An age of wall panelling and oak panelling grandeur began with the king's return in 1660, when there was much for craftsmen to do in the royal palaces, neglected over long years. Stylistic constraints of the previous sixty years were thrown off and none was more active at this than the artificers of the Office of Works, which included the teams assembled by John Grove (c. 1610-76), its Master Plasterer. Grove's plasterwork at Coleshill House, c. 1660, was to set the standard for fifty years. At his death in 1676, John Grove's son, also John, succeeded him and was to serve the Surveyor, Sir Christopher Wren, and the Office of Works for a further thirty years until his own death in 1706. Their work was of unvarying quality, made from good, well-tried materials, beaten at least six times before use. Then it was set out in many forms with unerring accuracy, but seemingly in a free, abandoned, naturalistic style, amid the precisely moulded profiled ribs. No one has ever plastered a ceiling better than the Groves: ripe fruit, summer-lazy open flowers and curling fronds crawled across the vast lime-washed expanses of ceiling, which had been rendered completely flat by a process of 'floating', charged at a few pence a yard, and meticulously tested for flatness with a twelve-foot wooden rule.
Chastleton House, Oxfordshire: Topiary work in the Circular Rose Garden
Two London plasterers of this period - the 1660s - whose work was similarly accomplished, were Robert Bradbury and James Pettifer. We know Pettifer trained under the London plasterer Arthur Toogood, who was Master of the Plaisterers Company in 1663. Their best work outside London is at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, where they plastered ceilings in 1675-6. These are densely and richly decorated wall panelling and oak panelling and deserve close attention. The house was begun for Mary Vernon in the reign of James I, but was far from finished when she died in 1622. It then stood empty as a partly completed shell until after the Restoration, when Mary's great-grandson, George Vernon, completed it. In doing so, he had the good sense to use excellent carvers, plasterers and painters.
In 1675-6 Bradbury and Pettifer provided the ceilings of the drawingroom, the parlour, the staircase hall, the well, the Queen's Bedroom and that of the 138-ft long gallery. They charged at the rate of 6s a yard and whilst to some eyes their decorations are florid and all-enveloping, the exuberantly fashioned wall panelling and oak panelling ornament was at least confined to the spaces provided in the design. Just enough was allowed to stray beyond the limits set down by the moulded ribs to give a natural effect. In fact, the delicate swirling work, most of it moulded but carefully arranged so that it appeared to consist of many different parts, was positioned with such skill that Laurence Turner wrote in his book on decorative plasterwork in 1927 before the discovery of the accounts, 'the four well modelled amorini in the corners of the [staircase] cove [are] evidently by an Italian modeller, for no English plasterer could have developed so suddenly the ability to model the human figure ...' In the seven compartments of the long gallery ceiling and its frieze, there are curling flowers and foliage, shells, emperors' heads, horses galloping from cornucopias, and dragons and wild boar in unlikely proximity to each other.
The long years of apprenticeship undertaken by all craftsmen produced many competent plasterers able to work in a way similar to Bradbury and Pettifer. One such was Samuel Mansfield of Derby, who did other ceilings at Sudbury. Another was James Petiver (d. 1689), possibly, the father of 'James Pettifer', the Sudbury plasterer who went on to work for Sir Christopher Wren as late as 1702 in the City churches of St Bride's, and St James's, Piccadilly. When Lord Brooke created the state rooms at Warwick Castle his comptroller was paid, in 1671, for coach hire and gifts on a visit to London to view wall panelling and oak panelling 'ffrettworkes' or decorated plaster ceilings. A few pages before the end of the 1669-71 account-book" (that for 1672-6 is, alas, missing), there is the entry: 'Mr Petiver & Mr Pelton for their draught and Estimate about the Frettworke 001.05.00.' It may be assumed that they are the artists of the deeply recessed ceilings surviving in the Cedar Drawing Room and the Blue Boudoir at Warwick Castle. Lord Brooke died in 1677 just as his series of state rooms was being completed.
Mount Morris, Kent: The layout redrawn from baldeslade's view (1720) By H. Inigo Triggs
The London plasterers, able to work for the Office of Works and constantly to improve their skills in a variety of demanding tasks, included several of outstanding ability. Two such were Edward Martin and Edward Goudge. Martin had been apprenticed to his father John in 1648 and whilst he seemed to get into trouble with the officers of his Worshipful Company for bad workmanship in his early years (along with James Pettifer who had worked at Sudbury), he excelled when occasion demanded." This can be seen in his ceilings at Arbury Hall, Warwickshire, and Burghley House, Lincolnshire, and despite Martin's disagreements he became Master of the Plaisterers Company in 1699.
Sir Christopher Wren may have had a little to do with the Arbury ceiling as he wrote in 1674 to Sir Richard Newdigate about the doorway to the stable building there, and Martin had been working for Wren from 1671 in the City church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, Queenhithe. Martin agreed in January 1678 to do the chapel ceiling at Arbury (together with one in a closet) for the sum of L48 'besides comeing and going and goat's hair'. The Arbury chapel ceiling, perfect in the small space of the Carolean chapel, shows the technical advances made by plasterers at this time in moulding ever-deeper ribs and applying decorative foliage to them. The Burghley ceilings (1682-3) are again deep and rich with mounds of applied foliage, finished in white limewash and presumably containing the fine white goat's hair which gave tensile strength to the mixture, but which was an expensive alternative to the more usual ox or horsehair.
Edward Goudge may have had an early connection with the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 1661-1736). George Vertue wrote that Goudge did 'some frettworke ceilings' at Justice Mellust's house in Yorkshire. This was probably Samuel Mellish of Doncaster, Deputy Lieutenant for Yorkshire, who died in 1707. Vertue further indicated that Hawksmoor40 was 'Clerk to Justice Mellust' and it seems probable Goudge introduced him to London circles.
It is, however, with the gentleman-architect Captain William Winde that Goudge's name is generally connected, and we owe it to Winde's letters, on occasion, to indicate the works by Goudge. Writing on 8 February 1690 to his cousin, Lady Mary Bridgeman, Winde stated:41 'Mr Goudge will undougtedly have a goode deall of worke for hee is now looked on as ye beste master in England in his profession as his worke att Combe, Hampstead, & Sr John Brownlowe's will Evidence.'
This letter, which I found in 1952, was the only evidence that Goudge was the plasterer at Belton House, Lincolnshire, until the discovery recently of a payment of £100 to him in 1687 (perhaps one of several) in the Belton archives. Winde may have been involved in the wall panelling and oak panelling design of Belton because most of his favourite craftsmen, such as Goudge and the carpenter Jonathan Willcox, worked there. But his name does not appear, only that of the mason-contractor, William Stanton, better known for his marble funerary monuments. The Belton ceilings, particularly those in the staircase well and the chapel, are of very high quality. A drawing by Goudge in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for the dining-room ceiling at Hampstead Marshall, Berkshire (1686), shows in an inscription that the design was accepted by William Winde. Winde was to state a year or two later, in a letter of July 1688 to Lady Bridgeman, that the plasterer made all his own designs and had been employed by him for six or seven years. Although Winde's supervision of much work" for the Earl of Craven at Hampstead Marshall, Combe Abbey and elsewhere was very lax (and in any case has now largely disappeared) he probably used Goudge on most occasions, perhaps even at Dunster Castle, Somerset.
In the 1680s the owner of Dunster Castle was Colonel Francis Luttrell. 3oth he and Winde fought at the Battle of Sedgemoor in June 1685 and through their respective army careers they may have known one another in earlier years. The dining-room was fitted with wall panelling and oak panelling and the ceiling at Dunster is incised with the date '1681' in Roman numerals. Its authorship must remain speculative but it seems at least probable that Winde and Goudge were involved. There is also the Dunster staircase (noted below), which is very reminiscent of the wall panelling and oak panelling work of the younger Edward Pierce, another of Winde's craftsmen and son of the painter who had worked in the Double Cube Room at Wilton House.
The Vine, Hampshire: A Garden pavilion (circa 1650)
I can only give a few mentions of late and lesser seventeenth-century plasterwork. Sir Roger Hill, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, began to rebuild his house, Denham Place, in 1688. He had William Stanton, fresh from his work at Belton, to supervise although in the end he received very little for his pains - £214, compared with some £5,000 at Belton. The London plasterer William Parker was also employed, and he and his patron were obviously lovers of the drawings of Francis Barlow (as engraved by Hollar) executed for his Several Wayes in Hunting (1671). The drawing-room wall panelling and oak panelling frieze provides as charming a decoration as can be found anywhere in the British Isles. Parker was no mean performer and imbued the cupid in the centre of the Tapestry Room ceiling with a freedom only recaptured by the Italian stuccatori forty years later. At Denham he received a little over £273 for his ceilings. Fortunately the precise record survives,43 without which it would be impossible to know the work was Parker's. It is tempting to ascribe to him the 1691 ceiling at Fawley Court, Buckingham, but this is the stuff of attribution. Plasterwork research is bedevilled by attributions in the plethora of surviving anonymous and unsigned ceilings.
Stoke Bruerne Park, Northamptonshire: The Formal Pool. The Pavilion is attributed to Inigo Jones
A local 'vernacular style' wall panelling and oak panelling may be found, for example, at Eye Manor, Herefordshire, Clarke Hall, Wakefield, and Astley Hall, Lancashire. The great hall and drawing-room ceilings at Astley are fantasies: the plaster figures intertwine with great scallop shells, palm-branches and lively festoons in a flamboyant display suggestive of the rim of a giant Dutch silver salver rich with heavy repousse work. The idealized flowers and gingerbreadstyled motifs that appear at Clarke Hall are probably the work of a local plasterer. The ceilings at Eye Manor have some similarities with the plasterwork at Holyroodhouse, the royal palace in Edinburgh. This has led to the suggestion that the same plasterers were employed. Reference has also been made" to the panels of scrolling acanthus at Eye Manor which have some parallels with those in The Art of the Plasterer, a book reissued in about 1680 by the younger Edward Pierce.
Whilst London plasterers may have been involved at Eye Manor, they were certainly employed at Holme Lacy, the Herefordshire home of the Scudamore family. The master mason at Holme Lacy was Anthony Deane, who contracted to build the house in 1674 to the approval of the architect, Hugh May. Deane also acted as mason at Horseheath Hall, Cambridgeshire, building to the designs of Sir Roger Pratt, who undoubtedly employed London craftsmen. Whether John Grove, or George Dunsterfield and John Houlbert (the London plasterers working at Holyroodhouse in 1675-8) ever travelled to work at Holme Lacy we shall, perhaps, never know. All we have is competent London-style ceilings of some quality.
The last years of the seventeenth century had allowed, through the combined development of taste and technique, a finer wall panelling and oak panelling and plasterwork to appear in England than ever before. Many plasterers, however, were not able to rid themselves of stiff geometric borders and a hesitation at handling lifesize figures. On 25 March 1702 'the beste master in England' in his profession, Edward Goudge, wrote' to Sir Thomas Coke about other elements that were adversely affecting his trade: 'for want of money occasioned by the War, and by the use of ceiling painting, the employment which hath been my chiefest pretence hath always been dwindling away, till now its just come to nothing...' There is no more known work by Goudge after this and the date of his death has not yet been traced.