Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain

By Geoffrey Beard, new introduction by Richard Ireland

Review by Andrew Newman (June 2011)

Ever stared at a piece of decorative plasterwork and asked who did it and when? This book, originally written some 36 years ago, will help answer those questions. This Donhead reprint of Geoffrey Beard’s work provides an opportunity to acquire one of the key reference books on 16th to 19th century plasterers and their craft.

The book is logically laid out with the following main parts:

Firstly the author provides a fascinating insight into the social and economic conditions that enabled a fostering of the decorative plasterer’s art.  This sets the scene and gives the reader the context for the following chapters.

The second part is an overview of the means with which, in this country, materials and skills were developed to enable the work to be executed.

There then follows a chronological overview of major documented works, often including tantalising glimpses of the artisan-client relationship. The author is able, through supporting documentation, to allocate specific plasterers to specific works (and in some cases link other similar undocumented works to the same artisan). It is these nuggets of information, in this section and elsewhere, that elevates this book to a thoroughly researched academic resource.

A complete chapter is dedicated to plasterwork in Scotland.

Over half of the book is dedicated to over 150 detailed black and white plates, a list of over 300 contemporary plasterers and useful indices split between places and persons. The photographs are highly detailed and follow chronologically through the various periods and are often referred to in the main text. The Select List of Plasterers is arranged alphabetically and besides names and dates there is also included, where known, a short biography and history of works.

Needless to say there are comprehensive notes and acknowledgements sections.

This re-printed edition has the addition of an extensive preamble, which consists of a foreword, preface, introduction and acknowledgements. The introduction by Richard Ireland contains an overview of various techniques and an up-to-date practical context for the rest of the book. It is interesting that, as the book is a ‘generation’ older, many of those who read the original would have been more familiar, but not necessarily so sympathetic with lime plaster, it is now worthwhile to have this introduction.

Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britainis not a practitioner’s ‘how to’ guide but is an important work for the understanding of the pre 19th century periods of decorative plasterwork. In the modern building conservation environment where understanding, significance and character play a major role, this book is an important addition to any desktop knowledge base.

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