DiCamillo Companion

Copped Hall (Copt Hall) (Old Copped Hall)

  • Earlier Houses: An earlier Tudor house, Old Copped Hall, was demolished in 1748 and replaced by the current house. There was at least one house that predated Old Copped Hall.

    Built / Designed For: John Conyers I

    House & Family History: 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 that comprised parkland, arable land, and meadowland. In 1337 Copped Hall came into the hands of Sir John Shardlow, who conveyed it to Waltham Abbey in 1350 in exchange for other lands. The abbots described Copped Hall as "a mansion of pleasure and privacy." Edward III granted them leave 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. This failed to appease Henry and the abbey was dissolved in 1540 (Henry visited Copped Hall, but never lived here). In 1548 Henry's son, Edward VI, allowed the future Queen Mary I to live at Copped Hall as a prisoner (she was kept locked up because of her Catholic faith). When Mary became queen in 1533, Copped Hall was leased to Sir Thomas Cornwallis. In 1558 the estate was transferred to the crown's Duchy of Lancaster. In 1564 Queen Elizabeth I granted Copped Hall to one of her closest friends—Sir Thomas Heneage. Almost immediately he started to rebuild the mansion, incorporating part of the old house in the southwest corner. The building was complete by 1568, when Queen Elizabeth came to stay. The new mansion was U-shaped and arranged around a symmetrical open courtyard with a single-story covered corridor that connected the outstretched wings. Entry was from the north, where a large, enclosed carriage turning-circle was constructed. The mansion had two principal floors with attics above the wings and cellars over part of the house. The most important internal feature was the long gallery (174 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 23 feet high), which occupied the entire first floor of the east wing. Abutting the long gallery was a two-story chapel that could be viewed from a balcony off the long gallery. The west wing appeared similar to the east wing from the courtyard and from the north, but did not extent as far to the south. The south façade looked out over a large formal garden terrace with views leading to distant gates. Sir Thomas Heneage occupied high office, including vice chamberlain of the royal household. In 1594, after his wife's death, Sir Thomas married the widowed Countess of Southampton. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Nights Dream" was almost certainly written for their wedding celebrations and was first performed at Copped Hall in the long gallery after the wedding ceremony took place in London. In 1739 Edward Conyers purchased the Elizabethan Copped Hall from Sir Thomas Webster, who had owned it since 1701. Edward Conyers only enjoyed the house for only three years before he died in 1742. Edward Conyers's son, John Conyers I, inherited the property and considered repairing the dilapidated house. To that end, his brother-in-law, Sir Roger Newdigate, carried out extensive measured drawings of the interiors, with a view toward rebuilding it. John I, who moved in elite cultural circles and wanted to express the latest architectural ideas of the day, instead commissioned a new house. His architect, John Sanderson, drew up plans for a grand Palladian mansion with a main block with a vast dome, a portico, and attached curved colonnades leading to symmetrical pavilions. In the end, only the main block was built—on a different site from the Elizabethan mansion. Completed by 1758, the new house was superbly sited overlooking two valleys, with a third valley to the north. The house was a perfect example of the "18th century house in landscape." Internally there was a particularly good arrangement consisting of two top-lit stairwells surrounded by a circuit of inter-connecting grand rooms on the first floor (American second floor). On the second floor there was an fine arrangement of circulation spaces at the top of the staircases, with four sets of triple arches in line. The choice of a different site for the Georgian mansion resulted in a very interesting garden arrangement, as the gardens of the new house did not interfere with the gardens of the Elizabethan house, which were largely left intact. A magnificent four-acre walled garden was built to grow fruit, flowers, and vegetables. In 1775 John Conyers I died and his son, John II, commissioned James Wyatt to make internal changes to the mansion and to design the southern gatehouses and screen. During the first part of the 19th century Copped Hall was little altered, its occupant, Henry Conyers (1782-1853), being more concerned with enjoying the place than improving it. His daughters did not appear to carry out any improvements before the estate was sold to George Wythes Sr. in 1869. George Sr. (1811-83) was an extremely wealthy man who had made his fortune as a developer and in the construction of railroads. George Sr. never lived at Copped Hall, but bought the estate for his only son, George Jr. (1839-75), who lived there until his early death. During that time the mansion was given a new wing to the north to accommodate the rapidly expanding service requirements of the large house. After George Jr.'s death his two young sons went to live with their grandfather at Bickley Park, near Bromley, and Copped Hall was let for a period to a Mr. Burns. In 1887, four years after their grandfather had died, the elder of these two sons (George Wythes, 1867-87) also died at the age of 19, so, when the younger son (Ernest Wythes, 1868-1949) inherited he came into two fortunes: his own and his older brother's. Ernest Wythes started spending immediately. In 1890 he commissioned one of the largest yachts in the Royal Yacht Squadron, which he sailed around the world. In 1894 he married a member of the aristocracy: Aline Thorold (1869-1951) and his half-sister married the 4th Marquess of Bristol. Yet, Copped Hall simply was not grand enough; beginning in 1893 Ernest set about making substantial improvements. The stables were largely rebuilt in 1894 and the mansion roofline was given a balustrade and elaborate chimney tops. The stone architraves that existed on the east facade were repeated on all the windows, the central portion of the west facade was encased in stone with pilasters and a carved pediment, and the forecourt was given grand railing screens with ornamental gates and piers. To the south a large, elaborate stone conservatory, or winter garden, was built, complete with a glazed corridor linking it to the mansion. The inside of the house was extensively remodeled and filled with an important collection of pictures, furniture, and decorative arts. At the same time, an extensive Italianate architectural garden was constructed to the west of the mansion with temples, grand flights of steps, a parterre, gates, fountains, and statuary. By 1900 there were at least 31 gardeners and 27 house servants looking after Copped Hall, together with the farm workers. The Wythes were only at Copped Hall for part of the year; the rest of the time they were either at their London house, in Scotland, or abroad. When the family was not in residence the servants would clean the house and workmen would carry out building works. World War I changed life at Copped Hall forever. Many servants went off to the war and never came back. The Land Girls helped in the gardens and the family, especially Ernest Wythes's three daughters, looked after wounded soldiers. The family used to watch the zeppelins over London from the roof of Copped Hall. In 1917 the main 18th century block of the house was largely burned-out in a disastrous fire one Sunday morning. Much of the contents were saved, but many items were also lost. The family moved to Wood House on the estate, which had been built by Ernest Wythes toward the end of the 19th century. The move was supposed to be temporary, but in the end, Mr. Wythes never rebuilt Copped Hall. The gardens were all kept up until World War II and the conservatory, the laundry, the stables, and the motor house were kept in use. The walled garden continued to produce flowers, fruit, and vegetables, some of which were sold in Covent Garden. This produce supplied Wood House and the London house. Mr. Wythes died in 1949, followed by his wife died in 1951. The estate was sold in 1952; at that time anything of value that could be stripped from the house and gardens was sold. Timberwork and staircases were removed from the mansion and railings and gates from the grounds were sold. Even many of the ancient specimen trees were cut down for their timber. The conservatory was eventually dynamited. Later the M25 was driven through a corner of the landscape park. Although this destruction was very serious, the essential identity of Copped Hall remained. The mansion shell was remained in surprisingly good condition, although it needed stabilizing, and the structure of the gardens was still intact. The motorway was at a sufficient distance from the house to be largely ignored. Copped Hall and its park was still a very attractive and historic place; however, once the M25 was built, Copped Hall became a developer's dream. Large-scale schemes were proposed again and again. After many battles against such proposals, the parkland was saved by the Corporation of London, who purchased it in 1992. The specially formed Copped Hall Trust saved the mansion and gardens by purchasing these in 1995. (This history of Copped Hall written by and used with kind permission of Alan Cox from The Copped Hall Trust).

    Collections: The Cartoon Gallery at Knole, Kent, contains six large copies of Raphael's cartoons said to have been presented by Charles I to Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex. The cartoons were at Copped Hall until 1701. In 1746 George Lambert and Francis Hayman were commissioned by John Conyers I to paint views of Old Copped Hall before its demolition (it was taken down in 1748). The paintings they produced, "View of Copped Hall in Essex from the Park" and "View of Copped Hall in Essex from Across the Lake," are today in the collection of Tate Britain, London. The Tate says of the paintings "Here for almost the first time, a country house is represented as an integral aspect of the English landscape."

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Copped contains an unusually large 18th century walled garden that, along with other gardens on the property, is being restored. The stables were largely rebuilt in 1894. The garden temple, designed by James Wyatt for Copped Hall, was removed to St. Paul's Walden Bury, Hertfordshire, in 1950. Statues of sphinxes, said to be portraits of Louis XV's mistresses, are now also at St. Paul's Walden Bury.

  • Architect: Nicholas Stone

    Date: 1638-39
    Designed: Work on old house (demolished 1748), including new windows in gallery, for 1st Earl of Middlesex.

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    Architect: John Sanderson

    Date: 1753-58
    Designed: New house for John Conyers I (under direction of Sir Roger Newdigate and Thomas Prowse)

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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1775-77
    Designed: Interior alterations and redecoration to house and garden temple (now at St. Paul's Walden Bury), all for John Conyers II.

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    Architect: Charles E. Kemp

    Date: Circa 1895
    Designed: Enlarged house (added north wing and refaced garden facade) for Ernest Wythes

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  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. IVth, pls. 98, 99, 1739.

    Country Life: XXVIII, 610, 646 Plan, 1910. XXX, 102 [Furniture], 1911.

  • Title: Gardens - St. Paul's Walden Bury, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 1998
    Publisher: NA
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Burke's & Savills Guide to Country Houses, Volume III: East Anglia
    Author: Kenworthy-Browne, John; Reid, Peter; Sayer, Michael; Watkin, David
    Year Published: 1981
    Publisher: London: Burke's Peerage
    ISBN: 0850110351
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade II

    Park Listed: Grade II*

  • "Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)" (2000 - TV series, episode 1.5 "A Blast from the Past," as the ruined house). "A History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series). "Flyboys" (2006). "Hot Fuzz" (2007).
  • Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT EARLIER HOUSES: Fitzaucher family, 12th century. Sir John Shardlow, 1337-40. Sir Thomas Cornwallis, 16th century. Sir Thomas Heneage, 16th century. Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, until 1645; James Cranfield, 2nd Earl of Middlesex, 1645-51; Lionel Cranfield, 3rd Earl of Middlesex, 1651-74. Sir Thomas Webster, 1701-39. Edward Conyers, 1739-42; John Conyers I, 1742-56. SEATED AT CURRENT HOUSE: John Conyers I, 1756-75; John Conyers II, 1775-1818; Henry John Conyers, 1818-53. George Wythes Jr., 1869-83; Ernest Wythes, 1889-1949.

    Current Ownership Type: Charity / Nonprofit

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction

    Ownership Details: Owned by Copped Hall Trust

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 02072-671-679

    Fax: 02074-820-557

    Email: [email protected]

    Website: http://www.coppedhalltrust.org.uk

    Historic Houses Member: No