The weather yesterday was wonderful so I decided to take my own advice [for a change] and went for a winter walk. And having written recently about Copped Hall discovered that it had one its monthly open days I set off to the edge of Epping Forest to see how things had changed over the past nearly ten years. I am so glad that I did.
The exterior looks very much as it did, – extremely shabby chic might be a fair description – but inside a transformation has taken place. The main part of the mansion has been re-roofed, [even if only temporarily in part] the walls are drying out, floors and staircases have been installed and there is even an impressive single flight of marble steps starting to climb up from the hall to replace those smashed up in the 1950s.
The entire first floor is now open, stripped back to bare brickwork revealing the elegant design. There are bits and pieces of furniture, photographs, wall sconces and chandeliers and faux door frames to complete the picture. Even the vaulted cellars are worth visiting – and at one point you can see the Georgian damp proofing system – a sunken wall which runs parallel to the foundations but about half a metre away with a void between it and the house.
Obviously January is not the best time to see the garden, and looking out of the windows on to the ruins of the Italianate garden it looked as if little had happened anyway. How wrong can you be – because away from the house there was plenty going on.
The massive walled garden was alive with people and plants, and although at first glance, the complex of glasshouses looked much as it did 10 years ago, that was deceptive and considerable renovation has taken place.
The walls were covered with trained fruit trees, there was an impressive soft fruit patch and lots of veg being grown in rectangular beds cut into the grass. There was also an impressive array of box and yew in the early stages of topiarization. There were roofless glasshouses full of trays and trays of plants being propagated. Another glasshouse – the Orchard House – was being disassembled for work to start as soon as sufficient money has been raised. And there were volunteers laying paths, potting up plants, clearing, tidying and planning their next moves. The way down to the kitchen garden has also been planted up with a large number of shrubs,particularly camellias.
One of the outer walls of the kitchen garden now boasts a magnificent herbaceous border. Although our guide kept apologizing for the lack of flowers and colour, it was still looking pretty good despite everything the weather could throw at it. And all apparently the work of one volunteer.
The Victorian wing of the house and the outbuildings survived the fire better than the main mansion. The racquets court has been converted into a very spacious and airy refreshment room offering soup & excellent home-made cakes, and other ancillary buildings have been converted to make six houses and flats set round a pretty courtyard.
Elsewhere in the grounds the last remnants of the massive 103 roomed Tudor mansion stood rather forlornly amid the mud.
When it was demolished in the 18thc the bricks were used to build the new Hall and the cellars were later filled with massive blocks of stone and turned into a sunken rock garden.The flooded garden might have been a better title – but there was still a volunteer bravely battling away and weeding.
Nearby excavations are taking place hoping to provide clear evidence of the layout of the 17th century formal gardens for this earlier house.
The tour of the house and grounds took well over two hours and could easily have taken longer. The whole site was buzzing with volunteers – guides, builders, caterers and gardeners and it was very clear that something special going on here.Work is extremely costly [take a look at this month’s wish list on their website] and will probably be continuous for the next 50 years but perhaps, in many ways, the end – a fully restored Georgian house and gardens that reflect the site’s historic framework – is less important than the means. Copped Hall has found a new purpose and is once again a house at the centre of a community.