Treasures of the Essex Record Office: Copped Hall
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 March 2016
Once one of the county's grandest mansion houses, Copped Hall in Epping was ravished by fire and stripped of its grandeur. Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office tells more of this elegant building's fascinating story
Travellers on the M25 through Essex may well have noticed an imposing mansion perched high on a hill above the busy motorway. The mansion was once one of the finest houses in the county, but today bears the scars of a serious fire which ripped through it in 1917. The mansion is Epping’s Copped Hall, an early example of neo-Classical Palladian architecture in England.
After decades of dereliction following the fire, the Copped Hall Trust is now painstakingly restoring the house and gardens. The property is open to visitors on certain days in the year and is a fascinating window into the trust’s extraordinary work to reclaim this part of our county’s heritage.
The site has a long history that stretches far back before the building of the 18th century mansion. The property was held by the Abbots of Waltham from 1350-1537 and Elizabeth I later gave the property to her close friend, Sir Thomas Heneage, who incorporated parts of the existing religious buildings into a new house. Heneage’s building was complete by 1568, when Elizabeth I visited. It was built in a U shape around an open courtyard and included a long gallery, a chapel and a formal garden. The Tudor mansion was demolished in 1748 to make way for the present building, parts of which have been subject to archaeological excavation in recent years.
The Copped Hall that stands today was built between 1751 and 1758 by the architect John Sanderson for John Conyers. Extremely grand plans were drawn up for a main block flanked by curved colonnades leading to symmetrical pavilions. The main block was to be topped by an enormous dome and fronted with a portico. Ultimately, only the main block was built, and then without the dome or the grand portico.
The mansion was little altered until it came into the ownership of the wealthy George Wythes, who had made his money in railways. He purchased the house in 1869 and added a new service wing. Copped Hall was later inherited by George’s grandson, Ernest Wythes, together with a large fortune. It was under Ernest’s custodianship that Copped Hall was to see major changes as he set out to make it even grander. His additions included a large conservatory linked to the house by a glazed corridor, elaborate balustrades and other decorations on the roof, chimneys and windows, a rebuilding of the stables and extensive remodelling of the gardens with the introduction of grand flights of steps, fountains and statues. By this time a small army of gardeners and servants were employed to look after the house and grounds.
The glory days of Copped Hall, however, were numbered. One Sunday morning in 1917, an electrical fault caused a fire that gutted the fine mansion. It was never rebuilt and was asset stripped in the 1950s. Staircases, gates, railings, balustrades and garden ornaments were all sold, while ancient trees were cut down for timber. The winter garden conservatory was blown up and the M25 was later constructed through part of the park, fortunately in a corner far from the house.
Despite all this destruction, today Copped Hall is a peaceful and attractive place to visit. This is due to the hard work of the Copped Hall Trust, who campaigned for years to rescue the mansion from commercial development to save it for community use and who have worked tirelessly to restore parts of the garden and house.
You can find out more, including how to visit, at www.coppedhalltrust.org.uk
ERO events coming up
Art tours of Essex Record Office and County Hall
Saturday April 2, 11am at County Hall, Market Road, Chelmsford CM1 1QH (Duke Street entrance), and 1.30pm at Essex Record Office
Come and see some of Essex County Council’s art collection at Essex Record Office and County Hall. Since it came into existence in 1889, Essex County Council has amassed a significant art collection, the vast majority of it through donations. Digital images of many of these paintings are available on the BBC’s Your Paintings website, but these special tours are your opportunity to see some of the original artworks themselves and find out some of the stories behind them.
Tickets: £2 per tour
Please book in advance on 033301 32500
Please note that since the tour at ERO includes the Searchroom, attendees will be asked to leave their bags in the ERO’s secure locker room
Please note that photography of the artwork is permitted only by prior arrangement