Chapter I
Materials and their Uses


Before discussing plasters and how they were used, it will be helpful to consider some of the problems of terminology that arise from the entries in the royal accounts during this period. Not only was the English language itself changing and developing in the sixteenth century but simultaneously the role of the plasterer and his craft was undergoing a rapid transformation. It is hardly surprising, then, that very few of the terms employed in the accounts carried a single meaning throughout and that there are exceptions to almost every generalization.

What did ‘ceiling’ mean?

There are two areas of terminology in particular where confusion can easily arise, now as then. The first of these arises from a change in the meaning of the word ‘seelinge’, which appears in numerous variant spellings, including ‘selyng’, ‘sellinge’, ‘seling’, ‘ceelinge’ and ‘celyng’. It is easy to read it as the equivalent of our modern ‘ceiling’, and in some instances this is undoubtedly the correct interpretation. Throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, however, ‘seelinge’ could mean either the covering of the walls or ceiling of a room to make them draught-proof, or the material used to provide such a covering, whether it was plaster or wood. At York Place in 1515 the scaffold in the great chamber was reassembled in order to ‘seele’ the walls with wainscot. The scaffolds had been loaned by John Thurston, the plasterer who had already ‘seled’ the great chamber before it was panelled.[1] This potential cause of confusion is removed in those entries which identify the ceiling by reference to its physical position in a room. For example, the plasterers at Richmond (1533) repaired faulty places ‘in the selyng over the said galarij and the sydes of the same’,[2] or at Woking (1575-8) workmen were ‘plucking downe seallinge ouerhead beinge rotten through wether’,[3] or at Whitehall (1610-11) they were ‘mending stopping & white washeing the old Ceelings over heade’.[4] This form of terminology was not confined to the Royal Works and is found in the building accounts for the Charterhouse (1613-14) when the plasterers were working on ‘all the walles and Ceelinges overhead of the buildings aboute the Schoolehouse’. [5]Clearly, if plasterers were working overhead they were making or repairing what we would describe as a ceiling. When the location is not specified it is often impossible to be certain whether walls or ceilings or both were being plastered.

References to internal ‘roofs’ help to identify the site of ‘seelinges’ but although many of the examples refer to plastererd ceilings the term was, of course, also used in the description of timber roofs or ceilings. Some of these were survivals from Henry VIII’s reign, such as chapel roof at Greenwich which was undergoing re-painting by John de Critz in 1623-24.[6] The ‘riche Chamber otherwise called Paradise’ at Hampton Court was given a ‘newe roofe’ by the carpenters in 1566-69 and on four subsequent occasions on which it was refurbished it was always referred to as the ‘roof’.[7] But when it was in need of further repair in 1648-49 William Carter and Francis Cleyn were paid ‘for putting vpp and fashioning the pannells particons of paintings in the painted Ceeling in Paradise which were fallen downe & fastning and mending some other places of paintings where they were loose in the Ceeling’.[8]

It is tempting to think that by this date ‘ceiling’ was being used in its modern sense but on this occasion the roof panels were simply envisaged as the equivalent of panels of wainscot; and wainscot panels continued to be referred to as ‘sealing’ whether they were to cover walls or ceilings.[9] In Robert Peake’s English translation of Serlio of 1611, Book IV, Chapter 12 is entitled ‘Of flat Roofes, and the Ornaments thereof’ and the accompanying illustrations are headed ‘The Timber worke of the seeling aforesayd’ and ‘Another maner of Sieling’. The same terms were still being used to describe the coffered ceiling of Inigo Jones’s chapel at St. James’s in 1626-7, where twenty-eight ‘squares of the Ceeling’ were put together before being painted white and gilded.[10] Only the identification of the craftsmen involved – in this case, carpenters – provides the context for a correct reading of this entry and many like it. The clerks describing the work were faced with changes in modes of interior decoration for which they were sometimes unable to find a new vocabulary, resulting in constant shifts in the meanings of the terminology used to record them.

‘Pargetting’ and ‘plastering’

The word ‘pargetting’ is now used only to denote external plaster decoration but at this date it was certainly used of internal work as well as external and seems to have indicated either the daubing of laths with mortar to create partition walls, or sometimes in combination with daubing, the covering with mortar of the laths between the uprights of the outside walls of timber-framed buildings. For example, at Greenwich in 1542 the plasterers were ‘lathyng dawbyng and pargetyng of the walles of the backhowse’.[11]

Pargetting sometimes seems to be used in connection with a specific material, as at Bridewell Palace in 1543-35, where the plasterers were lathing, daubing and pargetting with loam and mortar but lathing and ‘seling’ with lime and hair.[12] Confusingly, they were both ‘plastering And pargeting with lyme And heare’ at Westminster in 1542.[13] In the Royal Works ‘pargetting’ occurs more often in connection with lime and hair than with gypsum plaster; but with either material, the use of the term would seem to indicate the application (over the daubing) of the coarser first layer of plaster to walls and ceilings. Where pargetting occurs in conjunction with plastering or ‘sealing’ (which is frequently the case) this interpretation would seem the most likely.

Plastering was the term which traditionally denoted the application of the finishing coat to walls or ceilings, the task which has always demanded the most skill on the part of plasterer. In the particular books ‘plastering’ is used on 69 occasions; on 15 of these it appears in conjunction with daubing, pargetting or whiting. The materials used are not always specified but plastering with plaster occurs 17 times and with lime or mortar and hair 12 times. Plastering clearly cannot be taken to indicate the use of one type of plaster rather than another.

Regional variants occur in the entries for Chester Castle (1581-82) with the rather archaic usage of the terms ‘fylbeaminge’ and ‘tyringe’.[14] From medieval examples it would seem that the former (also found as ‘beemfullyng’) implied wattle-and-daubing, in contrast to the smooth plastering suggested by the latter.[15]

In 34 entries ‘sealing’ seems to have been employed as a synonym for plastering. It occurs 8 times in conjunction with plaster and 17 times with lime or mortar and hair. On only two occasions does ‘plastering’ appear together with ‘sealing’, once with lime and mortar and once with grey and white plaster; and it may that in these instances the clerk wished to indicate that two layers of plaster (of whichever variety) were being applied.

However, one has to suspect that the need for clarity of definition was not always uppermost in the minds of the clerks drawing up the accounts; and the same men were, on some occasions, designated as plasterers, pargetters or daubers, although ‘plasterers’ was the term used in the vast majority of entries throughout the period.[16] After the incorporation of the London company as the Worshipful Company of Plasterers (not Plaisterers, as they are currently styled) in 1504 it is likely that the practitioners would have preferred to use the term that stressed their professional skill and ‘pargetting’ is certainly much less commonly found in the second half of the century.

The documentary evidence

The number of samples of surviving sixteenth- and seventeenth-century plaster that have been subjected to laboratory analysis is extremely small which makes the documentation available from the accounts of the Royal Works particularly valuable. Information is supplied which helps to identify which materials were used for the different kinds of plastering undertaken. Despite the poor survival rate of the weekly ‘particular books’ kept by the clerk of works at each royal site, they provide the most detailed contemporary record of the tasks that plasterers could expect to undertake and the materials they used during the reign of Henry VIII.[17]

After 1547 changes in the accounting procedures for the Royal Works were introduced by Lawrence Bradshaw, the Surveyor, and the particular books were subsumed into annual summaries for the Exchequer and the Audit Office.[18] These were at first extremely sketchy and were not always produced annually, but a more regular system soon emerged and it is these documents that provide most of the evidence for the materials used by plasterers in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I. In addition, there are some building accounts available for non-royal houses.[19]

For routine work the summary accounts are less informative than the particular books and it is quite common for the preliminary description of work carried out at a site (hereafter abbreviated to Prelims) to contain no mention of plastering work, although plasterers are listed among the workmen employed. This is compensated for by the appearance of the names of plasterers among those employed on task-work, reflecting their increasing prominence within the Royal Works, and it is from the task-work entries that most of the information about materials and methods for the period after 1547 can be drawn. They are especially useful in that they make clearer which of the materials purchased (the ‘emptions’) were intended for which of the building craftsmen employed. Lime, sand and plaster of Paris, for example, were all used not just by plasterers, but by masons, bricklayers and tilers as well.

It must be borne in mind that the Royal Works’ probably represented what was regarded as ‘best practice’ at the time and in other parts of the country local variations, especially in materials, were frequently encountered. To some extent one is also at the mercy of the clerks making up the accounts and it is likely that they were not always familiar with the building operations they were describing or lacked the technical vocabulary to convey their meaning clearly. Other contemporary authors can also prove untrustworthy in such matters; William Harrison, for example, relies heavily on John Leland’s observations, although he writes as though from personal experience.

Lime and gypsum plasters

For most people today the word ‘plaster’ conjures up an image of a bag of dry, greyish-white powder, commonly known as plaster of Paris. This material has been known and used for centuries, but until the twentieth century it was not the only kind of plaster used for building and decorating in England. Just as common, and even more widely produced in this country, was lime plaster and both types occur frequently alongside each other in the accounts of the Royal Works. By way of illustration, in the entry for Westminster in 1542 the plasterers were working not only ‘with lyme and heare Aswell the Rooff of the office … but Also Casting of the Floores with plaster …’[20] An understanding of the differences between these two plasters is clearly essential to a history of decorative plasterwork. From the numerous descriptions of plastering work carried out during the period of James Nedeham’s particular books (1532-44), it is possible to reconstruct the manufacturing processes involved in the production of both types of plaster and their subsequent use.

(I) Lime plaster

Throughout the period under consideration the vast majority of entries recording plastering work in the Royal Works, both plain and decorative, refer to ‘lime and hair’ as the material used. Lime plaster is slow-setting but shrinks considerably while it is drying, requiring the attention of the plasterer for several days after application. A period of about three weeks is then necessary before the application of the next coat. Its slow set makes it well-suited to decorative work, whether moulded or modelled. Once dry it is extremely hard and durable, as witnessed by the lime plaster overmantels at Hardwick Old Hall which have been exposed to the elements for several decades. It is the manufacture of this slow-setting lime plaster that will first be described.[21]

Raw materials

Calcium carbonate (calcite, CaCO3) is the basic raw material from which lime plaster is produced. It is readily obtainable in many parts of the country, occurring in a variety of forms, including limestone, chalk and marble. Local availability of materials was always a major factor in large building operations since transport costs represented a high proportion of the overall total. The emptions sometimes show, by the differences in unit cost, that lime of different qualities was purchased and occasionally distinguish by name between ‘stone Lyme’[22] and ‘chalke for lyme’.[23] Chalk lime was considerably more expensive, costing 3s 4d per quarter, compared with stone lime at only 2s 2½d per quarter, at Grafton in 1573-75.[24] Henry Wicks’ account for the Whitehall Banqueting House (1622-23) refers to the purchase of three grades of lime costing 5s 4d, 5s 6d and 6s per hundredweight (for the use of masons and bricklayers as well as plasterers).[25] More specific about the source of the limestone is the entry for 1635-36 which states that lime was produced at the new lime-kiln at Deptford using ‘scaplings of Portland stone’, presumably a by-product of the quarrying of stone for the building work at St Paul’s Cathedral.[26]

William Harrison, writing in 1577, refers to the wide variety of sources of calcium carbonate available to his contemporaries for lime-burning,           

‘Of chalke also we have our excellent [Asbestos or] white lime,

            made in most places, wherewith, [being quenched,] we strike

            over our claie workes and stone wals, in cities, good townes,

            rich farmers and gentlemens houses: otherwise, in steed of chalke,

            (where it wanteth, for it is so scant that in some places it is sold

            by the pound,) they are compelled to burne a certeine kind of red

            stone, as in Wales, and else where other stones, [and shels of

            oisters and like fish found upon the sea coast, ...]’[27]

Lime was used in a variety of building operations but if it was wanted for plaster then the purest limestone (i.e. one with the highest proportion of calcium carbonate) was not necessarily the most desirable. The presence of clayey impurities in the limestone produces what is known as a ‘hydraulic’ lime, which sets harder and faster than a lime high in calcium carbonate, enabling work to proceed more speedily. Hydraulic limes are usually grey coloured because of their impurities, but limestones that are naturally grey, such as the carboniferous limestone commonly found in England, can contain as much as 98.9% calcium carbonate, so colour is not a reliable guide to the characteristics of the resulting lime plaster. This means that references to grey and white lime need to be interpreted with caution and this problematic area will be discussed further after the production of lime plaster has been described.

Production of lime plaster

A lime-kiln is the next prerequisite for the production of lime plaster. From the 1530s onwards Scotland Yard became the central storehouse for raw materials belonging to the Royal Works, but there is no mention in the accounts of a lime-kiln there and it may have been rather too close to Whitehall Palace for comfort, as lime-burning was a source of pollution in terms of both dirt and smell. In Act III, Scene 3 of The Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff refers to something unpleasant as being ‘as hateful to me as the reek of a lime-kiln’. A new lime-kiln was established for the Royal Works at Deptford in the 1630s, well away from any royal residence.[28] The rest of London was supplied from the kilns that had been established around Limehouse Dock, to the east of the City, from at least the fourteenth century, and the Royal Works may also have made use of this resource. For Henry VIII’s large palace building projects outside London, such as Hampton Court and Nonsuch Palace in the 1530s, a kiln or kilns would be constructed on site.[29]  Similarly, lime-kilns were needed on site for the construction of great houses such as the Old and New Halls at Hardwick, where Bess of Hardwick obtained limestone locally to be burnt in the great and little lime kilns in the north orchard.[30]

Lumps of limestone were heated in the kilns to a temperature of about 900°C by burning wood or coal. Wood-fired kilns produced the best lime and the Royal Works relied exclusively on timber for this purpose.[31] The deforestation that had already taken place in many parts of the country meant that elsewhere coal had frequently to be used in place of wood. Lime-burning was an operation requiring considerable skill and experience as the temperature of the kiln affected the outcome, especially when the lime was to be used by plasterers. If the heat did not spread evenly some of the quicklime produced would be overburnt and, if not removed before slaking, this would cause ugly pitting in the surface of the plaster when applied to walls or ceilings. Specialist limeburners were employed specifically to undertake this operation in the Royal Works and were listed separately from the plasterers. John Paige of Uxbridge was employed in this role at Nonsuch in 1538 where tools were purchased for him: two hatchets and mattocks (the latter also for the chalk digger) with which he would have broken up the limestone into smaller, even-sized lumps; axes to cleave wood for the kiln; fire forks and prongs for the kilns; and a bow of iron for the mouth of the kiln weighing 36 lb.[32] Armed with this equipment Paige busied himself digging, setting and burning twenty-three kilns of lime, every kiln containing ten loads at 8s the kiln.[33]

When the burning was completed the resulting calcium oxide (CaO), known as unslaked lime or quicklime, was raked out of the kiln with a drawing hook. Some of it was necessarily discoloured by the ash left at the end of the firing, which could be another cause of greyness in lime plaster. It is possible to distinguish the differently coloured layers of lime plaster quite clearly in surviving examples, such as those excavated by English Heritage at Acton Court, Gloucestershire, in the 1990s. Grey was used for the base coat, with white preferred for the finishing layer.

The caustic quicklime was then combined with water in a slaking pit , causing a violent exothermic chemical reaction, to produce slaked lime (calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2. During this stage the quicklime was raked and worked until the reaction was complete. Sieving then removed any residual lumps. If the slaked lime was to be transported, only enough water would be added to reduce the lumps of quicklime to powder (‘hydrated lime’) which took a full day. It was presumably in this form that it was stored, ready for transportation in sacks. It would have been even more convenient to store the quicklime unslaked until it was needed, as it is lighter and less voluminous than slaked lime, but it absorbs water so readily that this would have been impractical. If there was no need to transport the slaked lime, additional water was added to produce a thick ‘lime putty’, an operation requiring attention over the three days or so it would take to complete. The lime putty could then be kept covered with a layer of water to mature for any length of time – the longer the better as far as the plasticity of the putty was concerned – although it is unlikely that this was ever practicable during Henry VIII’s hectic building programmes. Roger North, writing from his considerable practical experience towards the end of the seventeenth century, commented that, ‘Generally it is the best way to pan up the lime towards winter to be used in building next sumer, and it shall be found that all the unslaked parts will be buttery, and slak’t, which is great gaine as well as good for the work. But all persons have not means to conduct for the best, and must doe according to circumstance.’[34]

When lime plaster has been applied to walls or ceilings, the water gradually dries off and calcium dioxide (CO2) is re-absorbed from the atmosphere, thus completing the ‘lime cycle’. The resulting lime plaster itself becomes calcium carbonate (chemically indistinguishable from the original limestone) and this accounts for the strength and durability of the material.


(i) Sand and clay

Lime plaster was rarely used without the addition of some sort of aggregate and by far the commonest of these was sand, which was employed in the production of both mortar for the bricklayers and lime plaster for the plasterers. Wherever possible it would be dug locally, preferably from a river bank, but on occasion sea sand from a beach might have to be used. This would require extra washing to remove the salt present, as it was liable to break through the surface of the plaster, spoiling the smooth finish. When the sand had been washed and sieved it was laboriously beaten into the lime; the amount of sieving depending on the fineness desired in the end finish. The same procedures were followed if other materials replaced or were added to the sand, for coarser work and base coats. These included gravel and flint[35] (for roughcasting by the roughcasters, rather than plastering), and clay.[36] During the archaeological investigation undertaken at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire, in the 1990s it was established that clay had been dug from fields very close to the house to be used in the routine plastering of walls and the base coats of decorative ceilings.[37]

The addition of aggregates can discolour the creamy whiteness of lime plaster, making it necessary to paint the final coat to produce a uniform whiteness. This is sometimes visible in houses where the plasterwork has decayed. At Knole, for example, the gallery over the hall had been patched up over the centuries with plaster coloured yellow by the sand procured from local beds, no longer visible since repairs in the 1990s.

(ii) Hair

At this stage the material was ready for the bricklayers and roughlayers, but for most plastering work, another ingredient was needed to give additional tensile strength to the plaster, especially where large areas of partition-wall or ceiling were to be covered. This final additive was animal hair, usually purchased from tanners. A tanner from Rickmansworth supplied hair for work at The More in 1541,[38] and hair was obtained from tanners at Weybridge, Leatherhead and Staines for plastering Ashley House, Walton-on-Thames in the early seventeenth century.[39] Ox or cow hair was the most commonly used, particularly for all the base coats, and ‘Hoges heire’ was clearly not an acceptable substitute, to judge by references to its use by plasterers fined for bad workmanship in the 1650s.[40] When the finest finish was demanded, as at Whitehall in 1626-27, white hair from kid goats might be specified. At 13d. the bushel this was nearly twice as expensive as ordinary hair, which cost only 7d. the bushel.[41] Only four bushels of kids’ hair were purchased on this occasion, compared with three hundred and sixty-eight bushels of ordinary hair. The frieze for the queen’s new bedchamber at Whitehall in 1639-40 similarly required white kids’ hair; on this occasion three stones at 2s.6d. the stone were purchased.[42]

Which ever animal the hair came from it had to be beaten into the plaster to ensure it was evenly mixed – another arduous task for the labourers or apprentices. At Hampton Court in 1529 two gagers were present; ‘oon of them tempred lyme & herr togethers And the other bering the stuff to Thandis of the plastrire’.[43]

For coarser work, hair might be replaced by hay or straw, both of which required chopping before being beaten into the plaster. Plasterers were ‘choppinge of strawe’ at Havering-atte-Bower, Essex, in 1575-78;[44] and in 1622-23 Matthew Barrett plastered with lime and chopped hay the walls and ceiling of the Marquis of Buckingham’s stables at Newmarket.[45] Hay or straw was visible in the lower layers of plaster on some of the walls of Chastleton House where the top layer had fallen away, before the damage was repaired by the National Trust in the 1990s.

In their attempts to settle the long-running demarcation disputes between the London plasterers and bricklayers, the Court of Aldermen ruled that only plasterers should work with plaster containing hair. The Royal Works, however, were exempted from these rulings, which meant that there were some occasions at royal sites on which the bricklayers worked with lime and hair, and the plasterers with lime alone. An attempt to indicate such a distinction was probably made in the entry for Somerset House (1590-91), which referred to ‘whitemorteringe’ in one room and ‘Layinge with Lime and heare’ in another, as part of the plasterers’ work.[46]

Decorative lime plaster without hair

Archaeological investigations have, however, shown that lime plaster was occasionally used without the addition of any hair in some ornamental plasterwork of the sixteenth century. A new range of lodgings was built at enormous speed by Nicholas Poyntz at Acton Court, Glos, to provide a suite of superior accommodation for a visit by Henry VIII in 1535. The decoration of the interior drew on current fashions with which Poyntz, as a courtier, would have been familiar. One of the ceilings (probably that of the presence chamber) was decorated with a pattern of ribs in painted plaster similar to examples previously executed using timber battens. The use of lime plaster for the ribs would have been a cheaper and speedier option. Analysis of the excavated ribs that had been attached to ceiling laths was undertaken by English Heritage and showed that they contained only lime plaster, without sand or hair.[47]

In a period of experimentation in the decorative use of lime plaster this does not seem so surprising, but the longevity of plaster ceilings made without hair is somewhat unexpected. At Fiddleford Mill, Dorset, excavated fragments of ceiling ribs and friezes were found to contain only lime putty (containing some clay) and fine sand. These fragments were of the same building campaign as surviving ceilings in the house and could be dated to c.1560 by the initials of the owner.[48]

Excavations at Hailes Abbey, Glos, in the 1970s produced finds that included fragments of cornice and architectural mouldings that had been cast from moulds and were accompanied by decorative motifs from a frieze, beneath a plain ceiling. Among the identifiable motifs were a male and female torso, bunches of grapes and feathered creatures, presumed to be birds. Neither sand nor hair had been added to the lime and were probably not considered necessary for a frieze as opposed to a ceiling. The decorative scheme was thought to date from the later sixteenth century.[49]

A date in the early years of the seventeenth century was surmised for the numerous decorative fragments recovered during excavations at Berry Pomeroy Castle, Devon.[50] Many of these items had been cast or hand-modelled in pure lime plaster. They included ceiling and frieze decoration in shallow relief but also a high-relief caryatid figure of a woman in contemporary dress, probably from an overmantel. Again, hair and sand would not have been essential in the creation and deployment of these motifs. The caryatid figure, in particular, demonstrates the use of lime plaster as a medium for sculpture. Such three-dimensional figures began to appear on chimneypieces of stone, timber or plaster in the later sixteenth century; the choice of material depending on how much the patron wished or was able to afford. When Bess of Hardwick was commissioning chimneypieces for the Old and New Hardwick Halls, Derbysyhire, in the 1590s, she turned to her mason/sculptor, Abraham Smith, who was clearly competent in stone and plaster.

(iii) Loam

Loam is a rich soil of clay, sand and decayed vegetable matter which was one of the traditional fillings used to daub between the studs of timer-framed buildings. The daubing was then coated with a layer of lime plaster, a procedure that was described at Whitehall in 1593-94 when the plasterers were ‘newe lathinge and leyinge the walles of the groome porters lodginge firste with Loame and afterwardes with white morter’.[51] Even more precise is the account of Richard Browne’s task-work in three rooms at Somerset House (1609-10) where he was ‘fillinge upp with lome betwene the Joiste ... the saide Lome beinge laide vj inches thicke ...’.[52] Throughout the sixteenth-century the royal building accounts contain similar entries and even Shakespeare makes reference to loam in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act V, Scene 1) when Wall declares,

‘This loam, this rough-cast, and this stone doth show

            That I am that same wall; the truth is so:’

In seventeenth-century London timber-frame construction became increasingly unfashionable and was gradually superseded by brick or stone. This applied not only to royal buildings but was also reflected in the attempts to impose building regulations on Londoners to ensure that no new timber-frame buildings were constructed in the capital. In 1633 there was an inspection of a building deemed to have contravened the regulations, because its party walls had been built not of brick but of ‘loame and playstering and wooden quarters’.[53]  However, it could still be used to render external brick walls and to create internal partition walls, such as those of the new brick building that was constructed in Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple, in 1622. William Newman, the plasterer, supplied ‘lime and hare and loome’ for these tasks.[54] Not surprisingly, loam gradually disappears from the task-work entries after 1603.

(II) Gypsum plaster and plaster of Paris

The outstanding characteristics of gypsum plaster are its very fast setting time and the smoothness of its surface once dry. It expands slightly on setting so there is less immediate risk of cracking than with lime plaster as it dries. When dry it is more brittle than lime plaster and is extremely vulnerable in damp conditions. When William Harrison referred to the use of gypsum plaster by people ‘within their doores’ he was highlighting a characteristic that made it generally unsuitable for external work. Its tendency to dissolve in water meant that some sort of waterproof coating of paint or varnish would be needed to prolong its life outdoors.

Raw materials

Gypsum plaster is referred to in building accounts of the period as ‘plaster’ or ‘plaster of Paris, as it is still commonly known today. The gypsum beds around Paris have been an excellent source of gypsum for centuries and it was easier to transport large quantities from there by river and sea to London than to pay for overland transport from English deposits such as those found in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.[55] Around Nottingham it is plentiful in the form of alabaster, to which William Harrison referred later in the sixteenth century when describing how ‘such as are of abilitie doo oft make their floores and parget of fine alabaster burned, which they call plaster of Paris, whereof in some places we have great plentie, ...’[56]

Alabaster is not a mineral often referred to explicitly but in the summary of expenditure for 1558-59 pieces of alabaster are listed under the heading ‘Stone of Aleblaster’[57]; and it is mentioned at Grafton (1573-75) and the Banqueting House, Whitehall (1622-23), where the purchases of ‘allablaster’ were probably burnt to produce gypsum plaster.[58]

Stone plaster

The cargo of 60 mount (90 tons) of ‘stone plaster’ for Whitehall, which was being shipped from Calais when it was captured by a Lübeck ship in 1533, would probably have served the same purpose if it had reached its destination.[59] ‘Stone plaster’ was referred to again when Nicholas Stone (designated as ‘Mason’) was repairing the chimneypiece in the king’s presence chamber in 1629-30, ‘making newe wings to the dragon twoe peeces of leafe worke. and divers other peeces. finding the Stone plaster and workmanshipp.’[60] This might suggest that ‘stone plaster’ was used for carving in its natural state (like alabaster), rather than as a raw material for manucacturing plaster of Paris. It is also possible to carve plaster of Paris after it has set, as demonstrated in another task-work entry for Nicholas Stone. He was ‘mending the fruitage of the Chimney peices in the withdrawing chamber and privy chamber with plaister of Parris and carving them like to the rest of the other worke’ at St James’s Palace in 1622-23.[61]

Production of gypsum plaster

After its shipment across the Channel, the raw gypsum for royal use was first stored at the Tower of London before being transferred to the Royal Works’ storehouse at Scotland Yard or to sites where it was needed.[62] In the early 1530s a house near Scotland Yard was taken over and ‘ocupyed as well with laying In of playster Allso the burnyng & betyng of the same.’ To protect the supply of the material a ‘Stocklock with a staplee sette vpon a dore’ was purchased.[63] Maps of London in the mid-sixteenth century show a kiln belching forth a plume of smoke at Scotland Yard, probably burning gypsum for plaster to be used in the royal palaces.[64]

Fig.1. Detail from the woodcut map (‘Agas’), showing the plaster kiln billowing smoke at Scotland Yard, Westminster (1560s).  © London Metropolitan Archives.

Gypsum plaster is produced by heating raw gypsum (calcium sulphate dihydrate, CaSO4.2H2O) to about 160°C, a much lower temperature than that required for limeburning. The technology involved also seems to have been less complicated since specialist plaster burners were not required, the plasterers themselves frequently being ‘ocupied in burninge of plaister’.[65] Tending the kiln could be a full-time occupation, though, and required the attention of the plasterers day and night at Dartford in 1542.[66] Again, in 1614-15, Page Effe, Plaisterer received a reward ‘for his paines in directing and helping to sett diverse killes of plaister of parris.’[67]

The chemistry of gypsum plasters sounds rather complex, as calcining drives off the water to produce a powder that can consist of three related forms of calcium sulphate – dihydrate, hemi-hydrate and anhydrite – in varying proportions.[68] The properties of the plaster vary according to these different proportions. Plaster of Paris is the name given to pure (or virtually pure) hemi-hydrate, which sets extremely rapidly following the addition of water. The setting process can be retarded slightly by the addition of various substances such as citric acid, lactose, sucrose and lime, or anhydrite. Anhydrous gypsum plaster has a longer setting time than pure hemi-hydrate, making it more suitable for covering walls and ceilings. It is possible that the terms ‘plaster of Paris’ and ‘plaster’ were used to distinguish the two forms but it is not clear from the documentary evidence whether hemi-hydrate and anhydrite forms of plaster were produced for different purposes at this date.

That plasterers had become familiar with the technology involved in producing gypsum plaster is borne out by the entries for Collyweston in 1565. Lime burners were employed to cope with the more complicated process of producing lime but plasterers were ‘ocupied in burninge of plaister’.[69] Tending the kiln could be a full-time occupation and required the attention of the plasterers day and night at Dartford in 1542.[70] More specifically, in 1614-15, under the heading ‘Provicons laid in Stoare in Scotland yarde’ a reward to Page Effe is recorded ‘for his paines in directing and helping to sett diverse killes of plaister of parris’.[71]

Sieving removed those pieces which had not been fully burnt and any impurities. The plaster sieves which are referred to would have had a finer mesh than those used for lime. In 1575-78 the Prelims. for Whitehall refer to ‘burninge beatinge and siftinge of playster of parris’ and this task, too, must have fallen to the plasterers who were laying new floors in the privy lodgings.[72]


Whereas lime putty is best stored in water, gypsum plaster must be kept as dry as possible to prevent it recombining with moisture and setting. It cannot be kept for any length of time as it tends to ‘go off’ and set hard unless stored in completely air-tight conditions. This seems to have been behind the only reference in the royal accounts to the combining of plaster of Paris with lime. It occurred during the routine plastering of the Prince’s Lodging at Newmarket in 1620-21.[73] Richard Talbott used lime and hair for most of the work, but he rendered the inside walls of the backstairs ‘with plaster of Paris of the laste yeares store and lyme tempered with it’. If it had set hard the old gypsum plaster would have had to be ground up and mixed with lime plaster as aggregate.


Provided a vast supply was not required, gypsum plaster could be transported from the Royal Works’ store-houses located at Westminster, the Tower of London and Richmond, or from a plasterer’s own stock. John Thurston of London supplied grey and white plaster and plastering equipment for Wolsey’s repair works at York Place in 1515.[74] The Carpenters’ Company paid for the burning of plaster at Westminster (for which they supplied the wood) and its carriage from there to the City when they were installing a new ceiling in their Company Hall in 1561-62, which suggests that the kiln in Scotland Yard was made available to customers outside the Royal Works.[75]

In 1535 William Elder was paid water carriage for transporting grey and white plaster from London to Greenwich.[76] A site like this near the Thames made transport by river from London relatively easy; but twenty-four carriers from neighbouring villages were needed to transport the plaster for Nonsuch, which had travelled by river as far as Kingston, from there to Cuddington.[77] When gypsum plaster was manufactured at sites with no water transport, supplies of raw material might have to be brought quite some distance overland, as was the case at Collyweston in 1566. Plaster was purchased from six separate suppliers, one load coming from Stamford, nearly seven miles away.[78] Supplies could also be transferred from one royal site to another and during the building work at Canterbury in 1535-36 plaster was brought from Deal, in addition to the plaster of Paris purchased locally from a Canterbury merchant.[79]

Grey and white plasters

Because the gypsum was mixed with wood for firing in the kiln, some of the plaster would be contaminated with ashes at the end of the process and the next stage was therefore ‘devyding the graye plaster from the whyte’, resulting in two grades of plaster.[80] As has already been mentioned, the reasons for the greyness of lime plaster are two-fold: either the form of the limestone is naturally grey, despite a high level of calcium carbonate; or the presence of clayey impurities in the limestone produces a grey, hydraulic lime. How far this was understood in the sixteenth century is almost impossible to assess, since the production methods themselves would have made it difficult to produce a lime so pure that it was completely non-hydraulic. The presence of ash in the kiln would have tended to contaminate the lime closest to it and this would produce a quicker-setting lime plaster. Ashes may, on occasion, have been added to lime plaster deliberately, precisely to speed the set and this, too, would have resulted in a grey-coloured lime plaster.

It is difficult to be certain that the sparse documentary references in the royal accounts to ‘graying and whiting’ are, in fact, referring to lime plaster and are not just one clerk’s idiosyncratic way of indicating the use of grey and white gypsum plaster, of which there are rather more examples. It would seem that the clerks who made the entries in building accounts were not themselves always very sure of the correct terminology to use. An entry at Ludgershall in 1342 referred to the digging of chalk for making walls of plaster of Paris.[81] The three occasions on which the plasterers were described as ‘graying and whityng’ walls or stairs all occurred in 1535 at Hampton Court.[82] It is possible that they were applying a base coat of grey lime plaster and covering it with a layer of white lime plaster or limewash or distemper. This process may also be what was meant when the king’s privy kitchen at Greenwich was pargetted and plastered with mortar and whited with lime in 1542.[83] The use of ‘mortar’ here may indicate that the plaster was applied directly onto the masonry or brickwork, without laths. These examples are, however, so few that it is difficult to draw any certain conclusions and it is much more usual for no mention to be made of the colour of the plaster, whether lime or gypsum, being used.

How lime and gypsum plasters were used

When lime plaster was produced on site, the plasterers’ labourers (sometimes specified as their apprentices) would be engaged in the whole series of arduous tasks involved in preparing the plaster for use by the plasterers. A typical range of labourers’ tasks is listed at Dover Castle in 1536, where they were sifting lime, making mortar, helping to make scaffolds and generally fetching and carrying.[84] The plasterers would be waiting on their scaffolds to execute a variety of tasks, requiring different levels of skill. These ranged from the daubing that had been an essential part of timber-frame construction for centuries, to the construction of partitions, the smooth plastering of internal walls and ceilings and decorative plastering. Decorative plasterwork does not make its first appearance in the Royal Works accounts until 1582-84 and even after this date it is routine work which continues to dominate the task-work entries. Between 1582 and 1649 132 entries occur in connection with plasterwork; but since only 20 of these relate to decorative work it is to routine plastering that we will first direct our attention.


From the long lists of ‘emptions’ (purchases) in the accounts it would seem that most of the raw materials and equipment needed by the plasterers were provided by the Royal Works and the plasterer was paid for his workmanship alone. This must have applied particularly at sites where an extended programme of new building or refurbishment was under way, such as Hampton Court in the 1530s, when large supplies of raw materials were stockpiled.

 There were, however, numerous occasions on which additional items were supplied by the plasterers themselves. The equipment ranged from the scaffolding they needed to work on, to lime and plaster sieves and pails. At Greenwich in 1533 ‘corde Roape’ was among the provisions, for the plasterers ‘to hange theyre payles by’, which would enable a small supply of plaster to be kept conveniently to hand, to be replenished by the labourers scrambling up and down the scaffolds.[85]

In addition to supplying both types of plaster and hair, plasterers might provide the laths essential to their work and the pigments used to colour lime plaster.[86] Whiting, Spanish white, red and yellow ochre, red lead and russet, and pots in which to mix them are all mentioned. These would be mixed with size, produced by boiling glovers’ shreds. In the later task-work entries these items were usually subsumed under the generic phrase ‘all manner of stuff’.[87]


Laths were thin strips of wood, about three feet in length, which were essential not only to the work of plasterers but also to tilers, who used them in laying roof tiles. Preparing stocks of laths was a job for the winter months when external plastering was not possible in the cold weather. In plastering, the laths were nailed across the joists, about one centimetre apart, so that when the plaster was applied to them it was pushed through the gaps and spread out behind the laths, thus holding the plaster surface in place. The laths were usually riven which left them with a rough surface, providing an additional ‘key’ for the plaster. Different qualities of lath are occasionally indicated, as in the purchase of ‘Sappe lathe’ at 18s and 20s the load and ‘Harte lathe’ at 23s 4d at Richmond in 1571-72.[88] The increasing shortage of supplies of timber meant that alternatives to wooden laths had sometimes to be found. Harrison suggests that ‘reed or wickers’ were possible substitutes but these are not mentioned in connection with royal buildings.[89]

A documentary case-study: St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, 1539

To elucidate further some of the technical terminology used by the clerks and to demonstrate the variety of tasks undertaken by plasterers in the first half of the sixteenth century, the particular books for the building programme at one site, from the many available, will be examined in detail. Where relevant, reference will also be made to other Royal Works accounts and contemporary sources. The records selected for this purpose relate to the conversion of St Augustine’s Abbey between 5th October and 21st December 1539, to provide a royal residence in time for the arrival of Anne of Cleves.[90]

In the first weeks of the account plasterers, assisted by labourers, were beating and burning plaster and ‘makyng it redy to work with whenever tyme shall require’. In November they set to work in the new lodgings, where they were ‘shooting’ the floors, lathing and seeling the roofs, lathing and pargetting with lime and hair the partitions ... [and] mending old partitions and walls on the king’s side. They completed this part of their task by whiting the king’s lodgings within and without, yellowing the screen and beams in the great hall and whiting the outside of the hall. All the external walls of the king’s privy lodging were then red ochred and ‘pencilled’; that is, lines were drawn on the red wall in paint (usually white or black) to look like pointing, creating the appearance of a brick wall. The remaining exterior walls were roughcast, including the garden walls. After whiting and roughcasting the gate, with its old doors, the plasterers yellowed it, whited windows and completed ‘other requisite works’. By December they were finishing lathing and pargetting the partitions of the lodgings with lime and hair, yellow ochreing the outside of the king’s lodgings, roughcasting the old stone walls about the said lodgings and mending old partitions and walls on the king’s side.

‘Shooting’ floors

In the accounts for this work plaster of Paris was purchased from five different suppliers – two in Rouen, and one each in Paris, London and Canterbury. This plaster would have been used in ‘shooting’ the floors to provide a smooth, quick-setting surface on which to lay the rush matting that was the usual floor covering at this date. This was one of the traditional uses of gypsum plaster and whenever the term ‘shooting’ or ‘casting’ appears in this connection it is reasonable to assume that a gypsum plaster was being employed. There are a few examples of floors being made with lime plaster or loam in the Royal Works but these are infrequent. At Chatsworth (c.1555) the floor of the bedchamber was ‘to be made even ether with plaster claye or lyme’.[91] The smooth, hard surface produced also made it ideal for the tennis courts built by Henry VIII for the amusement of himself and his courtiers. In all these instances, the use of gypsum plaster was dictated by practical considerations rather than aesthetic ones.[92]

For the work at Canterbury no reference is made to the colour of the plaster used and this is the case in the vast majority of entries. It has already been noted that ‘white and grey plaster’ were separated after the burning of gypsum and there are occasional references to the use of both. It is not surprising that where grey plaster is specified it was being used for its practical properties, where appearance was a secondary consideration. Grey plaster was used for floors at Wolsey’s York Place in 1515 and on the king’s and queen’s sides at Dartford in 1542.[93] In this traditional use of gypsum plaster the colour was immaterial as it would have been hidden beneath rush matting. Grey was equally appropriate for tennis courts, since they were painted black.

Making ceilings and interior walls – lime or gypsum or both?

The ‘seeling’ of the roofs of the new lodgings at Canterbury bears testimony to the growing fashion for inserting ceilings in rooms, rather than leaving them open to the roof. Ceilings constructed entirely of timber were extremely costly and plaster (of either variety) offered a cheaper alternative, with the additional advantage of its naturally light colour. The whiteness of plaster must have greatly improved the level of illumination of interiors; especially in the case of barrel-vaulted ceilings such as occur in some high status rooms. When the incomplete Yate Manor, Somerset, was surveyed in 1548-49 the great chamber already had a ‘Rooff compasse playstered’.[94]

In drawing up the particular books the clerks frequently failed to identify the type of plaster being used to create ceilings. In the 17 examples from the particular books which refer certainly to ceilings in the modern sense, six mention lime and hair, four refer to gypsum plaster and seven specify no materials, as was the case of the ceilings at Canterbury.

On those occasions when the plasterers were described as lathing and pargetting with lime and hair new partitions in the king’s lodgings at Canterbury, the use of lime plaster is in no doubt. Internal partitions were usually made of timber and lime plaster, rather brick or stone, for lightness. Lime plaster has the additional advantage that, even when set, it remains more flexible than gypsum plaster. This is of enormous benefit in timber-framed buildings where settlement may continue over many years, since there is far less danger of cracks appearing in the plastered surface. Where outside walls were built of brick or stone this would have been a less significant factor in the choice of type of plaster for the interior.

Ceilings, however, were always going to be prone to movement since the plaster was applied to laths nailed to timber joists. One would therefore expect lime plaster to have been the obvious choice, especially for the base coats, and this is borne out by William Harrison’s description of the construction of ceilings in the later-sixteenth century,

            ‘In plastering likewise of our fairest houses over our heads, we

            use to laie first a laire or two of white morter tempered with haire,

            upon laths, ... and finallie cover all with the aforesaid plaster ...’[95]

This account is somewhat surprising to modern-day conservators, who point out that the lime mortar base coat(s) would be much more prone to movement than the alabaster gypsum topcoat, causing cracks to appear in the surface of the ceiling. Plasterers spent a great deal of time ‘stopping and whiting’ existing ceilings and perhaps this was as a result of this method of creating ceilings. From the available evidence it is difficult to be certain how far this might have been the method followed in Henry VIII’s palaces as none of the entries specifies the use of lime and gypsum plasters in combination. Lime plaster was used for ceilings both in the royal lodgings and in offices. By contrast, gypsum plaster was only specified for ceilings in rooms of state or those connected with the royal family. The ‘shooting’ of the roof of the watching chamber at The More in 1541 was carried out with plaster; grey and white gypsum plaster were employed both for the ‘lathing & seling with plaster over my lady marys chamber’ at Bishop’s Hatfield in 1533 and for the walls and ceiling of the gallery at Richmond in the same year; all with no mention of lime and hair at all.[96] The application of the white plaster on top of the grey in these latter examples seems to imply that it was to be the final coat and left white, as no further decoration is recorded.

There are far more entries relating to the treatment of walls and partitions than of ceilings but the evidence is again partial and the materials used in the lathing, laying, pargetting and plastering are not always specified. There is only one entry in the particular books that indubitably refers to the use of lime, hair and plaster in conjunction, at the new offices next to the wood yard at Dartford in 1542.[97] The internal partitions and the exterior of the offices were plastered and it is likely that lime and gypsum plasters were laid on in separate layers, as described by William Harrison. The building works at Dartford were carried out with extraordinary haste, even by Henry VIII’s standards, and gypsum plaster may have been used in conjunction with lime, even on exterior walls, for this reason. In addition, the wood yard may have been regarded as a particular fire hazard, against which the adjoining officers were given the (perceived) added protection of a layer of gypsum plaster. The exterior walls of the offices were then probably coloured with yellow ochre, which would have afforded some protection against the weather. The plasterers had already applied yellow ochre to other areas of the palace, such a treatment being necessary to disguise the assortment of brick and stone involved in the construction work at Dartford.[98]

Plasters and status

Apart from this exceptional example, the entries for the plastering of walls and partitions refer either to plaster or to lime and hair (or occasionally mortar). Lime and hair was much more frequently used than gypsum plaster; the former is specified on 32 occasions as opposed to 15 for the latter. Not all these entries can be related to specific areas in the buildings concerned and this reduces the totals in identifiable areas to 29 for lime and hair and 14 for gypsum plaster. On only 7 occasions out of the 29 was lime and hair referred to in connection with lodgings for members of the royal family or aristocracy. By contrast, gypsum plaster was used in 14 of the 15 examples occurring in such high-status lodgings. This would seem to suggest that the choice between using gypsum or lime plaster was made, in many instances, to reflect the status of the occupants of the rooms being plastered. Thus grey and white plaster were supplied for ‘reparyng of diverse faute places in the selyng over the said gallarij [by the freres] and the sydes of the same’ at Richmond in 1533.[99] Gypsum plaster was used at Greenwich in 1534 for repairs and new plastering in the lodgings of the queen, prince, Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Wiltshire.[100] Lower down the social scale gypsum plaster gave way to lime and hair at Greenwich where, in 1532, the plasterers were ‘Workyng as well upon the Seylyng of Mr Comptrolers Chamber and Mr Heynage chamber with lyme & heyre’.[101] On the other hand, the use of gypsum plaster may simply reflect the greater need for speed in completing the rooms to be occupied by royalty or nobility; in either case, its use would seem to reflect the consciousness of status which dictated the decoration of royal palaces at this period.

Mixing lime and gypsum

An alternative explanation of the entry from Dartford which mentions the use of lime and plaster together is that the two types of plaster were mixed together, rather than applied as separate layers. In this account much stress has been laid on the difference between the two varieties of plaster but the addition of one to the other can improve performance in terms of setting speed or flexibility. The drying time of lime plaster can be greatly accelerated by the addition of gypsum and his may be the implication of the phrase ‘plaster, lime and hair’. This practice was frowned on by Vitruvius in De Architectura, Book VII, Chapter III.3, when describing the need for cornices to be light and slender, so that they don’t collapse under their own weight. Clearly there was a temptation to add some gypsum to speed setting in these circumstances but Vitruvius points out that this will prevent the uniform drying of the lime plaster.

Moreover, although the demand for speed is so often expressed in the accounts, it is clear from many entries that plasterers were occupied for several weeks on the same task, which rather suggests that lime plaster was being used without an accelerator. The fact that braziers were sometimes needed to speed the drying process also lends support to this view. For example, William Elder, a London plasterer, supplied ‘xiiij Erthyn pannes to putt in Fyre to drye the said worke’ after the plasterers had been working with lime and hair and loam and mortar at Bridewell in 1534.[102]

Analysis of plaster samples: the case of Acton Court

It is unlikely that there is any plaster surviving on the walls of royal palaces dating from Henry’s reign that could be analysed to verify this supposition. Analysis has, however, been carried out on samples of plaster from Acton Court, Gloucestershire, a courtier house built by Nicholas Poyntz in 1535 prior to a visit by Henry VIII.[103] It seems likely that craftsmen connected with the Royal Works were employed at the house and it may, therefore, provide a close parallel with the royal palaces of this date.

The East range, which was built to provide lodgings for the king, seems to have been thrown up with as much haste as many royal building projects. Surviving decorative features from this range include ribs, a wall console (Fig. 2), a painted ceiling (Fig. 3) and painted friezes (Fig. 4).

 Fig.2. Lime plaster wall console, Acton Court, Gloucestershire. © Kirsty Rodwell.

 Fig.3. Diagram of fretwork ceiling decoration with ribs painted on plaster, Acton Court.

Fig.4. Frieze of ‘antick’ decoration painted on plaster, Acton Court.

Samples taken from these elements show that lime plaster (without hair) was used to make the ribs and the wall console (possibly from a chimneypiece), whereas a gypsum plaster mix was used as a ground for the painted ceiling and friezes. The latter was applied in two layers – a white surface layer over a grey base coat – just as described in the Royal Works accounts. The gypsum plaster would have been chosen not only for its quick set but because it could then have been decorated with oil paint almost immediately. In the long gallery which was added c.1540 the need for haste had apparently diminished and the frieze of black letter texts was painted on to the same lime plaster which covers the rest of that room. See the section below on Colouring plain plasterwork for a fuller discussion of this topic.

Limitations of chemical analysis

It might be as well to draw attention at this point to the limitations of chemical analysis of samples as a means of determining the mix of plaster being used at a particular site. This relates particularly to the difficulty of interpreting the reason for the presence of additives in the basic material. Chemically, there is no difference between raw limestone and the calcined lime used to make lime plaster. If either limestone, probably in the form of chalk, or old lime plaster which had dried out, was crushed and used as the aggregate in lime plaster instead of sand, this would be impossible to detect chemically. Equally, dried out gypsum plaster could have been crushed to be used simply as aggregate but this would give the same scientific reading as fresh gypsum plaster used to speed the set of lime plaster.


The roughcasting of ‘the old stone walls’ of the abbot’s residence which had been converted to serve as the king’s lodgings at Canterbury was, on this occasion, the responsibility of the plasterers. Roughcast is a form of render consisting of semi-liquid slaked lime to which coarse sand, gravel or stone chippings have been added. This is thrown against the still wet base coat of lime plaster previously applied to the wall surface. It was usually applied to walls of masonry (rubblestone masonry, as opposed to ashlar) or brick, by masons and roughlayers or bricklayers respectively; but plasterers, too, were quite capable of handling the material. Depending on the work in hand, any of these groups might be available on site and could be detailed to carry out roughcasting, regardless of the underlying building material. At Dover Castle in 1582 there were no plasterers present and the roughlayers who were repairing the masonry walls completed their work by ‘rufkasting all the Rage [ragstone] worck on the outesdie of this tower and cortaine waulle’.[104] On occasion, an entirely separate group of workmen is designated as ‘roughcasters’, working alongside plasterers and bricklayers. At the Tower of London in 1532 the roughcasters ‘harled [= roughcast with lime mingled with small gravel] the three partis of the shite Tower and parte of Iulius Seaser tower’ while the plasterers were engaged on internal and external pargetting of the gallery and council chamber.[105] At the new Jewel House in the Tower in 1536 the plasterers were ‘ rough casting all the walls of the chambers and plastering them with lime and hair’, which sounds as though roughcast is here being used to provide a key for the top of coat of plaster, rather than as a finishing coat itself.[106]

Plasterers’ routine tasks in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Such were the routine tasks allotted to plasterers and, since these differed little in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries from earlier decades, a single example of the kind of work described in numerous Prelims. in the summary accounts will suffice to demonstrate the continuity of this side of their work. At Whitehall in 1604-05 the plasterers were lathing and laying with lime and hair the walls and ceilings of the new rooms under the queen’s lodgings and of the [timber] frame next to the queen’s bedchamber; sundry partitions, walls and ceiling in the princes’ lodgings and adjacent lodgings and the walls and ceilings of the Lady Arbella’s cabinet; the decayed walls towards the Thames near the privy bridge, the outside walls, partitions and ceilings of the new room made for the Sergeant of the Bakehouse, the great new staircase going up to the Robes, the walls in the earl of Pembroke’s lodging, a partition in Lady Walsingham’s lodging, a pheasant house in the park and various offices and court buildings. In addition, they were lathing and laying with plaster of Paris four walls near the queen’s bedchamber and a piece of wall in the queen’s cabinet ‘of sondrie varieties of woorks’; and laying with plaster of Paris a floor in the passage between the lobby and the privy chamber and mending the floor of the queen’s great chamber, the privy ‘Diett chamber’ and the Earl of Northampton’s lodging. Finally, they were pargetting the walls in the Lords’ side kitchen workhouse.[107]

As this extract demonstrates, gypsum continued to be used for the majority of palace floors for its quick set and the hardness of its finish. Those same qualities, plus its smoothness, explain why it remained the usual choice for halpaces [landings], footpaces [hearths] and tennis courts.[108] Its perceived resistance to fire accounts for its continuing use in kitchens and hearths; and it may be why it was employed as a finishing coat over the lime plaster applied to the brick walls of the ‘Meale house’ at St James’s Palace in 16-7-09.[109] Where gypsum plaster was laid directly onto laths nailed to the wall surface it is likely that it was brick or stone which was being plastered rather than timber-framing.

While the vast majority of internal walls were lathed and laid with lime and hair, they were on occasion plastered with gypsum plaster. Just as in the reign of Henry VIII the walls selected for this more luxurious treatment were generally to be found within the royal lodgings. During Elizabeth’s reign she twice undertook palace refurbishments in the expectation of visits from foreign royalty and one must assume that the queen wished to create an impression of greater magnificence for her guests than she usually felt necessary for herself. In 1564-66 Fotheringhay Castle was renovated in preparation for the abortive visit of Mary, Queen of Scots. Plasterers were ‘burninge of plastere and lathinge ... and plasteringe of the gable endes of the great chamber’. [110] In 1575-78 it was the visit of foreign royalty which precipitated the ‘Playsteringe and sealing the the [sic] princes loadgines with playster of parris’ at Greenwich.[111] It may only have been visible in important rooms when the hangings were removed but, on those occasions, and all the time in lesser rooms, in passages and on staircases in the royal lodgings, its use would have been apparent and indicative of the elevated status of the occupant.

A similar distinction was drawn during the reign of James I and his queen, Anne of Denmark. While lime plaster continued to be used for the majority of the plastering work carried out, there are eight task-work entries which specifically refer to plaster of Paris. Of these, one relates to the repair of the chapel at Greenwich in 1622-23 where the walls were laid with plaster of Paris in preparation for the re-painting of its architectural scheme the following year.[112] The remaining seven entries all cover work in the royal lodgings. Gypsum plaster was used only for the king and queen while lime and hair was felt to be appropriate for plastering work in aristocratic lodgings as well as the offices; the Earl of Northampton appears to have been exceptionally privileged in the extract quoted above.

Apart from the Greenwich chapel entry, the references to gypsum plaster all occur during Queen Anne’s lifetime and it seems to have been the queen who was most status-conscious in her preference for plaster of Paris; only at Royston and St James’s Palace does it occur in areas unconnected with the queen. Otherwise, five entries refer to its use either in her own palaces of Oatlands and Somerset/Denmark House or in her lodgings in the main royal palaces of Whitehall and Greenwich, mostly on the walls of staircases, passages and lobbies. It is clear that for Queen Anne the use of gypsum plaster was a necessary reflection of her regal status; a view which does not appear to have been shared to the same degree by other members of the royal family.

None of these entries describes the process of plastering which was recorded by William Harrison, where a base layer (or layers) of lime plaster was given a finishing coat of gypsum plaster. The procedure was described quite specifically at Hardwick in 1587 when James [Hindle] the plasterer was paid ‘for doing the Roumes under the gallery and over the head and the walles and the Romow at the steare at the cominge in at the gallery dores both with plaster and Lyme and heare’.[113] However, the only entry in the Royal Works accounts which might, perhaps, record such a process occurs at Theobalds in 1619-20, when Danyell Feilde plastered 124 yards of partition walls in the Chanecellor’s lodgings and re-plastered 79 yards of them with plaster of Paris.[114] Perhaps the plasterers working in the Royal Works were more aware of the risks of cracking when gypsum plaster was laid on top of lime and hair.

If this was the case, such awareness seems to have evaporated by the reign of Charles I. On three occasions gypsum plaster was applied over lime and hair: on the ‘ceelinge’ of the new banqueting house in Theobalds Park in 1625-26;[115] in unspecified areas of the Queen’s Chapel at Somerset House between 1630 and 1635;[116] and on the walls of the passage to the queen’s closet at Somerset House in 1635-36.[117] This might represent a change in practice from Queen Anne’s time or it may simply suggest that a more methodical clerk had been employed to transfer the entries from the particular books to the summarised accounts. During the Civil War, when only basic maintenance of some royal palaces was undertaken, plaster of Paris was not once mentioned in connection with walls but was limited to its traditional use as a flooring material.

Colouring plain plasterwork

It remains to discuss the kinds of colouring which could be applied to the surfaces of plain plasterwork. Two types of paint were available with which to colour plaster surfaces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: either water-based limewashes and distempers; or oil paints, where pigments were bound with oil (usually linseed). In choosing one or other option, a crucial distinction between lime and gypsum plasters had to be borne in mind. Lime plaster takes at least a year to cure fully and oil paints cannot be successfully applied until this process is complete; water-based treatments, on the other hand, can be applied almost immediately. The same restriction does not apply to gypsum plaster and oil paints can be safely used within a matter of weeks.

An example of this distinction in action occurred when the ceiling of the king’s great chamber at The More was plastered in preparation ‘for the Joyners to sett over ther Fretts’ and grey gypsum plaster only was used.[118] No doubt the joiners appreciated having a smooth, flat surface on which to set their wooden battens, after which the entire ceiling would have been painted, concealing the grey plaster beneath. On this occasion the decoration of the king’s great chamber clearly took priority over that of the queen, which was lathed and pargetted with lime and hair prior to ‘frets’. The use of gypsum plaster ensured that the king’s room could be painted almost immediately, whereas the queen’s would have had to wait for the following year if it was to be treated with anything more than distemper. This may, however, have been all the colouring it was to receive, similar to the treatment applied to the ceiling of the queen’s privy chamber at Rochester, which was ‘yellowed; in 1541.[119]

The urgency with which Nicholas Poyntz decorated Acton Court in 1535 has already been referred to. The fashionable frieze of ‘antick’ decoration in one room and the fret ceiling in another were created using oil paints on a gypsum plaster base (Figs. 3 & 4). An alternative approach was adopted at Dover Castle in 1625-26 when the ‘fower greate roomes in the kings Lodgings’ were lathed and laid with lime and hair; and in the same year the Sergeant Painter worked ‘twoe Archte Ceelings of the presence, and Privy chamber with a Frettwoorke in Distemper ...’[120]


Limewash, consisting of lime putty thinned with water, had been used for centuries on the exterior and interior of buildings. The lime continues to carbonate in the air and this chemical reaction causes the limewash to bond to the wall; the disadvantage is that the surface can be rubbed off, producing white smudges on hands and clothing. It was more often used on the exteriors of buildings, as at Bridewell in 1534-35, when various walls in the precinct of the manor were washed with lime by the plasterers.[121]

Whitewash and distemper

Limewash was more durable than whitewash, which was made by mixing crushed chalk with water; size was usually added to the mixture to make it adhere more readily to the wall surface. Whitewash to which colour has been added is usually referred to as distemper.

Whitewash was probably preferred for internal work since, although its slightly powdery texture might brush off even more easily than limewash, it provided a more pleasing finish for surfaces, being both smooth and matt with a degree of luminosity. Both treatments required frequent renewal to keep them white. The need to repeat the process every year or so was not a problem in an age of cheap and plentiful labour and the plasterers were regularly employed in ‘washing and whiting’. Because of the greasy soot deposited on walls and ceilings by open fires and candles, washing was essential so that the fresh coat would adhere to the surface.


While the range of available pigments which could be added to an oil binder was quite large, many of these colours were destroyed by contact with lime and were, therefore, unsuitable for colouring limewash or whitewash. The colour range for these latter finishes is, therefore, limited almost exclusively to the earth colours, such as ochres.[122]

Armed with these materials the plasterer and painter could decorated plastered walls in plain colours, including white, or embellish them with patterns, both indoors and out. In their continuing demarcation disputes with the Plasterers’ Company in London the Painter-Stainers recognised that they could not prevent their rivals from working with water-based colours; but they attempted to restrict the use of oil paints to those who had served an apprenticeship with a painter. These disputes will be discussed further in the chapter devoted to the London Plasterers’ Company. It should be pointed out here that the Royal Works were specifically excluded from the City’s jurisdiction and rulings issued by the aldermen of the City did not apply to those working on royal buildings. Nevertheless, the distinction which the Painter-Stainers wished to draw seems, by and large, to have been maintained within the Royal Works, so that the cases of plasterers using oil paint are exceptional.[123]

The delay necessary for the successful application of oil paint to lime plaster meant that there was less likelihood of the plasterres being in a position to trespass on the painter-stainers’ domain. On the other hand, since lime plaster had only to be allowed to dry for about three weeks before it could be coloured with limewash or distemper, the plasterers were almost certain still to be on site and well placed to carry out the work.


Size was a frequent purchase listed in the ‘emptions’ but it is specified as intended for the use of painters more often than plasterers.[124] There are two payments for bushels of glovers’ shreds ‘for the playsterers to make syes wyth’ at Hampton Court in 1534 and 1535, the first being accompanied by ‘a pype for the playsters to sett water and syes in’.[125]

Only details of their overtime work are given in this account and this did not, unfortunately, include the whitewashing of any walls. At Dover Castle in 1582, however, the entry is quite specific and ‘a peck of glovers shreds’ was purchased ‘for macking of Sies for whit washing of waulles’.[126] It is sometimes suggested that size could have been used to delay the setting time of plaster of Paris but if this was a common practice, there is no evidence for it in the accounts of the Royal Works.


It has already been mentioned that the discoloration of lime plaster, which necessitated its whiting, was probably due to the colour of the sand used as aggregate; although some of the burnt lime itself may have been tinged with grey by the ashes in the kiln. This would have applied equally to gypsum plaster but it needed no aggregate and, consequently, was more likely to retain its whiteness.

The ‘whiting’ of the interiors and exteriors of lodgings was a task second only in frequency to lathing and laying with lime and hair for the plasterers of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. If new work was involved, the whiting would provide a uniform finish which might be desirable to disguise variations in the colour of the lime plaster. This seems to have been the case at Hardwick where an entry made in the accounts in 1595 records that ‘because the walles Ryse and be not well nor all of one collor therfor they most be perfectly wheyted at the plasterers charge’. For finishing the New Hall an especially white lime was purchased, ready burnt, from the lime-kilns at Crich, to avoid using the greyish-white local lime that had been used in the building process.[127]

In addition to such practical considerations, white plaster surfaces came to share in the moral worth with which the colour white was endowed in the sixteenth century. In his

1598 translation of the treatise in Italian by Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Richard Haydocke stated that: ‘White, because it is apt to receive all mixtures, signifieth simplicity, puritie, and elation of the minde’.[128] After citing numerous similar quotations from a variety of authors, Tara Hamling concludes that ‘white is universally agreed to be the most noble, worthy colour’.[129]

Limewash or whitewash?

Both limewash and whitewash were used in the Royal Works, although it is not always absolutely clear which of them was meant when the term ‘whiting’ appears in the accounts. The entry for repairs to the king’s lodgings at the Tower of London in 1532 refers to whiting within and without the long gallery ... whiting between the battens in the same gallery ... whiting between the battens and whiting of the windows in the king’s privy chamber. At the entry to the king’s privy chamber the old plaster was beaten down and made new again, then whited with size, which suggests that whitewash was probably used throughout.[130] When there is reference to walls being washed with lime (as at Bridewell in 1534-35) or ‘white lymyng part of the walls and wyndowes in Westminster hall’ there seems little doubt that limewash was the material used.[131]

Clerkly terminology is frequently confusing. At Greenwich in 1533 the plasterers were ‘whyte wasshen with plaster all the Selyng in the sayd galarye’ and ‘wasshing of the said chambers [three chambers in the Cage which were to be used as the hawk mews] with white plaster.[132] Whitewash made with crushed raw gypsum and water may be what is meant but it is equally possible that spoiled gypsum (old plaster which had ‘gone off’) was ground up and mixed with water and size, in place of the more usual powdered chalk.[133] Two entries from later in the century pose the same difficulties of interpretation. At Whitehall in 1589-90 the Prelims refer to ‘white washinge the [Queen’s] Bedchamber with white plaister and spanishe white on it’; while at Somerset House in 1590-91 the tasks included ‘whitewashinge the Ceelinge of the withdrawinge Chamber with plaster and Spanishe white’.[134] Either the desire for whiteness must have been strongly expressed to require this exceptional treatment, or else it was an economical way of using up old gypsum plaster.

White oil paint

Whiteness could also be achieved by the use of white oil paint, although this fell within the competence of the Sergeant Painter rather than the Master Plasterer. The need to allow lime plaster to cure before the application of oil paint seems to have been appreciated when the Master Plasterer plastered with lime and hair a great many of the rooms at Woking in 1578-79. It was not until the following year that these same royal lodgings were painted with white lead in oil by the Sergeant Painter.[135]

The whiteness of plaster of Paris

In addition to its practical usefulness, gypsum plaster had been appreciated for its aesthetic appeal over the centuries, for both its colour and its surface texture. Despite its lack of durability in the English climate gypsum plaster was used occasionally externally on account of its whiteness. In 1532 the upper stage of St Thomas’s Tower at the Tower of London (also known as Traitors’ Gate) was reconstructed and finished by ‘white plasteryng not only of thowt side of saynt Thomas Tower with white plaster ...’[136] This would have made it stand out in the same way as the White Tower itself, which had been regularly whitened since the reign of Henry III. That this fashion extended beyond the royal palaces is suggested by the recent discovery of patches of gypsum plaster surviving on the exterior of Chastleton House, Oxfordshire (built 1607-12), where it had managed to cling to the walls, protected from the weather beneath a string course.[137]

In his translation of Pliny’s Natural History Philemon Holland renders the phrase ‘usus gypsi in albariis’ as ‘Plastre [of  Paris] serveth passing well to white wals or seeling’.[138] As the Latin phrase ‘in albariis’ is a general term ussed in connection with plasterwork, the fact that Holland translates it in this way implies that the use of gypsum plaster on walls was sufficiently widespread to suggest itself to him as an interpretation of Pliny’s meaning. It is not absolutely clear, however, whether Holland was envisaging the plastering of walls with gypsum plaster, or the whitewashing of them with crushed raw gypsum as referred to above.

The attractions of gypsum plaster received an eloquent tribute from William Harrison who referred not only to the ‘delectable whitenesse of the stuffe it selfe’ but also to the way in which it ‘is laied on so even and smoothlie, as nothing in my judgment can be doone with more exactnesse’.[139] This would appear to have been the finish chosen by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, for the first hall at Burghley House, to judge from the description of his bailiff, who wrote to his master in 1561 that ‘the hall is halfe selyd with plaster over the head which showthe verie fayre’.[140]

It is difficult to be certain how far a smooth, white gypsum plaster surface was appreciated for its own sake in the rooms of state of the royal palaces of Henry VIII with so few examples documented. In those cases where gypsum was used on ceilings which were to receive further decoration at the hands of the joiners and painters, the aesthetic appeal of the plaster would have been irrelevant. Equally, it would have been superfluous to apply gypsum plaster to walls that were going to be concealed behind panelling. An example of the roughcasting of walls which were to be covered with wainscot occurs in the accounts for Hardwick Old Hall. In May 1588 the plasterer was paid for ‘rowgh casting of the gallery’, which was followed in August of the same year by a payment ‘for the weanscat for the gallerij’.[141] This makes it clear that little trouble was taken with the surface appearance of walls that were to be completely hidden from view.

On the other hand, a gypsum plaster surface would have been visible on those walls which were only covered with hangings on important occasions; and in subordinate areas within royal lodgings, such as the privy stairs in the king’s new garden, the gallery beneath the king’s long gallery and the nether gallery by the bayne at Hampton Court, which were all coated with grey and white plaster in 1535.[142] Gypsum plaster provided an alternative means of achieving a white surface but its use for this purpose within the Royal Works was largely confined to the reigns of the more extravagant monarchs. The cheaper options of limewash and whitewash were used far more frequently throughout the entire period of this study.

Other colours

Plasterers were not restricted to the use of white when applying the final coat to wall surfaces. Colouring could easily be added to both limewash and whitewash and the earth colours, red and yellow ochre, are frequently mentioned in this connection, continuing a tradition going back several centuries.[143] William Elder, one of the senior plasterers, supplied spruce yellow, red ochre and red lead at The More in 1533-34 and red ochre at West Horsley in 1539, which suggests that these were the pigments with which plasterers were most familiar.[144] A ‘Great pane For the playsterers to seeth there Colours in’ was hired for four weeks at Windsor in 1533, while they applied yellow ochre to the ‘Rouff and Wyndos’ of the prince’s new lodging and the king’s bedchamber.[145]

Plasterers splashed red and yellow inside and out and it was to timber-work as often as to plaster that colour was applied in the first half of the sixteenth century. For example, the screen and beams in the great hall at Canterbury were yellowed, while the external walls of the king’s privy lodging were red ochred. Where the walls of timber-framed buildings were not completely plastered over, the timber studs might be coloured while the partitions between them were whited, as was the case in various lodgings at Eltham in 1533.[146]

Plasterers and painters

When the Plasterers’ Company of the City of London was granted a coat-of-arms in 1546 they asserted their traditional right to paint their plasterwork by including the ‘hery brusshe’ on their shield, with which they would have applied limewash or distemper. Trying to limit the activities of the plasterers in this area became a preoccupation of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. When York Place was decorated for Wolsey in 1515, both plasterers and a painter were employed in the application of colour and one can see how demarcation disputes were likely to arise in such a situation. The plasterers were colour-washing the timberwork both inside and out, while the painter was ‘coloryng and vernyshing’ various parts of the house, including ‘all the Bealmes & Sumers & other old tymbre’ in the great chamber, the ‘Ferment work with rede Coloure in all the iij newe Chambres & Coloring & stoppyng of all the old tymre within the same’.[147] The use of varnish suggests that the painter was using oil colours rather than limewash or distemper, respecting the distinction which the Painter-Stainers attempted to draw to mark the boundary over which the Plasterers should not stray.

From the mid-century onwards the plastering of walls increasingly covered the whole surface, concealing the timber uprights, and there are no further task-work entries referring to the painting of plaster and timber in contrasting colours until 1609; and that involved a painter rather than a plasterer. In that year the walls of various chambers in the lodges in the parks at Theobalds, Enfield and Cheshunt were whited and the timber russeted, in a manner which seems decidedly old-fashioned, harking back to the colour-schemes of Wolsey and Henry VIII. It was obviously not felt necessary to update the decoration of these small rural buildings at this stage. The work might have been done by plasterers had they been required on site; but since some additional embellishment was required, in the form of ‘xxiij yardes of antique woorke in the parler at Endfeilde lodge’ and a further nine yards of ‘Arras’ (for an unspecified room), it is understandable that a painter was employed for all the work.[148] In the same year, at Royston the refurbishment undertaken by the plasterers included repairs with lime and hair and ‘whitewashinge all the outeside walls rounde aboute the Courte and layinge in russet coulor all the postes and puncons in the same and likewise the wall of the houskeepers lodginge nexte the garden’.[149]

By the seventeenth century the plasterers’ use of colour seems to have been largely restricted to the exteriors of buildings while internal decorative and architectural paintwork was the domain of the painters, predominantly the Sergeant Painter. An unusual exception to this generalisation occurred when the plasterer, William Pearson, working at Woodstock Lodge in 1603-04, was ‘colouring and laying in oyle soundry windowes about the house’, in the absence of a painter on site.[150] Such role reversals are most frequently found at sites where minor works are in train, especially in the smaller park buildings at some distance from the main palace or in palaces outside London.

 Fig. 5. The hall at Hatfield House illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus, Vol. V (1833).

Otherwise, the plasterers’ contribution was confined to the preparation of plaster surfaces which were to be decorated by a painter. That this was the situation prevailing outside the Royal Works also is exemplified in the early seventeenth century by the bill submitted by James Leigh for his plastering work at Hatfield House which included ‘Plaster of Parris vppon lyme and Hayre in the hall for the paynter ...’[151] Rowland Buckett’s paintings in the hall survived to be recorded before their destruction in the nineteenth century (Fig. 5).

Two further examples of painted decoration applied to plain plaster ceilings occurred in the Royal Works in the mid-1620s. The first was in the king’s presence chamber in the upper house at Westminster, which was provided with a ‘greate Compaste Ceelinge’ and a ‘great Cornish’ of lime plaster in 1623-24, which was painted ‘with curious stoneworke in distemper’ the following year.[152] The ceiling was repaired and partially repainted in black and white in 1639-40.[153] Hollar provided only the sketchiest record of this ceiling in his engraving of Archbishop Laud’s trial in 1645 but a painting of the House of Lords by Peter Tillemans in the early eighteenth century depicts more clearly the painted ceiling with its pattern of octagons and crosses, ultimately derived from the ambulatory of Santa Costanza in Rome.[154] Illustrations of the ceiling drawn in 1742 and 1823 (shortly before its destruction) show the ceiling to have been canted rather than semi-circular.[155] Richard Talbott, the Master Plasterer, and John de Critz, the Sergeant Painter, followed this with a repeat performance at Dover Castle in 1625-26, as previously mentioned.

Tincturing heraldry

Given the importance of heraldry to the patrons of decoration in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it seems likely that coats-of-arms and heraldic badges in plaster were sometimes tinctured in their proper colours, just as they had been on timber ceilings and friezes and on stone chimneypieces. Insufficient examples have been analysed to substantiate this hypothesis but a literary quotation would seem to provide some support for it. In his An Heptameron of Civill Discourses (1582), George Whetstone described ‘a faire great chamber ... the roof wherof was Allablaster plaiser, embost with many curious devises in gold and in sundrie places in proper colours was ingraved his device, which was a Holly Tree, full of red Berries, & in the same a fluttering Mavis fast limed to the bowes, ...’[156] This is undoubtedly just the kind of painting that an heraldic painter would regard as falling within his province rather than that of the plasterer.

Plasterers and bricklayers

Even on the exteriors of buildings the plasterers’ sphere of influence was not immune from inroads by other craftsmen, usually the bricklayers. The alterations carried out at Dartford in 1543 involved the bricklayers in ‘whyt fenyshing the owchis [arches] and jawmes of the west gayt with plastr of parys’.[157] This extract raises a number of interesting points. It has already been noted that bricklayers were familiar with one of the materials used by plasterers, since lime mortar was as essential bricklaying as it was to plastering. Their expertise with plaster of Paris is perhaps more surprising until it is realised that it was frequently used for lining chimneys and flues, which were commonly built of brick. When plasterers were not available on site, bricklayers were able to turn their hands to a variety of tasks, such as that described at Dartford, or the provision of ‘iiij new halfpacys in the king’s lodgings’ at Leed Castle in 1542.[158]

Clearly it was impossible that demarcation lines should remain firmly drawn when different groups of building workers were using the same basic materials; and this was especially the case on royal building sites where speed was paramount. Working at royal sites was presumably one of the ways in which artisans from different craft backgrounds were able to acquire the expertise across craft boundaries.


This situation was further complicated by another aspect of the bricklayers’ work, which is described in the accounts as ‘pencilling’. Brickwork was frequently coloured (usually red, or ‘russeted’), either to enhance its natural colour or to achieve uniformity of colouring. At Hampton Court in 1534 a bricklayer was paid for ‘pensellyng of the Quenys new lodgeyng ... the kynges lowng galary Ende, ij gabyll Endes of the haull with iij vicys [spiral stairs] adioynyd to the same and The myddyll bancatt howse over the kechen at The mowte’.[159] In 1536 the bricklayers pencilled the walls and windows of the inner court at Hampton Court in different colours (perhaps to highlight the ornamental diapering); and in the same year they pencilled a chimney in the standing in Hanworth Park.[160] The term may be used here to indicate the practice of plastering over the brickwork of fireplaces and their surrounds before marking and colouring them in imitation of brick or other materials.[161] Entries referring to ‘Rede okering & pynsellynge’ suggest that the pointing may well have been picked out in a different colour. At Canterbury this was the last of the tasks allotted to the plasterers and they were responsible for the same treatment of ‘the bake Walles upon the stayres goynge Forthe off the sayd galerey into the kynges garden’ at Greenwich in 1533.[162] Here was yet another area where the borderline between plastering and bricklaying could become blurred.

External plasterwork was also sometimes treated to make it look like masonry by ‘drawing yt like ashler’. As Mercer pointed out, this fashion seems to have had its heyday from the 1580s until 1612, occurring at Greenwich (Conduit Court, 1582-83), Woking (1593-94), Nonsuch (1599-1600), Eltham (1603-04), Greenwich (Conduit Court repair, 1610-11) and Somerset House (1611-12).[163] Mercer suggested that the practice came to an abrupt end in 1612, “with the exception of the renewal of some old plaster-work at the Tower in 1624-25.” There is, however, nothing to suggest that this was a renewal of plaster which had previously been drawn to look like ashlar; and in 1633-34 the walls of a lodging at Somerset House were still being ‘drawn into ashlar’. This looks rather more like an “observable decline” rather than “a sudden stop”. In most of the above instances the work fell to plasterers but at Somerset House it was Jeremy Talcott (the first royal Master Bricklayer, appointed in 1609) who was given the task of ‘finishinge with white morter ashler waies the fronte of the house towards the garden and parte of the wharfe wall next to the Thames’, which he then pencilled. He completed his task-work by ‘white finishinge ioynteinge and pencellinge the stone wall on the backe side of the haull next the Garden’.[164] It was presumably because pencilling was also involved that he was given the task rather than a plasterer.

The decoration of Conduit Court, Greenwich, 1582-83

There is one exterior scheme from the reign of Elizabeth that involved men from all three crafts – plasterers, bricklayers and painters – in the refashioning of the Conduit Court at Greenwich.[165] According to the Prelims, the work comprised the building of a new covered terrace in timber, with posts, rails and balusters, followed by:

            ‘Lathing and laieinge with plaster of paris, as well the gallerie, walles

            in the Conduit Courte, Reducing them into the Forme of stone asshler,

            as also of the Terris ...’

The gallery walls near the tennis court and the banqueting house walls were similarly treated. George Gower, the Sergeant Painter, followed the plasterers and was paid for:

            ‘laying of all the Timer windowes and their barres aboute her Majestes,

            and Noblemens lodgings in white leade and oile, for Moulding of

            Cornisshes, Archtraves, gable endes, porches, dores, Balasters, Railles,

            Peristalles, and boultelles in the Conduit Courte, the twoo other

            Courtes, and in the hall, conteyninge ml vijc vij yardes di, at xvjd the


The bricklayers were pencilling and pargetting chimneys and walls; and although Conduit Court is not specified as the site of their activity, subsequent repairs included the pencilling of the walls there.[166]

This is one of the rare instances in the Royal Works of the use of gypsum plaster on the exterior of a building and a surface treatment to protect the plaster from rainfall would have helped to improve its durability. There would not, at first sight, appear to be any mention in the accounts of the application of limewash or paint to the plaster and this led Summerson to conclude that Gower was working ‘in plaster or some kind of stucco’. It has been pointed out above, however, that the choice of gypsum plaster was sometimes dictated by the desire to apply decoration in oil paint soon after completion and this is likely to have been the motivation in conduit Court. George Gower’s ‘moulding’ of architectural elements was probably executed in oil paint, like the rest of his task-work, providing protection for the plaster at the same time as ornamenting it. Similarly, in 1584-85 Gower painted the walls of two courts in Westminster Hall with interlaced work and badges in various colours; the walls had been roughcast except for ‘plasteringe sondrie places were nede was’. This would seem to be another occasion on which gypsum plaster was used so that oil paints could be applied immediately.[167]

'Moulding’ and ‘purfling’

The use of the term ‘moulding’ might be expected to imply something more sculptural than paintwork but ‘moulds’ did not always denote three-dimensional forms at this date; for example, the flat templates used by masons and other craftsmen wee also referred to as moulds. The term ‘moulded’ was still in use in connection with painting in 1601-02 when Leonard Fryer, Sergeant Painter, provided ‘the Quenes Armes moulded in a table [a picture] and a frame with a partment over it ... all fyne goulde and bice in oyle Collor.[168]

What is more, when Gower was decorating the Rich Chamber at Hampton Court in the same year he was ‘Mouldinge of the said windowes with a frett therevpon with diuerse coulors & with fine golde intermedled, together with blacke purflinge the said fret on each side ...’ On this occasion there can be no doubt that Gower was using paint to model the fret, giving it a more three-dimensional appearance by painting a black outline around it. A splendid example of this technique survives on the early seventeenth-century staircase at Knole, where purfling is used to make the flat baluster on the wall appear rounded. It may be less sophisticated than modelling with cast shadow on one side only but it is extremely effective. The wooden posts, rails and balusters of the new gallery at Greenwich would seem to have been mirrored on the back wall in a similar illusionistic scheme.

That this kind of illlusionistic paintings was one of Gower’s particular skills is borne out by subsequent payments to him. In 1584-85 he was again at work at Hampton Court, painting and gilding one end of the roof in the great court ‘with frett of Mazonrie containing sondrie badges in fine coulors.[169] By 1588-89 the clerk had finally found terms with which we are familiar to convey his meaning and Gower was paid for painting ‘an order with prospective in sondre oyle coullers’ on the west wall of the banqueting house at Whitehall.[170] In the light of these examples it seems more than likely that Conduit Court was decorated by the Sergeant Painter in the same manner.

It is not clear whether this decorative scheme was maintained in later years. In 1605-06 plasterers were ‘russetting the playster walls in the Conduct [sic] Courte’ and this treatment was repeated in 1619-20.[171] In the following year the Prelims record the ‘mending with plaister of Parris Lyme and Haire the walles round about the Conduit Court and russetting and pencelling the same ...[172] Meanwhile, in 1610-11 a plasterer had been ‘lathinge and laying with lime & haire and strikinge oute Ashelerwise fifty square ya: in the Conduit Courte’.[173] This seems to suggest that the basic colour scheme and the treatment of the plaster surfaces were maintained but whether Gower’s trompe l’oeil architectural painting survived in the shelter of the gallery is not certain.

It is not quite so difficult to interpret the entries relating to the banqueting house which was constructed at Whitehall for the visit of the Duc d’Anjou in 1581-82. This was a canvas structure, painted on the outside ‘most artificiallie with a worke called rustike, much like to stone’.[174] The following year repairs were undertaken, including ‘quarteringe up of the sides thereof, and closing diuerse places of the same with boordes, ... as also to defend the plaster caste ouer the said sides from the violence of whether ...[175] This would seem to imply that the canvas walls had been primed with gypsum plaster before the paintwork had been applied; and this procedure was repeated on the more substantial walls of the repaired structure. The Prelims go on to refer to ‘Lathinge and laying the Walles with lime and heare, and stikinge ouer of plaster, the better to Receive the painters woorke’. George Gower then painted ‘all the outeside of the banquettinghouse walles ... with oile cast ouer the said woorke after the perfectinge thereof’. In this context it would seem that once again a layer of gypsum plaster was laid over the lime and hair to enable the painter to decorate it with oil paints. While Gower was engaged on the exterior of the building, up on the roof the Master Plasterer, Thomas Kellie, was ‘castinge an oile coulor ouer the boorded Roofe, and inside of the battillments’, a rare instance of a plasterer using oil paints; in this case indicative, no doubt, of the urgent need to complete the refurbishment.[176]


The only other clour which is mentioned in connection with plasterers is black, which was used on its own for practical rather than decorative purposes. At Greenwich in 1539 the walls of the stables were blacked ‘before the king’s great horses heads’; [177] and black was also the colour used on the walls of royal tennis plays [courts], although plasterers were only recorded as involved in this work later in the century, at Whitehall (1559) and Greenwich (1569), where they were ‘new plastering and blacking the tennis playe’.[178] At Whitehall in 1611-12 it was John de Critz, the Sergeant Painter, who was ‘layinge with lamblacke and verdigreace part of a shedd vpon plaster of paris in the great brake’, another term for the tennis court.[179] In 1614-15, however, the sheds needed moe than a new coat of paint and the task of coating it with plaster of Paris and ‘black worke’[180] was given to the plasterer, Richard Talbott, who was then contracted to maintain the sheds for a period of twelve years.

The origins of decorative plasterwork in England

‘Stucco’ before Nonsuch

In describing the materials employed in the manufacture of the two types of plaster available to English plasterers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, every effort has been made to avoid the use of the term ‘stucco’. So much confusion surrounds the word, largely owing to the paucity of technical vocabulary available in English, that it now conveys very little to an English audience in terms of its composition.[181] Nevertheless, the term is frequently used in connection with the most famous decorative plasterwork of the reign of Henry VIII, at Nonsuch Palace.[182] A brief resume of the ways in which the term was understood in sixteenth-century England is therefore essential.

The salient feature of the material used to model decorative plasterwork in Renaissance Italy was its lime plaster base. The addition of ground white marble as aggregate gave the plaster a whiteness and fineness of surface texture which made it superior to lime plaster mixed with aggregates like sand; but it did not affect the plasticity of the matured lime and its suitability for modelling in high relief. There was no need to add hair to such a mixture for sculptural work since the role of hair was simply to act as a binder, providing tensile strength for plaster laid over a broad plane surface.

In this context it is important to understand that, provided it has been allowed sufficient time to mature, lime plaster (whatever the source of the limestone and aggregate added to it) is capable of being modelled in layers built up on armatures. When the Italian artists, Rosso and Primaticcio, modelled large-scale figures in very high relief at Fontainebleau in the 1530s and 1540s, they did not have readily available the materials they would have employed in Italy. During the restoration of the Galerie François Ier a study was made of the plaster, in conjunction with the documentary evidence. This revealed that no attempt had been made to acquire ground marble for their work:

            ‘Puis le stuc, proprement dit, mélange de chaulx, de sable fin et de

            poussière de calcaire très finement broyée, était amené à la consistance

            voulue et appliqué, humide, sur le noyau, par couches successives que

            l’on modelait à mesure. Sur le chantie, une équipe de “manoeuvriers”

            s’occupe uniquement de broyer la pierre et de détremper les mélanges’.[183]

Here, then, finely crushed chalk and fine sand were substituted for the ground white marble which would have been used in Italy. This serves to emphasise the relative unimportance of the choice of aggregate (if any) in realising the sculptural potential of lime plaster. The surface may have been less fine and less white but the figures are as fully three-dimensional as contemporary Italian work and a final polishing gave the surface a very similar appearance.

It has, up to now, been widely accepted that it was Nicholas Bellin, one of the Italian artists assisting Rosso at Fontainebleau, who responsible for the introduction of stucco to Henry VIII’s court, following his arrival in England in 1537.[184] As mentioned in the section above, ‘Analysis of plaster samples: the case of Acton Court’, excavated fragments have demonstrated that lime plaster was already being used to model decorative elements as early as 1535. The sophisticated quality of the interior decoration has suggested that Poyntz may have been able to call upon the services of artists normally working for the king; perhaps one of the numerous foreigners engaged on decorative work in the royal palaces. It also suggests that Nicholas Bellin’s work at Nonsuch was not quite the watershed it has seemed in the past.

Nicholas Bellin’s work for Henry VIII

What Bellin brought with him from France was the expertise he had acquired while working on the decoration of the Chambre du Roi at Fontainebleau. He was employed by Henry VIII not simply to match the sumptuousness of Francis I’s palace, but to outstrip him in novelty and extravagance by placing panels of plaster ornament on the exterior of Nonsuch Palace in Surrey. Owing to the fragmentary nature of the building accounts, it can only be assumed that Bellin was behind the design and manufacture of the panels, in addition to the borders of carved and gilded slate where his involvement is documented. The assumption does, however, seem a reasonable one in the light of references to his employment in similar work elsewhere in the Royal Works accounts; and in the letter of 1540 from Sir John Wallop to Henry VIII, where the English ambassador described the plaster decoration of the Galerie François Ier as ‘all antique of suche stuff as the said Modon [Bellin of Modena] makith Your Majesties chemenyes’.[185]

Bellin was also working at Whitehall at some time during the period 1537-41 where a payment of wages was made to ‘morter makerse To mothen the Italyon iiij – xxxijs.[186]

It remains uncertain whether the ‘morter’ made for Bellin was applied, under his direction, by the eight ‘Frenche men workyng uppon the Fronte of Chemnaye For the prevye Chamber’ listed in the same undated entry. It is tempting to suppose that these Frenchmen accompanied Bellin from Fontainebleau but there is no supporting evidence for this hypothesis.[187]

Following the excavation of myriad fragments of the Nonsuch panels in 1959 it proved possible to reconstruct some of the motifs of the decorative scheme.[188] What has so far remained elusive is a complete understanding of their composition. Chemical analysis has shown them to consist largely of calcium carbonate, which gives no clear indication of the form of the aggregate, if any, added to the basic lime plaster.[189] There is nothing in the sparse building accounts to throw any further light on the problem and the earliest account of how the panels were made was not written until after 1582. This occurs in a manuscript description of the palace, in Latin, by Anthony Watson, Rector of Cheam from 1581, entitled ‘Magnificae, et plane Regius Domus, quae vulgo vocatur Nonesuch, brevis, et vera descriptio Antonii Watsoni’.[190] The relevant passage reads as follows:

            ‘From the powdered ashes of stone, skilfully moistened, a material was

            formed most apt for any impression, which, having followed a natural

            course of drying, is seen to be harder than adamant.’

This does not seem to imply any particularly esoteric recipe but rather an especial expertise in the handling of the lime plaster to allow it to be used as a modelling material. The fact that Bellin used his own mortar makers at Whitehall would seem to support the view that his requirements differed from those of the ordinary plasterer; and that he may have had to train a small group to meet his specific needs at Nonsuch. Whether these assistants were foreigners or Englishmen is unfortunately not known.

The entry for ‘stucco’ in John Florio’s Italian dictionary also suggests that Bellin’s work was seen as out of the ordinary; but it is doubtful if Florio was any better informed than Watson about what went into the mixture:

            ‘stucco  a kinde of stuffe or matter to build statue or image worke with

            vsed much in Italie, made of paper, sand and lyme, with other mixtures,

            the imagerie work at Nonesuch in England in the inner court is built

            of such.’[191]

Moreover, Florio’s entry for the associated verb, ‘stuccare’, shows that, in his view, its use was not confined to the application of stucco: ‘stuccare  to parget, to daube or worke with stucco, loame or mortar.’ Florio gives other Italian words with similar translations: calcinare  to morter, to loame, to lyme; incrostare  Also to parget or rough caste; intonicare  Also, to lyme, to loame, to morter, or plaister a house ...’ None of this suggests that he had a deep understanding of the different implications that these terms would have had for an Italian plasterer.

What was novel about the Nonsuch panels from the English point-of-view was not so much the material used as the technique of applying thin layers of lime plaster around wooden armatures, making it possible to achieve much higher relief in modelling. This sculptural approach must have appeared quite startling to the native English craftsmen engaged on routine work at Nonsuch and its possible influence on them will be considered in Chapter IV.

Uses of lime plaster in royal palaces after Henry VIII

Apart from the exterior plasterwork at Nonsuch and the lost chimneypieces made by Nicholas Bellin for Henry VIII, there is no evidence to suggest that plaster played a significant role in the decoration of the royal palaces before the second half of the sixteenth century. The earliest example in Elizabeth’s reign is a ceiling dated 1582-84, which was succeeded by only four further ceilings before the end of her reign in 1603. As King James and Queen Anne threw parsimony to the winds decorative plasterwork came into its own, with no less than thirteen such ceilings created for Somerset House alone.

It is unfortunate that so few particular books, which might have provided useful information about the materials employed, survive from the second half of the sixteenth century. The task-work entries on which one has to rely for details of this work are frequently silent on such matters; but, in the almost total absence of any royal plasterwork surviving in England from the period, they remain the only source available. In the summary accounts there 121 task-work entries for plasterwork between 1547 and 1649; only 19 of these related to decorative plasterwork.[192] These bare totals require some further qualification before an analysis of the materials used in decorative plasterwork can be undertaken. Task-work can include several items in each entry; in the case of decorative work this may mean that several ‘fret’ ceilings are grouped together by price, as happened in the entry for Somerset House in 1610-11.[193] It is therefore essential to look more precisely at the individual items which are hidden beneath the blanket term ‘task-work’. Such an analysis then produces a total of 35 decorative items, made up of 31 fret ceilings, 1 frieze and 3 miscellaneous entries. Where friezes and pendants are listed together with ceilings they have not been counted separately.


The term ‘fretwork’ was not, of course, confined to descriptions of plasterwork but every task-work entry relating to decorated plaster ceilings contains the words ‘fret’, ‘fretwork’ or ‘fretting’. Such descriptions do not, however, imply any particular style of decoration since they were used throughout the period for any design based on geometrical patterns in a wide variety of media.

As far as the materials used for this work are concerned the entries provide less information than might have been anticipated. The clerks making up the summary accounts have failed to provide details of the materials used for twenty-five of the entries. This leaves only ten items where the kind of plaster used is documented, including nine ceilings and the single frieze. These ceilings were all made by the plasterer(s) using lime and hair; and for a further four, the fact that the plasterer was described as ‘lathing and laying’ the fret ceiling can be taken to imply that lime and hair was also used on these occasions. This only brings the total to thirteen – less than half of the thirty-one ceilings under consideration. It is probably reasonable to assume that the remaining eighteen were also constructed with lime and hair but there is no documentation to substantiate such a generalisation.

It has already been remarked that there is little indication in the Royal Works accounts that lime and gypsum plasters were used in conjunction in routine plastering and there is none at all to suggest that they were used together in decorative work. The use of gypsum in decorative contexts in the Royal Works appears to have been confined to sculptors rather than plasterers. In 1622-23 Nicholas Stone repaired a chimneypiece with plaster of Paris;[194] and in 1648-49 it was used by the sculptor, Peter Besneere, ‘for some inrichments imbost in plaister about the Chimney peece in the Roome for the Councell of State’.[195]

Philemon Holland’s translation of Pliny’s Natural History (1601) contains a passage which suggests that gypsum plaster was seen as a suitable material for casting some of the small motifs used to decorate ceilings. He renders Pliny’s ‘usus gypsi in albariis, sigillis aedificiorum et coronis gratissimus’ as ‘Plastre [of Paris] serveth passing well to white wals or seeling; also for to make little images in fretworke, to set forth houses; ...’

However, as this is a translation from the Latin of a Roman author whose own grasp of the difference between lime and gypsum plasters was tenuous, it cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of English practice in 1601. There is certainly no evidence for such a use of gypsum in the accounts of the Royal Works.

Decorative plasterwork – white or coloured?

By contrast, there is plenty of evidence in the accounts of the Royal Works to indicate that the timber and plaster fret ceilings of Henry VIII’s palaces were frequently highly coloured and gilded and this tradition was maintained in the refurbishments carried out during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. For example, part of the fret in the roof of the chamber over the privy stairs at Hampton Court was repainted in 1584-85 in distemper coloured with blue bice, vermilion, Spanish brown and ochre.[196] On the other hand, such treatments were almost never applied to plaster ceilings. In the same year,at Hampton Court, numerous ceilings in the queen’s and courtiers’ lodgings were repaired with lime and hair and whitewashed.[197] This was indubitably the most frequent treatment for decorative as well as plain plaster ceilings during the period of this study.[198] When Richard Dungan worked a piece of fretwork for the soffit of the window ‘in the Chamber where her Majesty sitts at Sermons’ at Whitehall in 1597-98, he also supplied the Spanish white which would have been used for finishing it.[199]

There were only four occasions during this period on which additional colouring was applied to fretwork ceilings. The first of these occurred during the refurbishment of Woodstock that took place in 1593-94, when William Pearson supplied fret ceilings for the great staircase and privy chamber and Thomas Joyse, the painter, was then paid for ‘guilding the Frett in the Privie Chamber’.[200] A comparable example survives at the Charterhouse where the ribs of the great chamber ceiling are gilded. As this room was referred to as the ‘gilded chamber’ when Sutton’s Hospital took over the building in 1611 it is likely that this was the original treatment when the room was decorated for the Duke of Norfolk in the early 1570s.[201]

Richer, but hardly more colourful, was the treatment applied to Richard Dungan’s impressive fret ceiling for the new banqueting house at Whitehall of 1607-09. Twenty large wooden pendants were carved with ‘antick’ [grotesque ornament derived from classical Roman decorative painting], painted and gilded, and thirty carved ‘boys’ [Italianate putti] were also gilded, ‘to hange over the roofe’.[202] The ceiling itself was left pristine white, with neither colouring nor gilding added.

Only the friezes in the Doric and Ionic entablatures above the superimposed orders were painted with blue bice, as a background to the carved and gilded decoration. This combination of white ceiling and gilded blue frieze evidently remained fashionable for several decades, even after a change in the style of ceiling decoration itself, as witnessed by the accounts for the interior paintwork of the ‘great dyning rowme’(now the Hall Gallery) at Ham House, Surrey, in the late 1630s (Fig.5).[203]

Fig. 6. The frieze of the Great Dining Room at Ham House, as originally painted in 1637.

Blue was also the colour originally applied to the hybrid Doric frieze of the drawing room of the house now known as Kew Palace. Although nothing remains of any ceiling decoration in this room, it seems likely that there, too, the blue frieze set off a white ceiling, as in the other examples cited.[204] A plain white ceiling with a contrasting coloured frieze seems to have been the original concept for the king’s bedchamber at Hatfield House. James Leigh supplied an architrave, frieze and cornice for this room and Rowland Bucket subsequently embellished the frieze with red paint and gilding.[205]

The privy gallery which was fretted by James Leigh for Queen Anne at Somerset House in 1609-10 was left white by him.[206] This was usual practice but in this instance the lime plaster ceiling was subsequently decorated with oil paints. This did not happen until 1615-16, by which time the lime plaster would have more than fully dried out. Perhaps Anne of Denmark had had a change of mind in the interim and wanted the privy gallery to make an even greater impact on spectators. They would certainly have been dazzled by John de Critz’s enhancement of the motifs which decorated the ceiling. He gilded 72 mask heads, 36 square pendants, 24 round pendants and 72 roses. He painted 110 marigolds and gilded 749 round knobs [bosses], which were also ‘layd rounde about with a blewe Coulor’.[207] James Leigh plastered at least seventeen ceilings with fretwork for Queen Anne at Somerset House and Greenwich between 1609 and 1616 but this was the only one which was subsequently painted and/or gilded by the Sergeant Painter. A grotesque mask and a boss excavated from the site of Old Somerset House are thought to have come from this ceiling and are on display at Somerset House.[208]

A similar period of time was to elapse between the creation of the last Jacobean-style fret ceiling in the Royal Works and its decoration by John de Critz. At St James’s Palace the Prince’s closet was fretted by Abraham Lee in 1618-19.[209] Many of the rooms in the Prince’s Lodging in the palace were redecorated by de Critz in 1623-24, including the Prince’s closet, where 25 pendants and 375 knobs and leaves were gilded, testifying to the traditional appearance of Lee’s ceiling.[210]

These four examples demonstrate that on the few occasions when the Sergeant Painter applied paint or gilding to a plaster ceiling, it was not to the flat surface of the plaster itself but only to the ribs or applied ornament. This was in marked contrast to the timber ceilings of the palaces and suggests that the whiteness of the plaster remained a characteristic of the material to be appreciated on aesthetic as well as practical grounds.

The documentary evidence thus points to the continuing use by plasterers of materials which had been available for centuries; and which they continued to employ throughout the period under consideration in traditional fashion. The only innovation in routine plastering practice in the Royal Works appears to have been the increased use of gypsum plaster on walls and ceilings in high-status lodgings in the royal palaces.

The introduction of decorative plaster ceilings in the latter half of the sixteenth century, on the other hand, marked a dramatic new departure; and one which probably accounts for the marked change in the status of plasterers within the Royal Works which is indicated by the documentary evidence. Their relative unimportance in the hierarchy during Henry VIII’s reign is suggested by the appearance of only one entry referring to task-work by a plasterer in the paybooks for the period 1529-44, compared with numerous entries for craftsmen such as painters and joiners. Between 1547 and 1649, by contrast, there are 139 entries for plastering task-work, which suggests a greatly increased demand for, and recognition of, their specialist skills.

[1] TNA E 36/236, f.127.

[2] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, f.114r.

[3] TNA E 351/3212, Woking, Prelims.

[4] TNA E 351/3245, Whitehall, Task-work: Page Effe and other plaisterers.

[5] LMA ACC/1876/F/09/48: Summary. I am indebted to Stephen Porter (then of the Survey of London) for this reference.

[6] TNA E 351/3257.

[7] In 1574-75 (TNA E 351/3211); 1582-83 (/3217, Task-work: George Gower); 1589-90 (/3224, Task-work: George Gower); 1616-17 (/3251, Task-work: John de Critz).

[8] TNA AO 1/2433/83, Hampton Court.

[9] As in the ‘squares of the Ceeling ^of the presents Chamber’ at Greenwich in 1601-02 (TNA E 351/3237, Task-work: Leonard Fryer).

[10] TNA E 351/3260.

[11] BL Additional MS 10109, f.53r.

[12] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.777, f.40r.

[13] BL Additional MS 10109, f.35v.

[14] TNA E 101/489/25.

[15] For examples of these earlier usages see L F Salzman, Building in England down to 1540, Oxford, 1967, 191-2.

[16] For example, Richard Kyrry is referred to as ‘a plasterer or dawber’ at Hampton Court in 1529 (TNA E 36/239, f.36).

[17] Although the particular books contain much useful material about the activities of plasterers they are not always comprehensive (especially for Hampton Court) and the following generalisations are based on 160 entries relating to plastering from 1515-1543.

[18] Although the two sets of accounts are theoretically identical, human error has inevitably crept into the compilation process carried out by different clerks. Both sets of accounts have therefore been consulted to ensure as full a record as possible. A list of the accounts available at the National Archives in the E 351/ and AO 1/ series appears as Appendix A, ‘The Accounts of the King’s Works 1485-1660’, HKW III, 395-97.

[19] The most complete list of building accounts is to be found in Malcolm Airs, The Tudor and Jacobean Country House, Stroud, 1995, 210-30.

[20] BL Add. MS 10109, f. 35 v.

[21] A detailed account of the processes involved in the production of lime for plaster is provided by Michael Wingate, Small-Scale Lime-Burning: A practical introduction, London, 1985. The ‘intermediate technology’ described would seem to be comparable with sixteenth-century building practice in England.

[22] TNA E 351/3270 (1636-37) Tower of London, Task-work: Anthony Collins.

[23] TNA E 351/3203 (1564-66) Whitehall, Emptions.

[24] TNA E 351/3337.

[25] TNA E 351/3391.

[26] TNA E 351/3269: The newe Lymekill att Deptford.

[27] F J Furnivall (ed), Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth, London, 1877, 234. The square brackets are used by the editor to denote variations between the two editions of Harrison’s work published by Holinshed as part of his Chronicles in 1578 and 1586.

[28] TNA E 351/3269, The newe Lymekill att Deptford.

[29] TNA E 36/237, f 57.

[30] David Durant and Philip Riden, ‘The Building of Hardwick Hall, Part 2: The New Hall, 1591-98’, Derbyshire Record Society 9, 1984, lviii and Basil Stallybrass, ‘Bess of Hardwick’s Buildings and Building Accounts’, Archaeologia, LXIV, 1913, 385-6. Further examples relating to the supply of limestone and its burning are quoted in Malcolm Airs, The Tudor and Jacobean CountryHouse, Stroud, 1995, 125.

[31] See HKW  IV, 184-5, 425 and 558 for examples.

[32] TNA E 101/477/12, f 4v.

[33] TNA E 101/477/12, f 41r.

[34] Howard Colvin and John Newman (eds.), Of Building. Roger North’s Writings on Architecture, Oxford, 1981, 38.

[35] TNA E 351/3203, Whitehall, Emptions (1564-66); L&P, v, 952,  p. 155.

[36] TNA E 351/3255 (1621-22), Royston, Task-work: the ceilings of the Marquis of Buckingham’s stables were laid with clay by the plasterer, Matthew Barrett.

[37] Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects Ltd, ‘Chastleton House. Summary of Analysis & Trial Works’, January 1994, 2-3.

[38] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.781, f.47 r.

[39] M.E. Blackman (ed.), ‘Ashley House Building Accounts, 1602-07’, Surrey Record Society, xxix, 1977.

[40] GL MS 6126: Plasterers’ Company Work Quest Book, passim.

[41] TNA E 351/3260, Whitehall, Emptions.

[42] TNA AO 1/2429/71, Whitehall, Task-work, Joseph Kinsman.

[43] TNA E 36/239, f.7.

[44] TNA E 351/3212, Havering, Prelims.

[45] TNA E 351/3256, Newmarket, Task-work, Matthew Barrett.

[46] TNA E 351/3225, Somerset House, Prelims.

[47] Kirsty Rodwell and Robert Bell, Acton Court. The evolution of an early Tudor courtier’s home, London, 2004, 278-83.

[48] John Thorp, ‘Fiddleford, Sturminster Newton, Dorset. Documentary History & Report on the plasterwork’, Unpublished report prepared by Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants for English Heritage, 1995. I am indebted to John Thorp for a copy of this report.

[49] P J Drury, ‘The Stucco’ in A E S Musty (ed), ‘Excavations at Hailes Abbey’, Unpublished English Heritage report.

[50] J Thorp, ‘Appendix 8. The Excavated Ornamental Plaster Fragments’ in Stewart Brown, ‘Berry Pomeroy Castle’, Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings No. 54, 1996, 275-90.

[51] TNA E 351/3228, Task-work: John Allen and his fellow Playsterors.

[52] TNA E 351/3244.

[53] TNA SP 16/240, no. 61.

[54] Bodleian MS 39679, f.77r and Worcester R O, Croome Estate Archive: Fig Tree Court 1622 Envelope. I am grateful to Stafford Holmes for discussing the implications of the use of loam in this context.

[55] Medieval references to English sources of gypsum are quoted by L. Salzman, Building in England down to 1540, Oxford, 1957, 56. Other deposits are referred to by A. Clifton-Taylor, The Pattern of English Building, London, 1972, 189-90.

[56] F.J. Furnivall (ed.), Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth, London, 1877, 234.

[57] TNA E 351/3326.

[58] TNA E 351/3337 & /3391, respectively.

[59] L & P, vi, 1200-03. Summerson (HKW IV, 312, n.1) suggested that this cargo could be connected with the reference to the ‘Frenche men workyng uppon the Fronte of Chemnaye For the prevye Chamber – viij’ in BL MS Royal 14B.IV.A. Although this latter document is undated it must be later than 1537 as it also refers to Nicholas Bellin of Modena (‘mothen the Italyon’) who only arrived in England in that year.

[60] TNA E 351/3263, Task-work.

[61] TNA E 351/3256.

[62] TNA E 36/243, f.515.

[63] Bodleian MS Eng.Hist.b.192/1, f.7 and NA E 36/251, p.238. Attention is drawn to these references in HKW III, p.24.

[64] Details of other maps derived from the Copperplate Engraving (c. 1555) which show this feature are illustrated in Stephen Powys Marks, ‘The Map of Mid Sixteenth Century London’, London Topographical Society, No.100, 1964, Plates VI-IX.

[65] As at Collyweston in 1565, NA LR/2/64 – Pay books covering March 1565/6 and May 1566.

[66] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.783, f.170r.

[67] TNA E 351/3249, under the heading ‘Provicons laid in Stoare in Scotland yarde’.

[68] Andrew Coburn, Eric Dudley and Robin Spence, Gypsum Plaster. Its manufacture and use, London, 1989, provides a clear description of the subject.

[69] TNA LR/2/64: Pay books covering March 1565/6 and May 1566.

[70] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.783, f.170r.

[71] TNA E 351/3249.

[72] TNA E 351/3212.

[73] TNA E 351/3254: Task-work, Richard Talbott.

[74] TNA E 36/236, ff.116r & 153.

[75] Guildhall MS 4326/3 (Carpenters’ Company Wardens’ Account Book 1555-91).

[76] Bodleain MS Rawlinson D.776, f.15r.

[77] TNA E 101/477/12, f.130v.

[78] TNA LR/2/64.

[79] Bodleian MS Rawlinson  D.779, f.39v.

[80] Nottingham MS Ne.03, Dartford, 25 June-23 July 1542.

[81] L Salzman, Building in England down to 1540, Oxford, 1967, 156.

[82] The references are to work on the privy stairs in the king’s new garden (TNA E 36/238, f.306); the gallery walls underneath the king’s long gallery (TNA E 36/240, f.329; the nether gallery by the bayne (TNA E 36/243, f.205).

[83] BL Additional MS 10109, f.62r.

[84] Nottingham MS Ne.01, 2-30 July.

[85] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.775, f.90.

[86] From the numerous entries, examples can be found at TNA E 36/235, p.391; E 36/236, f.116r; Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, ff.4v, 15r, 28r, 55v, 62r, 209v, 217v.

[87] Typical examples include the task-work entries for Thomas Kellie at: The Custome house in London, 1566-69 (TNA E 351/3204); Woking, 1578-79 (E 351/3213); Eltham, 1587-88 (E 351/3222); and continue for other plasterers throughout the period covered by this study.

[88] TNA E 351/3208, Richmond, Emptions.

[89] F J Furnivall (ed), Harrison’s Decription of England in Shakspere’s Youth, London, 1877, 234.

[90] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.779, ff.1-62. For an account of the building programme see HKW IV, 59-61.

[91] B Stallybrass, ‘Bess of Hardwick’s Buildings and Building Accounts’, Archaeologia, LXIV, 1913, 351.

[92] The same is true of its use in chimneys and flues since it was (mistakenly) believed to be fire-resistant – a characteristic referred to by William Harrison. The building of chimneys, however, was usually assigned to the bricklayers and there are no references to plasterers carrying out this task.

[93] TNA E 36/236, f.153 and Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.783, f.188r.

[94] F Fox, ‘The Description of the Manor Place of Yate in the Second Year of Edward VI’, TBGAS, 21, 1898, 22-4.

[95] F J Furnivall (ed), Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth, London, 1877, 234.

[96] Bodleian MSS Rawlinson D.781, f.42v, D.776, ff.246r, 114r, 115r.

[97] Nottingham MS Ne.03, 17 Sept-15 Oct. See HKW IV, 68 for an account of the work at Dartford.

[98] According HKW IV, 72 the bricklayers were again using plaster of Paris on the exterior at Dartford in 1543. This is discussed further below, in the section on the colouring of plasterwork.

[99] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, f.114r.

[100] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.777, f.160r.

[101] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.775, f.13r.

[102] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.777, ff.40r & 45r.

[103] I am greatly indebted to Rob Bell and Kirsty Rodwell, the archaeologists responsible for the excavations at Acton Court, for guiding me round the house and, most particularly, for arranging for analysis of plaster samples at my suggestion. They kindly discussed their findings while they were still in manuscript and I am grateful for their permission to use this material here. Their full report Acton Court – The evolution of an early Tudor courtier’s house’ was published by English Heritage, London, 2004. The analysis of the plaster samples was undertaken by Malcolm Ward of the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of English Heritage and I am grateful to him for discussing the results with me.

[104] BL Additional MS 34147, f.79.

[105] TNA E 101/474/12.

[106] Bodleian MS Rawlingson D.778, f.110r. Further references to the roughcasting of exterior castle walls are listed in the index to HKW III under the heading ‘Building materials’.

[107] TNA E 351/3240.

[108] In his article ‘The Decoration of the Royal Palaces from 1553-1625’, Arch Jnl, CX, 1953, 150-63, Eric Mercer remarks on the increased ‘use throughout the period of painted paving tiles for halpaces and chimney footpaces.’ (p.153) The only example he cites is the tiling of the entire floor of a small closet at Westminster in 1611-12. In the same year at Westminster a plasterer laid three footpaces with plaster of Paris in the new office of Mr Bingley, the Remembrancer of the Exchequer (TNA E 351/3246, Task-work: Page Effe). The increased use of coloured tile and expensive stone for floors referred to by Mercer did not extend beyond the state apartments and royal lodgings.

[109] TNA E 351/3243, Task-work: John Browne.

[110] TNA LR/2/64, Paybooks ending 20th April and 18th May 1566.

[111] TNA E 351,3213. The prince in question was either John Casimir, son of the Elector Palatine, or Elizabeth’s suitor, the Duc d’Anjou (formerly d’Alençon), Dauphin of France (HKW, IV, 253).

[112] TNA E 351/3256, Task-work: Richard Talbott; and /3257, Task-work: John de Critz.

[113] D Durant & P Riden (eds), The Building of Hardwick Hall, Part 1: The Old Hall, 1587-91, Derbyshire Record Society, Chesterfield, 1980, 32.

[114] TNA E 351/3253, Theobalds, Task-work: Danyell Feilde.

[115] TNA E 351/3259, Theobalds Park, Prelims. The brick walls, the ‘Neech’ and the floor were also coated with plaster of Paris but there is no mention of a layer of lime and hair underneath it.

[116] TNA E 351/3404, Somerset House – Queen’s Chapel, Task-work: William Willingham & other Plaisterers.

[117] TNA E 351/3269, Denmark House, Task-work: William Willingham. Gypsum plaster was applied directly onto laths in the soffits of windows in this passage.

[118] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.780, f.143r.

[119] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.785, f.6r. The type of plaster used for lathing and pargetting the ceiling here is not specified but the application of distemper suggests that it was lime, rather than gypsum, plaster.

[120] TNA E 351/3259, Dover Castle, Task-work: Richard Talbott and John de Critz.

[121] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.777, f.40r.

[122] C Ohrstrom, ‘Some Notes on Distempers, Calcimine and Casein Paints’, Traditional Paint News, Vol.1, No.2, October 1996, 24-29.

[123] For discussions of the kind of decorative painting schemes which were almost entirely the province of the Sergeant Painter, see: E Mercer, ‘The Decoration of the Royal Palaces from 1553-1625’, Arch Jnl, CX, 1953, 150-63 and I Bristow, Architectural Colour in British Interiors, New Haven & London, 1996, 1-21.

[124] Margaret Jourdain assumes (in English Decorative Plasterwork of the Renaissance, London, 1926, 22) that size was used at Hardwick to retard the setting of modelled lime plaster. This is most unlikely since lime plaster is inherently slow-setting. In the article which she cites as her source (B Stallybrass, ‘Bess of Hardwick’s Buildings and Building Accounts, Archaeologia, LXIV, 1913, 383) the purchase of glovers’ patches for size is an item in the painter’s bill, not the plasterer’s, and occurs together with ‘schalk’ for whitening.

[125] TNA E 36/242, f.45 and /240, f.375.

[126] BL Additional MS 34147, f.62.

[127] D Durant & P Riden (eds), The Building of Hardwick Hall, Part 2: The New Hall, 1591-98, Derbyshire Record Society, Chesterfield, 1984, 226 and lxx respectively.

[128] Richard Haydocke, A tracte containing the artes of curious paintinge caruing buildinge, Oxford, 1598, 68-9.

[129] Tara Hamling, ‘The Appreciation of Religious Images in Plasterwork in the Protestant Domestic Interior’ in T Hamling & R L Williams (eds), Art Re-formed: Re-assessing the Impact of the Reformation on the Visual Arts, Newcastle, 2007, 147-67. See 155-59 for ‘The meaning of white’.

[130] TNA E 101/474/13.

[131] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.777, f.40r and Nottingham MS Ne.01, 1536.

[132] Bodleian MSS Rawlinson D.775, f.85v & 776, f.11v.

[133] An exampled of the use of powdered plaster of Paris for whitening walls at Westminster in 1386 is cited by L Salzman, Building in England down to 1540, Oxford, 1967, 156.

[134] TNA E 351/3224 and  /3225.

[135] TNA E 351/3213, Task-work: Thomas Kellie and /3214, Task-work: George Gower.

[136] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.775, f.206.

[137] I am indebted to Duncan Wilson (then of Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects), the architect responsible for overseeing the National Trust’s restoration of Chastleton, for this information.

[138] C Plinius Secundus, The Historie of the World, commonly called The Naturall Historie, translated into English by Philemon Holland, London, 1601, Book XXXVI, Chapter XXIIII.

[139] F J Furnivall (ed), Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth, London, 1877, 234.

[140] TNA MF SP 12.20.8: 18th October 1561. This is cited by Mark Girouard in support of his view that the present hall at Burghley House, with its open timber roof, was not the one built in 1561 (‘Elizabethan Architecture and the Gothic Tradition’ Architectural History, 6, 1963, 25).

[141] D Durant & P Riden (eds), The Building of Hardwick Hall, Part 1: The Old Hall, 1587-91, Derbyshire Record Society, Chesterfield, 1980, 36 and 40.

[142] TNA E 36/238, f.306, /240, ff.329, 383. These entries are duplicated in E 36/243, ff.80, 205, 255.

[143] Numerous examples are given by L Salzman, Building in England down to 1540, Oxford, 1967, 158-9.

[144] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, f.207r and Nottingham MS Ne.02.

[145] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.775, ff.115r and 117r.

[146] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, f.95r.

[147] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.776, f.95r.

[148] TNA E 351/3244, Task-work: John Boasom.

[149] TNA E 351/3244, Task-work: Matthewe Barrett.

[150] TNA E 351/3239.

[151] Hatfield House Archives: Bills 58/63.

[152] TNA E 351/3257, Task-work: Richard Talbott and /3258, Task-work: John de Critz.

[153] TNA AO 1/2429/71, Task-work: George Cary.

[154] Harris & Higgott, 1989, 184.

[155] HKW, VI, Plates 51 and 52.

[156] I am indebted to Dr Mark Girouard for this reference.

[157] Cited in HKW IV, 72. A full account of the works undertaken is at 68-74.

[158] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.781, ff.209-13, quoted in HKW III, 262.

[159] TNA E 36/238, f.33.

[160] TNA E 36/244, ff.79 and 30.

[161] This kind of treatment is discussed in a more vernacular context by T Easton, ‘The internal decorative treatment of 16th- and 17th-century brick in Suffolk’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, 20, 1986, 1-17.

[162] Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.775, f.85v.   E Mercer, ‘The Decoration of the Royal Palaces from 1553-1625’, Arch Jnl, CX, 1953,

[163] E Mercer, ‘The Decoration of the Royal Palaces from 1553-1625’, Arch Jnl, CX, 1953, 158-9.

[164] TNA E 351/3246.

[165] TNA E 351/3217. The following discussion of the work at Greenwich appeared in an article by C Gapper, ‘Trompe l’oeil architectural painting on plaster in the Royal Works 1582-89’, Traditional Paint News, 1, No.2, October 1996, 16-20.  That article was written to put forward an alternative interpretation of the documentary evidence to that given in HKW, IV, 109.

[166] TNA E 351/3254, Prelims.

[167] TNA E 351/3219, Prelims and Task-work: George Gower.

[168] TNA E 351/337, Westminster – The Parliament House, Task-work.

[169] TNA E 351/3219.

[170] TNA E 351/3223.

[171] TNA E 351/3241 and /3253, Prelims.

[172] TNA E 351/3254.

[173] TNA E 351/3245, Task-work: Thomas Browne.

[174] Holinshed’s description is quoted in HKW, IV, 320.

[175] TNA E 351/3217, Prelims.

[176] Subsequent efforts to maintain the banqueting house are described in HKW IV, 320-21.

[177] Nottingham Newcastle MS Ne.02;

[178]TNA E 101/474/24 and Bodleian MS Rawlinson A.195.C, f.138v. See also S Thurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, New Haven & London, 1993, 188 and 273,  n.55.

[179] TNA E 351/3246, Task-work.

[180] TNA E 351/3249, Task-work.

[181] The history of the usage of the term ‘stucco’ is discussed in C Gapper, ‘What is ‘Stucco’? English Interpretations of an Italian term’, Architectural History, 42, 1999, 333-43.

[182] M Biddle, ‘The stuccoes of Nonsuch’, Burlington Magazine, CXXVI, No.976, July 1984, 411-16; and J Turquet, ‘The Inner Court of Nonsuch Palace’, Unpublished PhD thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1983. 

[183] S Béguin et al, La Galerie François Ie au château de Fontainebleau, Flammarion, 1972, 32. 

[184] For Bellin’s career see M Biddle, ‘Nicholas Bellin of Modena: an Italian Artificer at the Courts of Francis I and Henry VIII’, JBAA, 3rd series, 29, 1996, 106-21.

[185] SP Henry VIII, Vol.VIII, Part 5, cont. Foreign 1537-42, 1849, 484. Martin Biddle has pointed out that Bellin’s name does not appear among those working in the Galerie but Sir John Wallop’s letter states that he had ‘wrought there in the begynnyng of the same, ...’

[186] BL MS Royal 14.B.IV.A. This is incompletely transcribed by Martin Biddle as a payment to ‘Mothen the Italyon’ himself.

[187] This latter entry is incorrectly associated with a cargo of stone plaster of 1532 in the entry for ‘Whitehall Palace’, HKW  IV, 311.

[188] For a history of Nonsuch and an account of the excavation and its findings see J Dent, The Quest for Nonsuch, London, 2nd edtn, 1970. Subsequent research was incorporated in the entry for ‘Nonsuch, Surrey’ in HKW  IV, 179-205.

[189] I am indebted to Professor Biddle for numerous discussions of this problem and for kindly supplying me with the English translation of Anthony Watson’s Latin quotation below.

[190] Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.7.22.

[191] J Florio, A Worlde of Wordes, or Most copious, and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English, London, 1598.

[192] This is the total of tasks, not plasterers, but does not include decorative work using plaster by masons/sculptors.

[193] TNA E 351/3245.

[194] TNA E 351/3256, St James’s Palace, Task-work.

[195] TNA AO 1/2432/82, Prelims and Task-work. None of the entries makes clear who made this chimneypiece nor which material(s) was used in its construction. Peter was the son of Isaac Besnier, Sculptor in Ordinary and Keeper of Statues to Charles I, and succeeded his father in that post in 1643. Despite this royalist association it seems likely that Besnier was assured of continuing favour during the Commonwealth on the basis of his Huguenot background. See R Lightbown, ‘The sculpture of Isaac Besnier’ in D Howard (ed), Art and Patronage in the Caroline Courts, Cambridge, 1993, 132-67.

[196] TNA E 351/3219, Hampton Court, Task-work: George Gower.

[197] TNA E 351/3219, Prelims.

[198] Eric Mercer was incorrect in stating that ‘Plaster ceilings which we now almost invariably see in a dead white, were also painted’ (‘The Decoration of the Royal Palaces from 1553-1625’, Arch Jnl, CX, 1953, 153). Of the three examples which he cites in his article, two are incorrectly transcribed. The third, the Greenwich great chamber ceiling, was painted with [white] lead and the ‘sealinges’ [panelling] and flutes were blue. This ceiling is more likely to have been of timber than plaster, dating from Henry VIII’s reign (HKW , IV, 108).

[199] TNA E 351.3233.

[200] TNA E 351/3363, Task-work.

[201] I owe this reference to correspondence with Philip Temple, author of The Charterhouse, New Haven & London, 2010.

[202] TNA E 351/3243, Whitehall, Task-work: John de Critz, Thomas Goodwin, William Cossom, John Barker and James Jacques.

[203] Buckminster Park Archives 397: Matthew Goodrick’s bill, April 1638.

[204] The evidence for the colouring of the Kew Palace frieze is the result of paint analysis recently undertaken on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces Agency.

[205] Hatfield House: Accounts 58/63 and 58/1.

[206] TNA E 351/3244.

[207] TNA E 351/3250.

[208] C. Gapper, ‘Appendix. Fragments of Decorative Plasterwork Excavated at Somerset House’ in S Thurley, ‘Somerset House. The Palace of England’s Queens 1551-1692’, London Topographical Society Publication No.168, 2009, 77-81. Both fragments are illustrated in this volume.

[209] TNA AO 1/2422/49.

[210] TNA E 351/3257.