An investigation into the survival of medieval plaster in Dorset churches
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]t is a widely held view that most internal church decoration,. including plaster, was removed as part of the unpreced~nted cJmpaign of restoration undertaken by the Church of England during the second half of the ninetee!lth century. The thesis seeks to test this view by qllantifying the extent of medieval plaster surviving in Dorset churches, and setting. this survival in an appropriate historical, technical and cultural context. Literature relating to church plaster on both a natiohalarid local level has been reviewed and correlated with the results of the survey and also used to explore cultural reasons for the destruction of medieval plaster. The survey has proved that there is a substantial survival of medieval plaster in Dorset churches. To date this survival has gone severely under-recorded, even in specialist literature. Perhaps the most significant finding of the survey has been the scale on which Victorian restorers have covered historic plaster with their own, r~ther than stripping the. old and starting again from a bare substrate. Whilst this discovery has been a major success for the project, it has simultaneous~y highlighted the gJ;eatest weakness of the project. Since the survey is based solely on ·~xtern.a1visual ex~ation, it has been unable to reliably estimate howinuch old plaster survives below Victorian overskim, only that there is peripheral evidence of its survivaL Non-destructive testfug systems that might overcome this problem are investigated and the results of trials reported. Techniques for improving the objectivity of visual survey are also reviewed Survey data is analysed to determine if the probability of plaster survival can be predicted by factors such as location, date of restoration or architects involved.
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