Artex (or artexing) is the name given to the textured finish applied to interior ceilings and sometimes walls. The popularity of artexing as a finish is due to the fact that it required no real skills and was a cheaper solution to an uneven surface than a professionally-applied plaster coat. Although not as popular as it once was in the UK, there are still many thousands of homes that feature artexed ceilings and walls.
Artex is actually a trademark of Artex Ltd (the name comes from a combination of the words Artistic and Texture) which, in 1935, was one of the first companies to supply a building material that could be used to create a textured finish. Up until the 1980’s, artex often contained White Asbestos to give it strength. Asbestos, as most people now know, is harmful when inhaled in dust form. This makes removing artex in an old house a potentially risky job. If artex does contain asbestos, it must only be removed by a licensed contractor. If the artexed surface is sound, it is often far easier to simply skim over the top with plaster.
It should be noted that Asbestos is only considered dangerous in dust form, so don’t panic if you have a sound artexed ceiling that you aren’t planning to remove. Any Artex applied after the mid 1980’s should be free from any Asbestos (although it is best to check before you start sanding it or ripping it out).