After many weeks of hot dry drought like conditions, the weather decided in its infinitive wisdom to change the moment Ginny went back to work. Thunder and Lightning combined with heavy rain; put an end to the gorgeous lazy days, lying in the sun at the club, that we enjoyed for most of July. The temperature still remained oppressive, even though the sun didn’t always shine brightly. After weeks of inactivity, we decided it was time to put our walking boots back on and head back into the countryside. Epping Forest was to be the first port of call, in an attempt at the same time to see a Georgian house that time nearly forgot. Copped Hall (or Copthall) is a ruined country house close to Epping in Essex, England, parts of which date from the 16th century. Copped Hall is also visible from the M25 motorway and best seen to the right, travelling anti clockwise between junctions 26 and 27.
Using our walking book, we parked the car in one of many car parks in the forest and set off on our 5 mile hike. As it was still very hot we had the chance, occasionally, to take off our clothes and continue along the track enjoying the freedom of being naked. We headed towards the M25 and eventually found the tunnel which goes under the M25.The noise and the unending stream of traffic made you wonder what roads people used before the M25 was completed in 1986.
We went through the tunnel and continued along the footpath before eventually getting our first glimpse of Copped Hall (the chimney’s) across the fields of wheat. Other views of the hall appeared before we journeyed along the the driveway, which eventually lead us to the hall.
Recorded history at Copped Hall starts in the 12th century when there was already a substantial building on the site. At that time Copped Hall belonged to the Fitzaucher family who served the King as huntsmen.In 1303 the Copped Hall Estate consisted of 180 acres – comprising parkland, arable land and meadow land. In 1337 Copped Hall came into the hands of Sir John Shardlow who conveyed it to the Abbots of Waltham in 1350 in exchange for other lands. The Abbots described Copped Hall as “a mansion of pleasure and privacy”. They were granted leave by Edward III in 1374 to extend the park by a further 120 acres on the Epping side.In 1537 the Abbot gave Copped Hall to Henry VIII in the vain hope of saving Waltham Abbey from being dissolved.
(Left – Copped Hall by Thomas Garner 1832) (Right – Copped Hall by George Lambert 1746)
This failed to appease Henry and the Abbey was dissolved in 1540. Henry VIII visited Copped Hall but never lived there. In 1548 his son Edward VI allowed the future Queen Mary to live at Copped Hall where she remained – to a large degree – a prisoner, as she was a Catholic. When Mary became Queen in 1533, Copped Hall was leased to Sir.Thomas Cornwallis. In 1558 it was transferred to the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1564 Queen Elizabeth l granted Copped Hall to one of her closest friends, Sir.Thomas Heneage.Sir Thomas Heneage received the reversion of the estate of Copthall on 13 August 1564 from the Queen, where he subsequently built an elaborate mansion from the designs of John Thorpe. The Queen was a frequent visitor to Essex and she is recorded as having visited Heneage at Copthall in 1575.His daughter, afterwards Countess of Winchelsea, sold it to the Earl of Middlesex in the reign of James I. From him it passed to Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset, who sold it in 1701 to Sir Thomas Webster.
Edward Conyers purchased it in 1739, but he only enjoyed the house for three years before dying in 1742. Conyers’ son John (d.1818) inherited the property and considered repairing the original Hall as it had become dilapidated, but he rebuilt it between 1751-58, after demolishing the old one in around 1748. The next member of the family to inherit Copped Hall was his son Henry John Conyers (1782–1853) who was said to be so obsessed with hunting that he neglected the house badly. Survived by three daughters, the house was finally sold by the family in 1869.
It is an imposing structure set in a beautiful yet stylised estate parkland, described at one time as ‘the Premier house of Essex’. The estate is landscaped to conform to the English ideas of the 18th century – the taming of nature and the inclusion of uplifting vistas. The main house has a ha-ha ditch which allowed animals to approach the house yet prevent them from entering. It was a good example of the ’18th-century house in landscape’. The mansion was placed overlooking two valleys with a third valley to the north and the building was well proportioned, with the chimneys built in a tight geometric arrangement.
The main house was gutted in an accidental fire one Sunday morning in 1917. Popular legend has it that the fire was started by Army staff who were billetted at Copped Hall during World War I (when it was used as a hospital). Members of the hospital staff were on the roof to view the destruction of a German Zeppelin over Grays in Essex, and the fire is said to have started there due to a carelessly discarded cigarette.The truth is that the fire was started accidentally by members of the house, and due to the lack of local firemen who were away at war the house was completely gutted. Although much of what was inside was removed in time the roof collapsed and the blaze took 36 hours to bring under control.
The Wythes family, who were the then occupiers, moved in to Wood House on the estate to await Copped Hall’s rebuilding. This never happened and Ernest Wythes died in 1949. His wife died in 1951. In 1952 the estate was sold, after which followed a period of total neglect. The main 18th-century house was first stripped of its more desirable building materials then left to deteriorate. The Italianate conservatory was blown up using dynamite to demolish it, though some of the statues and stonework were removed to other large estate houses. The stone gazebo from the garden was set up in the grounds of St Paul’s Waldenbury, a neighbouring estate. Some of the statues in the gardens were removed to Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.
The house and surrounding estate is now owned by the Copped Hall Trust, who acquired the freehold of the main house, stables and gardens in 1995.The English publication Country Life ran a full article on the charms of Copped Hall with many photographs published before the devastating fire. This perhaps remains as the only record of the house in its heyday.On 27 April 2004 Charles, Prince of Wales, accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex – Lord Petre, visited Copped Hall and inspected the restoration work of the Copped Hall Trust.
The Prince opened an exhibition of 18th century botanical water-colours in the new temporary gallery. These water-colours were painted by Matilda Conyers, a descendant of John Conyers.As a result of the 1952 sale, parts of the estate lands were sold into private ownership. Originally used as farmland, being so close to London parts of these have been developed, including a private gated development which includes the UK home of singer Rod Stewart.
We took many photos of the countryside and the forest along the way, as well as many of Copped Hall, before walking along the driveway, via the halls gatehouse, back to the car.
(History here is provided via various sites on the internet)