The ceilings and modelled plasterwork


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Ernest Godman

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'The ceilings and modelled plasterwork', Survey of London Monograph 3: Old Palace, Bromley-by-Bow (1901), pp. 15-17. URL: Date accessed: 21 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Ceilings & friezes

Of modelled plaster ceilings three only remained, & are shown on plates 3-4. There were also three plaster friezes, two of them complete, along the top of the walls of the north-west rooms on the ground and upper floors, the former illustrated by the lithograph on plate 33, and the latter by the photograph on plate 34. The remains of the third, consisting of three repeats only, was on the chimney breast of the room above the State room, and is shown on plate 33. The handling of these varies considerably, that on plate 34 being perhaps the best; it is essentially English in design, with its open strapwork scrolls, flowers and fruits, while the others partake much more of the Italian character. All these friezes were covered by the later work, the two former by the 18th century panelling, which extended from the floor to the ceiling, and the latter by the carved pine mantelpiece, which also covered an original stone fireplace similar to that shown on plate 12, with a richly carved, coloured and gilt frieze.

Of the ceilings the setting out of those in the ground floor rooms was on lines more or less common to the period.

State room ceiling

Examples similar to that in the State room are still preserved in the 'Panel room,' Balcarres House, Fife, N.B.; Leathersellers' Hall, St. Helen's, London—illustrated by Malcolm; (fn. 1) several also are illustrated by Gotch; (fn. 2) and there are no doubt many others of similar design. The details vary considerably in each ceiling, but in that at Balcarres House illustrated on plate 22 it will be seen there are panels similar to those on the Old Palace ceiling containing figures of ancient heroes. (fn. 3)

Ceiling of north west room

With regard to the ceiling in the north-west room it is interesting to note, that in the ceiling of the principal room of the 'Workman's Home,' (fn. 4) not only is the design similar, but the ornament running along the ribs of both ceilings is cast from the same moulds, thus proving that both were the work of the same hand, and executed within a short period of each other. There are also in this latter ceiling the little cherubs' heads, with halo and wings only, similar to those bordering the panels containing the heroes in the State room ceiling, plate 21.

There are also similar ceilings to this at Broughton Castle, Oxon; University Library, Cambridge; and Aston Hall, near Birmingham. In this last the detail is much bolder and simpler than at the Palace. (fn. 5)

Ceiling of room on first floor

Of the third and perhaps the most beautiful, which is illustrated in plan on plate 4, and by photographs on plate 28, the writer has, so far, not seen a similar example. The design is formed by intersecting circles and quatrefoils, each about ten feet diameter, with grotesque heads, shown in detail in the lithographs on plates 31-32, to mark their intersections; the ribs are ornamented with a running design of nuts and various fruits, treated in a much less conventional manner than in the other ceilings, and the panels between the ribs ornamented with the fan, pomegranate, and other subjects shown in detail on plates 30 to 32. Only one-third of this ceiling was left, but the design of the whole is shown in the plan on plate 4.

The sketch given here shows a section through one of the ceiling ribs.

[Section of a ceiling rib]

Construction of ceilings

In construction all ceilings were similar, and appeared to be built up as follows: The ceilings were formed with two coats of plaster; on the first coat the design was drawn or marked and the body of the ribs (A) 'roughed in' with plaster; the underside of this was roughened or scored to take the cast work (B), which varied from ¼ to ½ inch in thickness, & was formed of plaster mixed with some hardening material like marble dust. The outer mouldings (C) as will be plainly seen by reference to the various photographs, were then run by hand, not struck from centres, and the ribs were complete. The panels on the face of the ceiling were next applied, and the finishing coat of plaster was put on to the surfaces of the ceiling between these and the ribs. A much larger proportion of hair was used than is the custom at the present day.

The pendants on the ceiling of the State room appeared to be fixed in the same manner as the ribs, the cores being strengthened by long nails placed crosswise through them into the ceiling ribs.

The State room ceiling was the only one, in the first instance, that was purchased by the authorities of the South Kensington Museum, and removed thence during the demolition. The remains of the two others, consisting of one or more repeats of each ornament and section of ribs, were collected by the writer (careful drawings of these ceilings being also made at the time), and these remains, together with the friezes above mentioned, were by him subsequently handed to the Museum for reconstruction.


1 '119 Views in London and in the Vicinity of the Metropolis,' 1836.
2 'Architecture of the Renaissance in England,' fo. London, 1891.
3 See also 'Survey of Bromley-by-Bow,' p. 38.
4 Ibid., p. 38.
5 Gotch, Arch Ren., pt. V., p. 23.