for centuries still, glass would only be found in homes of the rich and affluent. In the UK, until the late 16th century wooden shutters were the prevailing window coverings used to try and keep out cold. Items in homes that were reminiscent of curtains included tapestries and wall hangings which were used to partition rooms, reduce draughts and provide insulation. It was hard to keep homes warm during this time and hanging sturdy fabrics over entryways and cold stonework could aid this goal.
Another item in the home in this period with functional similarities to modern curtains were bed hangings. These were essentially curtains hung around the bed to create privacy, reduce draughts and darken the area to aid sleep. Bed hangings were also seen as a status symbol according to how expensive and ornamented the fabrics used were.
The 17th century
During the 17th century, curtains as we know them were still somewhat rare, only being found in important rooms of grand houses. Early curtains would generally be made from a single sheet of fabric which would be draped from a rod installed above the window. Curtains were less lavish than bed hangings, often being made from thin silks or wools in simpler homes.
In this time, the window accessories pelmets and valances were introduced from Europe. These added decorative touches, as well as the practicality of draught exclusion, to windows. Pull up curtains, which are reminiscent of blinds, were also invented in this century.
Although shutters were still common during this period, curtains were increasing in popularity. In the earlier part of the century, pull up curtains were widely favoured and styled in increasingly ornate ways. Pelmets and valances also took off and more elaborate designs were introduced to add interest to a previously predominantly functional feature for hiding curtain workings.
Later in the century, simple curtains were widely used and pull ups were still popular. Fashion favoured carved, decorative pelmets and extravagant drapery. This included lavish swags and valances as well as curtain decorations which took inspiration from the Classical era. Notable inventions from the time include the roller blind and the cord and pulley system for opening curtains.
Slimmer, draped curtains rose in popularity during this time to replace pull up varieties. These curtains were often decked with lavish decoration, for example using several layers of rich fabrics, decorative trims and ornate curtain rods. Swags and showy styles of valances and pelmets were used liberally. By now, mass-produced, coloured material was plentiful in the UK and relatively cheap.
World Wars and the 20th century
By this time, curtains were a staple item in the home. However, with the commencement of the World Wars materials were rationed and the extravagance of previous centuries was simply not feasible. This ushered in a simpler style of curtains which we see today. From the 1940s, department stores offered ready-made curtains which were easy to install and available in current, fashionable patterns.
For a wide variety of blinds, curtains and window shutters from reputable suppliers, come to Paul James Blinds. We offer high quality window fittings and a bespoke fitting service to ensure your blinds or curtains fit into your home beautifully. For a free home survey, advice or general enquiries contact our friendly team today. Our experienced professionals work across the areas of Colchester, Sudbury, Braintree and Bury St Edmunds.