Pargeting - or how England got plastered

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Decorative plaster work

The term pargeting  refers to decorative plaster work found mostly on the outside of buildings. Although it is found throughout the UK it mainly occurs in East Anglia. The first recorded use of the word was as early as 1237 when it was included in a description of work carried out on internal walls.

Picture (right) shows a detail from the Ancient House in Clare, Suffolk

 Ancient House
stucco work
Picture (left) shows an example of stucco work from the Music Room, Lancaster.
Internal plasterwork, or stucco, was known in ancient Rome and, at any time in architectural history that the classical style has undergone a revival, it seems to have been included in fashionable decor. Henry VIII had Italian stucco on his Surrey home, Nonsuch Palace. Many other great houses of the late 16th and early 17th centuries also feature it. Hardwick Old Hall, Derbyshire (c1590), Powis Castle (1592), Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire (1601-10) and  Blickling Hall in Norfolk (1619-20), for example.

Pargeting ranges from simple incisions to elaborate swags and floral sprays, to geometric designs, to symbolic features such as the Green Man, to figurative work and even full pastoral scenes. It can be either cut into a layer of plaster that has already been applied to a wall, or built up into low reliefs by the addition of some form of fibrous material that acts as a binder.  it mainly features on timber buildings and forms a weatherproof outer skin. Although plaster is not waterproof the application of pargeting prevented draughts and hence made homes warmer. (Right) Pargeted Green Man to be found in Clare, Suffolk. This is a modern work
Green man
rope detail
(Left) This detail from a house in Clare, Suffolk, shows a hemp rope - a reminder that hemp was once a major crop in the area.
In the late 19th century there was a revival of the fashion and, in typical Victorian style, pre-moulded motifs could be bought to apply to smooth plaster base coats. The effect is much crisper than traditional work and frequently much simpler. Single motifs in large, blank areas, rather than overall patterning, denote later work.