delightful example of 17th century pargeting on the Ancient House,
pargeted textures on the Salisbury Arms Hotel, Hertford with a plaster
vine frieze at the jetting
Pargeting is the ornamentation
of plastered and rendered building facades that would otherwise be smooth,
lined-out or roughcast. The term was once also used to include internal
decoration. Pargeting ranges from simple geometric surface patterning
to exuberant sculptural relief of figures, flowers and sea monsters, but
it is only skin deep, applied onto masonry or a lathed, timber-framed
THE HISTORY OF PARGETING
became increasingly elaborate in the 16th century and the dramatic external
decoration of Henry VIII's Nonsuch Palace (1538) was contemporary with
early plaster friezes in the great houses. Some of the most opulent pargeting
was produced over the next 150 years with a high point around 1660 (for
example, Ancient House, Ipswich, and the Sun Inn, Saffron Walden), then
the technique began to fall out of fashion.
In the last decades
of the 19th century architects like Norman Shaw became interested in the
'arts and crafts' skills of an earlier age and there was a revival of
interest in pargeting. But it was more controlled, precise and scholarly,
better suited to more regular buildings.
Irrespective of fashion, calm
almost dateless pargeting flourished in many country districts. Beware
- dating pargeting can be risky - what you see may have been remade several
times in an approximation of the original pattern!
Anglia is the traditional home of pargeting, but it can also be seen in
Kent and is documented as far away as York and the West Country. There
was plenty of pargeting in London before the 1666 Fire. Neglect, redevelopment,
fire and changing taste are the main enemies of pargeting which may simply
survive in East Anglia because of a slower rate of change and less industrialisation.
STYLES AND TECHNIQUES
simplest pargeting takes the form of lines scratched with a stick across
wet plaster to create, for example, a lattice within a border. More complexity
comes from using fingers and combs or moulded templates, incising or impressing
chevrons, scallops, herringbones, guilloches, fantails, rope patterns
and interchanging squares.
of a frieze type typical of Yoxford, Suffolk with an impressed dotted
It is important that the individual strokes
are sublimated to overall effect and precision is often less important
than correct texture, itself affected greatly by orientation to sunlight
and ability to weather. The rhythm of the chosen pattern, its scale, weight
and proportion directly relate to the type of building being embellished,
so that subtlety and understatement can be more effective than over-enthusiasm.
decorations can also be used, with friezes and three dimensionality added,
given suitable structure. There is no reason why contemporary designs
cannot be devised to suit new buildings.
original raw material is parge, a mixture of sand and lime with a binder
like hair, traditionally used for parging flues and underlining roof tiles
to reduce drafts. Many additional ingredients are recorded, including
stable urine, loam, soot, tallow, road scrapings, cheese, dung, blood
and salt, the aim being to produce a viscous material slowly curing to
something leather hard. If it cured too quickly it would be difficult
to work up a complex pattern; if it cured too slowly the frost might catch
Traditional mixes might be applied in two or three layers finished
with a limewash sheltercoat (repeated layers may obscure the design);
later pargeting often contains cement, sometimes in sufficiently high
proportions for the ornamentation to appear harsh, with a greater risk
- John Ashurst, Practical Building Conservation Volume 3: Mortars, Plasters and Renders, English Heritage, Gower Technical Press, Aldershot, 1988
County Council, Traditional Building Materials in Essex: Pargeting,
Essex County Council, 1982
- William Millar,
Plastering Plain and Decorative, (1897),
Donhead, Shaftesbury, 1998
- John and Jane Penoyre, Decorative Plasterwork in the Houses of Somerset 1500-1700, Somerset County Council, 1994
- Eric Sandon, Suffolk Houses: A Study of Domestic Architecture, Baron Publishing, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1977
- John Schofield, Medieval London Houses, Yale University Press, London, 1994
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2001
a former SPAB scholar, runs a small architectural practice in Suffolk.
He has written Shire volumes including Pargeting and Icehouses and has
a particular interest in old buildings and construction techniques.
He can be contacted by e-mail at TimBuxbaum @aol.com
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