Whilst visiting friends recently, we were fortunate to be given a guided tour of an historic garden and house in the course of renovation.
Copped Hall, close to Epping in Essex, is a substantial Georgian mansion which I remember visiting about 30 years ago.
At that time I can remember the house being a gutted shell, having no roof and pigs being kept in what remained of the ground floor!
There has been a grand house here since Norman times, with the current building dating from the middle of the 18th century. It has a fascinating history, culminating in the near destruction of the latest house by fire in 1917. Since then, various attempts have been made to redevelop the site, but local opposition has fought these off. The outcome was the formation of a charitable trust which raised funds to purchase the site with the aims of:
- preventing development of the buildings or in their vicinity
- raising further funds to carry out sympathetic restoration of the buildings and grounds
- educating the public on the site and it’s social and natural history.
An active ‘Friends’ group supports the trust, including a small band of gardening volunteers, 2 of whom (Marion & John), kindly showed us around. The house itself has been made wind and weatherproof and some progress has been made in reinstating the interior structure. As anything portable and of value was stripped out of the buildings and grounds in the 1950′s, much of what remains are functional, structural features such as the brick piers supporting former stone steps and stairs. These tumbled down ruins are interesting in themselves, and with the still significant columns of clipped Yew give a gothic, romantic ruin feel to what was once a grand, formal, elevated approach to the house along with parterres and clipped hedges and bushes.
This space gives way to a wooded walk to the walled garden. There are some open archaelogical excavations in these grounds, adding further interest, and some more recent large scale landscaping projects in areas on the site of what was once the Tudor Manor house. Originally built in 1740, the 4 acre walled garden (one of the largest in Britain), is clothed on the approach to its outer wall with a glorious herbaceous border. Several metres deep, with excellent variation in height, this border also features large groupings of plants providing a strong structure and rhythm through their repetition, along the full 100 metres or so of its length.
Inside, a series of original Boulton and Paul glasshouses- most in urgent need of renovation, contain a fascinating collection of fruit and flowers, including vines and peaches now open to the elements as the former covering of glass has fallen away.
The scale of the renovation task, especially here, is enormous, but the small band of volunteers is making steady progress, though could perhaps do with an overall ‘Conservation Plan’ to help to channel their efforts and encourage others along. We wish them well, and but for the distance from home, would offer to help them!
Copped Hall is open to the public one day a month and guided tours are available – see the weblink below for more information.
Old School Gardener
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