Pargetting (pargeting, pergeting, parge-work or pinking) involves the creation of decorative plaster surfaces for either internal or external walls. While still wet, the plaster (typically lime plaster) is decorated with mouldings, figures, foliage and other patterns that are usually applied in relief by pressing objects, such as pins, into the surface. The most skilled plasterers decorate by using their fingers and a spatula to create designs in high relief.
Pargetting is mostly associated with the southeast of England (Suffolk and Essex predominantly) but examples have been found in the West country, Cheshire and Staffordshire. It is thought to have been introduced into England by the Italian plasterers brought in by Henry VIII to decorate Nonsuch Palace, Surrey.
The technique became popular in middle-class and wealthy households during Elizabethan times. It was mostly used on the outside of timber-framed houses (between studs), particularly in areas where good building stone was not available. But it was also used internally – at a time when clay bricks became more available and affordable and could be used to enclose what would otherwise have been an open fire. As a consequence, the absence of smoke-blackened surfaces in the upper reaches of the house encouraged decoration, with pargetting an economic and easily-applied finish.
Although introduced in the late 16th century, pargetting reached the zenith of its popularity in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Plain plaster came back into fashion in the mid-18th century. Pargetting experienced a limited comeback in the late 19th century. The craft is still carried on today but the number of available skilled craftsmen is diminishing.
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