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Fanlight from a terraced house (right, top) in Maple Street London, built in 1777. Innovation began in upper-class dwellings, and this good example of mid-18th century fanlight design in the smaller house shows the movement down the social scale. Bats-wing fanlight (right, centre) from a circa 1822 terraced house in North Gower Street, London, recovered in September 1978 during demolition. A good example of Regency fanlight design, it was constructed of lead and tinned iron glazing bars with a cast lead motif at the crown.

Timber fanlight (right, bottom) with gesso decoration – a West Country variety circa 1810-25.

Fight for light (right) fanlight lantern from 13, Lyndhurst Gardens, Belsize Park, London, built in 1887 by William Willett, the lifelong campaigner for British Summer Time. A good example of his work, it is constructed of zinc sections following an 1830’s-40’s design with leaded light panels – very much a characteristic feature of Willett’s work. Originally lit by gas, it has access for lighting through a small hinged door at the rear. Acquired in 1982.

Making an entrance

The development of the door fanlight is explained with some exquisite examples dating from the late 17th century to the 1930’s.

In the days when artificial light was at a premium, they were developed to bring as much natural light into the entrance hall as possible. The earliest forms consisted of leaded lights set above the front door, and development was rapid. A wide range of materials was used in construction, particularly in the second half of the 18th century, ranging from wood to wrought iron, from lead to zinc, to bronze or cast iron.

The earliest true fanlight designs appeared around the 1720’s. Design reached its zenith in the second half of the 18th century, when various patent methods were introduced, making it possible to produce elaborate designs in detail.

There are around 150 fanlights in The Collection. Here is a small selection.

Hidden charm detail of circa 1770’s-80’s fanlight (right) with fine wrought iron glazing bars, originally sporting lead decorative motifs. The stripped area shows how much detail can be concealed beneath accumulated layers of paint.                

Soft option (below) detail of 1840’s carved softwood fanlight from Windsor Castle. The wood was scumbled – a grained finish applied to resemble oak. This example was glazed by inserting sheets of glass between two separate carved frames, themselves set into an overall frame, part of the doorcase.

Cast iron fanlight in Decorated Gothic style (left) from St Pancras Chambers, St Pancras Station, London, dating from 1873.

Spectacular Adam style fanlight (above) from the main entrance to Shalford Park, Guildford, added to an earlier house c. 1797.

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