building valuations




Charles Brooking


  Houndsditch, London EC3,

rescuing a window is easier said than



Charles Brooking is a fascinating and knowledgeable collector of architectural detail, The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail, and as Surveyors we find his lifelong quest to collect British building details unique, informative and valuable and a collection that must be kept intact for years to come. If you need help and advice with regard to building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, dilapidations or any other property matters please free phone 0800 298 5424.

The following is one of a series of interviews with Charles Brooking, Historic and Listed Buildings Detail Expert, The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail and a Surveyor where we have recorded his comments and various aspects that have affected windows and doors and other collectibles. The interviews outline how his collection started and built over the years and gives an insight into the amazing architectural features housed in his fine collection.

Surveyor: I understand you had fun salvaging a window in Houndsditch, London EC3?

Charles Brooking:


Rescue defined

Charles Brooking defines a rescue as saving a window or door or staircase that would be doomed.


Charles Brooking was a pioneer in the rescue of architectural detailing as many years ago it was very much considered a strange and an unusual past time to want to rescue old parts of buildings with everything new and shiny being so important.

It was in a very interesting block of Georgian houses in Houndsditch, built about 1779/80, and there was a wonderful duck nest hob grate, or two of them, high up in the wall. 

This hob grate was high up and there was another one lower with the site foreman saying it was mine even though dressed in my office clothes, as again this was another of my lunchtime hunts and with office workers looking out of their windows on a very hot 1977 summer's day I got into the bulldozer shovel, the actual thing, and they lifted me up and I got it out of the wall into the bulldozer!

Surveyor: How high up were you?

Charles Brooking: Ooh, two floors!!

And the machine nudged the chimney stack a bit too much and the whole chimney stack wobbled and I thought I was going to be tomato sauce at the scene! I got these two grates down, digging them out the wall, and I was being watched. Of course I was very shy then, shy child they used to call me, shyly walking off, brushing myself off, and dashing back to British Rail to the dreary office.

An hour and a half lunch was allowed, which was ample time in many cases to rescue items and then they were picked up by my taxi driver friend and taken back to Guilford . My mother used to meet me in the evenings and saying that I couldn't go on like this as we had not got anymore space and understandably the space we had was running out with all this material coming in from Paddington and all these large Victorian houses.

Surveyor: Which other parts of Paddington where you also finding architectural details?

Charles Brooking: Tavistock Crescent - Margin light windows with enamel glass from the landing.

Surveyor: Just explain what a margin light window is?  

Charles Brooking:

Margin Light Defined

Well, it's a window with margins round the borders and you've got those cross corners, with perhaps a rosette or glory style in cut glass, or enamel glass, or acid edge glass.

Surveyor: Coloured glass?

Charles Brooking: Coloured glass flashed on clear glass, when it was acid edged the clear glass shone through the blue or the ruby.

In addition then you had enamelled glass, which was fired and you had acid edged painted glass as well and I rescued a lot of those.

Surveyor: A lot being how many?

Charles Brooking: Well I suppose, they're quite rare; I suppose I say a lot being about ten different types. I should have kept them because I was bullied to get rid of things and my father told me to sell some of them and I do regret this. Obviously the pressure was building up at home and I had to be ruthless and I was too ruthless as space was becoming tighter and tighter. These were the wrong considerations: space and money, whereas I should have been more focused on what to keep and what to sell, I made a lot of mistakes these were early days. 

Surveyor: Were you learning how to rescue these at the time?

Charles Brooking: I was learning how to extract them from the buildings and learnt by mistakes how to take the windows out and how it was they were put in.

Surveyor: Give us an example of the learning experience.

Charles Brooking: Well, you start off in the wrong way, prize them from the bottom, break the sill off because there is a bar, I didn't realise there was a water bar set in on the later ones.

Surveyor: Just explain what a water bar is.

Charles Brooking:

Water Bar Defined

It runs between the wooden sill and the stone sill and as you know the sill is, the wooden sill is set down on plumber's putty, you've got a water bar so that the water doesn't work up like a reaction and get into the sill and rot it between the sill and the stone. It should be sealed with putty to stop that water getting in but it often isn't, that's the problem with window sills, the water gets underneath and it rots upwards and you get damp, that's the logic. From, I suppose, the early Victorian era good quality work that had a water bar.

I didn't realise this and used to break the sills off, wrenching from underneath with a homemade crow bar. I learnt by experience.


Surveyor: How were they fixed in on the sides of the Victorian windows?

Charles Brooking:  Well, they were cheaply built. They were put in with, probably wedges, two at the bottom each side and two at the top and they had skew nailed into the lintel.

Surveyor: Skewed wedges of wood?

Charles Brooking:  Wedges of wood driven into a prepared brick opening and the window was put in the box, squared up and then they'd drive in two wedges both sides, skew it in with a cut nail and you had to make sure you freed those. Quite basic, it still fitted though.

Surveyor: What about a Georgian window then? How does that differ?

Charles Brooking:  They sometimes were built in, the early Georgian ones, of course, were built in.

Surveyor: What sort of period are we talking with the earlier Georgian?

Charles Brooking:  Well, late, say starting with late 17th Century casements, right the way through to the mid-18th Century you found often they didn't abide by the 1709 Building Act.




Daylight robbery; another window myth or is it?

Surveyor: It is probably a myth that daylight robbery came about from a Window Tax as the Window Tax of 1696 when those with above ten windows in a house paid tax with amendments until in 1825 to eight windows far below the Oxford English Dictionary's first mention of the term in 1949.

However we have heard accounts of how the blocked up windows or blind windows that you sometimes see in older properties have resulted from the tax on light which in turn has been said to be termed daylight robbery which we think is a lovely story even if not true!

Interestingly we have also read that the Window Tax was helped to be abolished by the medical profession who argued that lack of windows tended to create dark, damp areas which were a source of disease and ill health.

In 1851 the Act was finally replaced by the House Tax which many would say was just as controversial.


If you found this article on The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail interesting you may also be interested in the following articles on our website:

Major Rescue at Cornwall Terrace

Donations from St Paul's Cathedral

Cracks in my Walls

Condensation Problems

Roof windows, roof lights, sky lights and light tunnels




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If you have a commercial property, be it leasehold or freehold, then you may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site


We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

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