The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Pargeting

 

The application of ornamental lime plasterwork or stucco relief work to a flat surface and modelled into panels, ceilings, overmantels. The craft is also known as ‘pargetting’.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Building crafts
Historic area of significance  East of England
Area currently practised  East of England, mostly Suffolk and Essex
Origin in the UK  16th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required About 5 or 6 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of trainees  1 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  6-10 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current total no. of craftspeople  6-10

 

History

Pargeting is believed to have been introduced to England in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII who imported Italian plasterers to decorate Nonsuch Palace. The craft was referred to as ‘stucco’ in Italy, but became known as ‘pargeting’ in England. Initially, patterns were stamped or scratched into the surface of wet plaster, but the most skilled pargeters came to create their own designs which they then modelled directly onto the wall using their fingers and a spatula to create designs in high relief.

However evidence is beginning to appear which suggests that pargeting may have been started during the Roman occupation, and then died out before being resurrected by Italian stucco plasterers working on Nonsuch palace. It dropped out of favour after Elizabeth I’s reign, became fashionable again during Jacobite period, Victorian era, Arts and Crafts period, and popular again in the last 20-30 years with several people taking an interest in the trade (although some are plaster sculptors doing small panels which aren’t integral to a building, rather than entire elevations).

While the craft is mainly associated with East Anglia and particularly Suffolk and Essex, historically it was much more widely employed and examples can be found in the West Country, Kent (Maidstone), Cheshire (Chester), Wirral peninsular (Port Sunlight) and Staffordshire (Stoke on Trent). Examples of early pargetting also exist in Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire, although in these areas it is much more common to find internal work, which is often easily overlooked.

Pargeting is most frequently seen on the outside of houses, particularly in areas where there is no good building stone. However, pargetting can be found in areas where good building stone is present. It is most commonly found on timber framed properties (more prone to fire damage than brick or stone built) but it was not necessarily a substitute. It can also be found indoors on overmantels and ceilings.

 

Techniques

Freehand modelling of plaster, either in high or low relief. Pargeting can be found in a number of finishes and is not restricted to lime plaster, although this is the most common. Simple repeating panels can be combed or stamped.

Lime plaster applied and modelled by hand using plastering tools and a variety of home made implements and tools. Specific pargeting tools are not available so home-made versions are the order of the day. Repeat decorative patterns may be made with wooden stamps or by scratching or impressing the wet plaster. The finest pargeting is hand-modelled bas-relief motifs like coats of arms, fruits, animals, green men etc.

 

Local forms

Different plasters are used in different areas e.g. sand and lime, chalk and lime. Also patterns tended to be grouped in certain areas, although maybe the local pargeter/plasterer had a particular stamp he was fond of. There seems to be no such demarcation today.

 

Sub-crafts

Allied crafts:

  • 3-dimensional sculpting
  • Rendering/plastering

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of awareness: Few people have heard of pargeting so don’t think to ask for it.
  • Lack of awareness: Little awareness outside of the heritage building sector, and little is being done to continue traditional plastering skills, which incorporate some of the decorative elements.However, pargeting is being taught at the annual Summer School of the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to bring awareness to architects, planners and designers as well as crafts/trades people with an interest in heritage building techniques.
  • Lack of awareness: Pargeting is perceived to be very expensive, so if someone sees something they like they would feel that it wouldn’t be something they could afford and therefore wouldn’t even ask the cost
  • Market issues: Small jobs are quite expensive – there are good economies of scale, but most people want a pargeted panel rather than a whole wall.
  • Market issues: Strongly connected to changing tastes in housing design/architectural style, so not always desirable. There is a growing interest in pargeting for interiors in large houses for games rooms, home cinemas etc.
  • Labour intensive job – doesn’t suit everybody – and also requires considerable artistic talent.
  • A major impediment to promoting the trade is that pargeting is done directly onto the building so it is not easy to show a range of works in an exhibition space – even small panels are heavy.
  • Market issues: There is not always enough work to make pargeting a full-time occupation – most pargeters also have other skills to earn their living, such as plastering or sculpting
  • Legislation: The lack of work is partly due to the strict conservation regulations
  • Market issues: Shortage of work due to strict conservation regulations, lack of suitable buildings, lack of awareness by the public, and also to the high cost of pargeting.
  • Training issues: Aspects of plastering which were taught as commonplace some 50-60 years ago as part of apprenticeships have been whittled out in modern tech colleges and courses to make way for a much more ‘universal’ approach.

 

Support organisations

There is no ‘guild of pargeters’.

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

Pargeters tend to fall into two camps, either:

  • ‘I am a plasterer and I have been pargeting for 30 years’ – most, if not all, of these have retired; or
  • ‘I am an artist and pargeter’ – but very few, if none, have succeeded in establishing a business as a pargeter

While the minimum number of craftspeople required for pargetting to be sustainable is believed to be 5-6, this is believed to be about the maximum number the craft can support.

There are about 6 highly-skilled professional pargetters. However, within East Anglia it is believed that there are probably about 100 plasterers who do simple pargeting with stamps and combs. Bill Sargent has trained 26 plasterers over 45 years, 9 of whom have done a full apprenticeship and the others who have trained for between six months and several years, all of whom have been trained to some extent in pargeting.

The apprentice pargeter started training with Anna Kettle in summer 2016.

 

References

  • Buxbaum, Tim. Pargeting.
  • Penoyre, John and Jane. Decorative Plasterwork in the Houses of Somerset.
  • Essex County Council. Pargetting.
  • Beard, Geoffrey. Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain.
  • Beard, Geoffrey. Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe.
  • Bankart, George. The Art of the Plasterer.