Plasterwork has a long history that extends back thousands of years and in this blog, we look at how plaster decoration developed in the UK. The story is not just about how good a room looks with plaster decoration but perhaps surprisingly it also contains a safety message.
The Romans built villas and public buildings with richly painted plastered walls during their 400 year rule, examples of which can be seen at the British Museum like the early christian symbols painted on plaster found in the Roman villa at Eynsford Kent. Even before the Romans conquered England the Iron Age tribes built houses with walls constructed with hurdles plastered with mud, the old 'wattle and daub'.
The Anglo Saxons plastered many of their buildings both inside and out, some of which has survived to this day like the plasterwork that can still be seen on the masonry of the Anglo Saxon church at Avebury in Wiltshire. With the Norman conquest came highly skilled Norman builders and many images remain of finely painted plaster walls.
Edict of King John
Another interesting reference is an edict of King John issued in 1212 after the timber built London bridge was burnt down during the great fire of that year. It was known plaster would slow the spread of fire through the tightly packed timber buildings and the king decreed;
'All shops on the Thames should be plastered and whitewashed within and without. All houses which till now are covered with reed or rush, let them be plastered within 8 days, and let those which shall not be plastered within that time be demolished by the Aldermen. And let all houses in which brewing or baking is done be plastered within and without, that they may be safe from fire'.
The plaster used up to this time was a lime stucco.
A large gypsum deposit was discovered and mined at Montmartre in Paris and this is the origin of the name 'Plaster of Paris' (calcined gypsum). It was introduced to England by Henry II, who on a visit to Paris in 1254 was so impressed with the whiteness and smoothness of the walls there that he brought the gypsum back the England with him.