Brief History of Plastering

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The first really authentic record of the plastering craft is in the egyptian pyramids. The british museum has a plaster sample 4000 years old taken from one of the pyramids and it is said that this plaster is harder in durability than the stone it covered. The plaster used by the Egyptians for their finest work was derived from gypsum.Its base coat was of lime haired stucco which was laid on reeds laced together with cords for lathing. The finished work was about 3/4" thick and in general resembled our "3 coat work".

The greeks were producing exquisite plasterwork 500 years before the christian era.
Witout doubt the Romans brought the art and craft of plastering to these shores and during their 400 year stay introduced such work to us.

The Anglo-Saxons plastered many of their buildings as did the Normans, although there is no written record of how they did it. All this plastering was lime plastering and was used as a structural necessity rather than for its artistic properties as is shown by an interesting edict issued by King John after the fire of 1212 had destroyed the timber built London Bridge. Plastering was the first trade to become regulated.

"All shops on the Thames be whitewashed and plastered within and without. All houses which till now are covered with reed and rush, which can be plastered, let them be plastered within eight days and let those which shall not be plastered within that term be demolished by the alderman and lawful men of the venude. Let all houses in which brewing and baking is done be plastered and whitewashed within and without,that they be safe from fire"

The same ordinance fixed the rate of wages for whitewashers and plasterers at 3d per day with keep or 4d per daywithout keep. The mud plasterers were those whofilled the spaces between the timber frames with mud , clay and straw which was afterwards whitewashed

In 1254 King Henry III on a visit to Paris so greatly admired the whiteness and fineness of the walls that he introduced such work into this country and since the whiteness and fineness were produced by gypsum plaster the name "Plaster of Paris" came to be associated with it.

There are some interesting records from the 13th Century, two of which for repairs of Newgate we quote:
"In the purchase of broken tiles,2s 4 1/2d. In four score and four bags of lime 7s. In 12 carts of sand 2s. and in plaster of paris, bought to plaster the windows and the chamber where the Justices sit within ,13s 4d. In wages of a plasterer and his servant, four days, 2s 8d"

A contract for plastering ,dated 1317 exists between the Earl of Richmond and one Adam le Plastrer. This agreement runs:
"Know all men that i,Adam le plastrer, citizen of Londonam held bound to sir John de Betangne, Earl of Richmond, to find Plaster of Paris, at my own proper charges, good and sufficient, without default, proper, for the hall of the said Earl... and this i will do for 24 pounds sterling, which my lord the said Earl has paid me beforehand"

Gradually with the passing years the art and craft of plastering assumed greater importance until it was formed in London into a separate Guild and company and in 1501 Henry VII granted them a charter with:
"The right to search and try and make and exercise due search as well ,in ,upon and all manner of stuff, touching and concerning the art and mystery of pargeters, commonly called plaisterers and upon all work and workmen of the same art"

It is suggested 'parging' became 'plastering' when larger surfaces of walls permitted the use of a rule and a float as compared to the 'parging' of chimney flues and the small areas between the timbers of the old timber frame houses.

A charter granted by Charles II forbade any person from carrying on simultaneously the trades of a mason, bricklayer and plasterer and also forbade any person to exercise or carry on the art of a plasterer without having been apprenticed for seven years. Search days as described in the charter were anually appointed and fines were inflicted upon offenders using bad materials or bad workmanship.

Henry VIII introduced into this country Italian plasterers, who worked in the Italian style and from whom the English plasterers were not slow to learn, From there to the present day British plasterers produced magnificent ornamental plasterwork and whilst little ornamental plasterwork is used in modern buildings the craftsmen still exist to do so when called upon. Perhaps even more important the history of our craft and the example set by the forerunners of our present day craftsmen set a standard for plain as well as ornamental plasterwork which should be an inspiration to all concerned in the craft.
(Extracted from British Gypsum Green book 1965)
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