Wanstead-born Richard Speller is chairman of the Woodford and District National Trust. Here, he explains why – in normal times – Copped Hall is well worth a visit. It tells a story of history, restoration and engagement
Copped Hall is one of the very few mansions in our local area. It is an 18th-century estate near Epping, situated on high ground at the end of a ridge surrounded by 1,000 acres of landscaped parkland. The overall estate once comprised 4,000 acres!
The abbots of Waltham Abbey held the property from 1350. In 1537, Henry Vlll confiscated the estate and later, Elizabeth I gave it to Sir Thomas Heneage, who built a substantial mansion in 1567. Almost all of this structure was demolished in 1748 before the present house was built by Sir John Conyers in 1753. In the late-19th century, ownership passed to the Wythes family who made their fortune in the railways, and they greatly extended the buildings and grounds.
In 1917, a disastrous fire gutted the main part of the mansion. Although the gardens continued to be maintained, the mansion was not restored. By 1950, practically everything of value was stripped from the site or demolished. It was then used as a mushroom farm and pigsty.
With the coming of the M25, Copped Hall became visible and accessible, especially as it was relatively close to London and Stansted Airport. In 1986, three aggressive development proposals, which would have destroyed the concept of Copped Hall, came before the planning authorities. In order to combat this application, representatives of the local conservation societies formed a committee called the Friends of Copped Hall.
Two further development proposals were put forward in 1988 and 1990; both involved building hotels and the latter a golf course as well. Two things happened, however, in 1992. The Conservators of Epping Forest (City of London Corporation) purchased the parkland, thus extinguishing the golf course proposal. And the other developer went bankrupt.
In 1993, the Copped Hall Trust was formed, and as a result, the house, along with 24 acres of gardens, was saved for the purposes of education, culture, local community activities and recreation. The restoration programme continues to this day. This wonderful project is run by over 100 volunteers, dedicated to the restoration and future of the project. Much work has been carried out clearing the gardens of non-original vegetation. Replacement trees have been planted and lawns reseeded. Internally, the mansion is to be restored to its 1750s form, and since 2001, some of the roof and floor structures have been reinstated and essential structural repairs carried out.
In more normal times, guided tours are conducted every third Sunday of the month, together with a host of activities and events.