- Copped Hall engraving by W Watts, 1781 Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office (ref: I/Mb 135/1/16)
During the 1770s Lancelot “Capability” Brown advised John Conyers II on the landscaping of the park at Copped Hall.
John Conyers II inherited the property in Epping, Essex in 1775, and it is thought that Brown was called in soon after that. Brown’s influence on the redesign of the estate includes the Selvage plantation area and new trees in the parkland. Copped Hall is an estate of around 142 hectares (350 acres), set in a valley bounded by farmland on three sides and by Epping Forest to the south.
An undated entry in Brown’s account book notes that he visited Copped Hall between 1776 and 1778. His bill of £31 and 10 shillings (around £48,000 in 2015) includes his own costs and the work of foreman Cornelius Griffin, who carried out the survey.
There is no plan of Brown’s work at Copped Hall, but an engraving of the estate from 1781 may show what he did. The main change from earlier illustrations of the park is the addition of the Selvage, a perimeter plantation extending along the western boundary. This area joins up with Rookery Wood in the north-west corner of the park.
After Brown’s time the map also shows new clumps of trees in the parkland to the south-east of the house. Earlier maps were less detailed, so although these clumps are in keeping with his style, we cannot be sure that they were part of his design. Around this time the upper terrace of the 16th-century formal garden was replaced with a lawn, cut across with wide paths and planted with specimen trees. It is not clear whether this was part of Brown’s scheme.
The previous owner, John Conyers, had also been very active in modernising the park and building the new Copped Hall, designed by architect John Sanderson. Helped by his brother-in-law Sir Roger Newdigate, Conyers had begun drawing up new designs and schemes for planting evergreen trees, beginning in 1747. A description of the estate from 1804 also refers to a rapidly growing cedar of Lebanon – Brown’s signature tree.
Copped Hall today
In May 1917 the house was gutted by fire, and in 1952 the estate was sold. The house and grounds were bought by the Copped Hall Trust in 1995, which is working to restore them for education and community use. As part of its plans, the Trust intends to restore the formal, Italianate 19th-century gardens at Copped Hall, which were designed by Charles Eamer Kempe.
The house and gardens are open to the public during the restoration.
Lancelot Brown and his Essex Clients: A Gazetteer of Sites in Essex Associated with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783, Essex Gardens Trust, 2015 www.essexgardenstrust.org.uk
Copped Hall Trust: www.coppedhalltrust.org.uk
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000384/