In Praise of Pargetting: The Plasterer's Art


Pargetting is one of the less-common elements found in Tudor and Elizabethan buildings. Perhaps the inherent nature of exterior plasterwork and its comparative durability vs. brick, timber and stone makes this inevitable - but there are still existing examples to be found dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. New or old, it is always a delightful feature whenever it is found.

The term Pargetting derives from the word 'parget', an old Middle English term that is probably derived from the ancient French 'pargeter' / 'parjeter', which means to to throw about, or 'porgeter'- to roughcast a wall. With the ‘wattle and daub’ method of construction (since pargetting is really best suitable for a lathed and timbered backing) the craft became an important and integral part of the building trade until bricks became more freely available. The term is more usually applied only to the decoration in relief of the plastering between the studwork on the outside of half-timber houses, or sometimes covering the whole wall.

In some cases, the pargetter would press the moulds of wet plaster (usually a mixture of slaked lime, sand, hair and the inevitable ‘secret ingredient’, known only to individual craftsmen) to the house exterior until it was fixed. In other examples, the ornate plasterwork is done in-situ totally freehand, in the still-wet lime render. In this case, the work is roughly outlined with a small trowel and then built up with the addition of hair in the lime plaster.

The work is then brushed back into the wall to smooth it out and finally finished with a lime wash. Pargetting patterns came in a variety of forms including friezes (using ribbons of chevrons, scallops, fantails or dots); often there are overall frames enclosing motifs, geometrical or floral designs, and coats of arms. Occasionally devices were stamped on the wet plaster in varying degrees of relief, and work in the time of Elizabeth I of England will often represent figures, birds and foliages.


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