Copped Hall has a rich past which is deeply embedded in the history of England. Situated in Upshire, the Copped Hall estate and mansion has changed hands many times since its beginning and has ties to King Henry VIII and William Shakespeare.
Copped Hall’s earliest recorded history dates back to the 12th century when the Fitzaucher family owned the sizeable estate. In 1337, Sir John Shadwell held Copped Hall, which he exchanged with the Abbots of Waltham for other lands. The Abbots described it as “a mansion of pleasure and privacy” and in 1374 they were granted permission by King Edward III to extend the grounds a further 120 acres.
In 1537, during King Henry VIII’s reign, the Abbot gave Copped Hall to the King in a bid to save Waltham Abbey from Dissolution. King Henry “valued Waltham as a place to escape the cares of state and enjoy hunting and discussion with the Abbot.” However, this wasn’t enough to save Waltham and it was the last monastery to be dissolved in 1540.
The estate was later used in 1548, King Edward VI allowed the Catholic future Queen Mary to live at Copped Hall “where she remained -to a large degree- a prisoner.” In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I bestowed Copped Hall to confidante, Sir Thomas Heneage who rebuilt the mansion while incorporating certain components of its previous form. Heneage most notably added a long gallery which took up the entire first floor of the east wing. Upon completion of the work in 1568, Queen Elizabeth would stay at Copped Hall.
After the death of his first wife, Sir Thomas Heneage married the Countess of Southampton in 1594. As part of their marital celebrations it is widely understood that Copped Hall held the first performance of William Shakespeare’s play, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. According to history, the performance took place in the aforementioned long gallery of the Elizabethan house and was received by many high-seated members of society.
Throughout the next century Copped Hall was passed down until it was held by Sir Thomas Webster, who allowed the mansion to become dilapidated. After this Copped Hall was largely ruined due to hurricane damage. In 1746, artist George Lambert painted two depictions of Copped Hall in landscape which are currently on show in Tate Britain.
In 1748 John Conyers demolished the building and rebuilt a more contemporary and expressive Palladian mansion on a different site of the grounds. This was designed by John Sanderson, Sir Roger Newdigate and Thomas Prowse. The cellars of the Elizabethan mansion were turned into rock garden and fragments of the former house remained. A four-acre walled garden was constructed to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables, lodges were then built in 1775.
Further improvements were not made to Copped Hall until 1893 under Ernest Wythes’ direction. The First World War had a devastating effect on it; one Sunday morning in 1917 a fire burnt out a large part of the mansion and the Wythes family moved into Wood House, another house on the estate. After the death of Wythes and his wife, the estate was sold in 1952, as were all remaining interiors, staircases and garden stonework and statuary.
After the M25 was built through one corner of the park, Alan Cox among others felt compelled to save the mansion grounds from becoming a developer’s dream. After a long campaign, the Copped Hall Trust was created in 1993 and then the Trust bought the mansion and gardens in 1995. It’s a Grade II listed property - including the mansion, parkland and garden pavilions – and it is the aim of the Trust to “permanently protect the site, to carefully restore Copped Hall and its gardens for educational and community benefit.”
Much carefully researched restoration has been carried out in the past 20 years and a lot of fundraising is required in order to make this restoration possible. Enriching and diverse activities include guided tours, pudding tastings, drawing classes and an antique furniture restoration course amongst others. In September the acclaimed Fitzwilliam Quartet will be returning for a performance that is not to be missed.
For more information on Copped Hall and upcoming events, please visit coppedhalltrust.org.uk.
By Devon-Elizabeth Tabersham