Next door you approach a door, rather than thinking about what you are going to do or see when it opens, pause for a moment and give a thought for the invention of hinges. From the simple hook and band, through the humble rising butt, to the most elaborately decorative look-at-me hinges, they really are a wonderful device. They work tirelessly and, for the most part silently, to facilitate the opening and closing of doors, windows, shutters, cupboards, bureaux, lidded boxes, and myriad other constructions. They are strong, long-lasting, and inexpensive relative to the cost of the item they operate.
Perhaps their most attractive feature is that they enable a sturdy wooden door to be opened with an ease that few other mechanisms would allow. When you stop to think about it, there aren’t that many alternatives. Sliding doors leave gaps through which draughts and thieves might penetrate, and prevent use of the wall space where the open door would ‘park’. And the drawbridge never really caught on in domestic houses.
No, before hinges were invented you would have had to actually pick up the door or window and move it in and out of the opening yourself, then fix it closed with wooden battens top and bottom to hold it in place. If someone called while the door was closed you would have had a muffled conversation through the wood while you tried to identify whether they were friend or foe and summon the strength, or assistance, to lug the door out of its frame by hand.
Once hinges caught on, door furniture could not have been far behind. In order to be able to swing the door open you needed a handle, and polite society turned up its nose at thumping on doors with their fists, preferring genteel knockers or bells to summon the householder. Locks and bolts of bewildering complexity evolved, then keyhole covers each side, and later, house numbers and letterboxes.
Hinges are universal, fixing doors on every house from hovel to palace, operated by the lightest touch, and surely deserving of a few moments appreciation.This entry was posted in Architecture, Blog and tagged architectural historian, building history, house detective, house history, research, vernacular architecture