“In 1189, in what could be termed the first London Building Act, the City Council, under the first Lord Mayor of London, Henry FitzAlwyn, made an order that all houses should be plastered and lime-washed.” ~ Worshipful Company of Plaisterers’

Plastering being one of the oldest of occupations, or as I am fond of calling it, the second “oldest profession” is represented in the United States and Canada by the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association, which was chartered in 1864 and is the oldest of all the active building trades unions in North America. America’s trade labor movement, especially in the building trades, can trace its founding principles and structures to the craft guild system of Europe. With plastering having such deep roots here, it is probably of little surprise to learn that the plastering industry in Europe came to form one of the earliest of these ancient guilds.

Mr. Geoffrey Preston, ACP in his workshop modeling a new overdoor for Clark & Fenn Skanska’s Hanover Lodge project. Designed by Francis Terry. Photo credit: Nick Carter

The first craft guild to represent plasterers in England is called the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers’ and it received its charter from Henry VII, King of England on March 10, 1501, which bears the legend, “The Seal of the Art or Mystery of Daubers” (now known as “Plaisterers”). The craft guild structure included “Master” craftsmen, “Journeymen” and “Apprentices.” The master was an independent business man, much as our contractors are today. Journeymen were experienced professionals who had learned their trade through a very long and arduous apprenticeship, and were then freed from their indentured servitude to “journey” and work for whomever they chose. And apprentices were, well, apprentices; the bottom of the food chain, but also the foundation upon which any skilled trade is built.

As America embraced immigrants from around the world in the late 1800s through the 1920s, so too did we embrace many of their customs and ideas. Just as our impoverished immigrant ancestors often clustered closely around family, common national origins, language, and the trade they often brought with them; medieval guilds were tightly-knit groups of men and women who sought to protect their trade and used the advantages given by the strength of the group to remedy the weakness of the individual within the feudal system. The early creations of America’s building trade unions were focused on the same objectives.

Industry Committee (left to right) Back row: Arthur Watkins, Reginald Denby, Terence Wright, Gerry Klapwyk, and Graham Jelly. Front row: David Botley, (chairman), Michael Jones, and Nicholas Carr (Master).

Today the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers is based in London, England and after more than 500 years of existence, it continues to serve as a pillar in the community, promoting integrity, quality, and continuing education within the plastering industry. The “Company” helps to support a network of 36 colleges throughout England, Scotland and Wales that offer plastering courses, and its members raise funding for prizes and scholarships with such regal titles as, “The Plaisterers’ Sword of Excellence for Training,” the “Snelling Cup” and a “Lifetime Contribution to Training Award” which was won this year by Ken Smith who had spent most of his working life in the plastering industry as a trainer and later as manager for British Gypsum’s Technical Advice and Product Training Centers.

Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, Scotland. Models made by Geoffrey Preston, ACP for the Gilmore Plastering Company. Architect: Niall Braidwood. Photo credit: Nick Carter

The “Company” has several standing Industry Committees, which are formed with three responsibilities:
  • Firstly, to actively support Plastering Colleges and other Training Providers/Establishments by making visits and organizing annual training Awards.
  • Secondly, to promote plasterers, via the company’s Associate Scheme, and to influence Regulatory Bodies in setting standards and maintaining links with Skill Test Programme.
  • Thirdly, to strengthen ties with the Federation of Plastering and Drywall Contractors, the Construction Industry Training Board, City and Guilds and various other affiliated organizations, both within the United Kingdom and abroad.
As dedicated as the “Company” obviously is to promoting good workmanship, during its long and illustrious history it was just as zealous at calling for the discipline of its members for performing less than satisfactory work. The following excerpts are from a Work Quest Book still in existence in the “Company” library and covering the years 1653 – 1761:
  • August 20, 1742: Thomas Parks for bad workmanship in Washing Stopping and whitening at His Majesty’s palace of Saint James for which offense he ought to be fined in the sum of £40.
  • August 7, 1760: Francis Edwin a Master Plaisterers and Liveryman of the Plaisterers Company for having made use of bad materials and having mixed and used hay and straw with haire [hair] instead of haire only without that mixture in his stuff and materials of a new house in London Street Crutched Fryers London is for that offense fined £40.

Photo credit: Nick Carter

The rank and file members of the “Company” are referred to today as “Associates.” Such members are practicing plasterers or instructors who have served a formal apprenticeship. Membership is only obtained after a careful review of the applicant to ensure that the candidate has the practical skills and experience in the craft, as well as the required technical knowledge. Accepted Associate members are then eligible to use the initials ACP after their name and permitted to note their affiliation with the Company on advertising, as a seal of quality to the community at large. The Associates practice and/or teach our craft throughout the U.K., and many are artisans of the very highest caliber, including, Geoffrey Preston. A small sample of Preston’s incredible workmanship accompanies this column. Such craftsmanship and knowledge must be passed on to generations to come and never be permitted to die.

Thornhill Park, Dorset, by Geoffrey Preston, ACP. Photo credit: Nick Carter

I wish to thank my friend and fellow plasterer, Arthur Watkins for his patience and assistance in my education about the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers. And for those of you who have been curious from the title, is it Plaisterer or Plasterer? Well, I asked the same question, and here is the answer direct from the Company’s Web site:

“The Company’s original Charter of 1501 was written in Latin, however the Charter granted by Elizabeth I in about 1596 is in English and the Company’s name is spelled Plaisterers, as was the word ‘Maister’ at that time. However the Charter granted by Charles II in 1667 refers to the Company as the “Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary of Plasterers London.

“Today the Company retains the original spelling but generally pronounces its name ‘plasterers’.” W&C

For more information on the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers visitwww.plaistererslivery.co.uk.