Historic Fibrous Plaster: Guidance on its care and management

9 June 2019

Historic England has produced guidance for the care and management of fibrous plaster in the UK, which is supported by other UK heritage bodies and professional associations.

Fibrous plaster ceilings and other components can be complex in construction and require specialist skills for their inspection and maintenance. The guidance document below can help you determine the competency of specialist inspectors and contractors, and to define the required standard of inspection.

All theatres and places of entertainment with suspended fibrous plaster ceilings must have been inspected by a competent person by 1 September 2016 to ensure that they are safe.

The inspection must have complied with new survey standards devised by the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) and details of the survey requirements can be found in ABTT Guidance Note 20 on our website.

Many former places of entertainment with fibrous plaster ceilings are now in alternative use. However, fibrous plaster is not limited to theatres or places of entertainment. Therefore, the risk of failure is possible in any building with fibrous plaster ceilings with unstable hangers, ties and fixings, especially hessian wadding and fixings.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has informed all UK Local Authorities that this inspection scheme is in place in the theatre industry and that it can be applied to any building with a suspended fibrous plaster ceiling, as good practice.

The HSE states that: “If you have not managed to get your ceiling inspected within this period you are advised to contact your licensing authority (normally the appropriate Local Authority) to discuss how you can demonstrate that the ceiling is safe for an audience to sit beneath….Those responsible for premises with suspended plaster ceilings are strongly advised to read the ABTT guidance….

Any queries about the required survey work for suspended plaster ceilings in theatres and places of entertainment should be directed to either Theatres Trust or the Association of British Theatre Technicians.

Historic England’s position

Historic England supports the application of the ABTT survey standards in any historic building with a fibrous plaster ceiling, both suspended and fixed.

The following document is interim guidance for conservation professionals and building managers responsible for buildings with fibrous plaster in the UK. It was prepared by Historic England in association with Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw, Welsh Government, and the Historic Environment Division of Northern Ireland. Historic England is undertaking research on the material and more detailed information will be published in due course. This guidance focuses on fibrous plaster ceilings, since they present a potential risk of collapse if neglected. It begins with the history of fibrous plaster, and then explains forms of deterioration, current survey standards, methods of repair and finally, management of buildings with the material.

Click here to download.