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Copped Hall, Epping, Essex: design for a drawing room ceiling for John Conyers, 1763 (1)

1763
There has been a house on this site since the twelfth century, and in 1303 the estate spanned 180 acres. During the reign of King Edward VI, Princess Mary (later Queen Mary) lived at Copped Hall, and later, in 1564, Queen Elizabeth I gifted the estate to her friend Sir Thomas Heneage (1532-95), who built a new, U-shaped house in 1567. It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth I visited Sir Thomas at Copped Hall in 1575. Sir Thomas's daughter, the Countess of Winchelsea, sold the estate, and it passed through various hands until it was purchased by Edward Conyers (c1689-1742) in 1739.

Edward Conyers' son, John Conyers (1717-75), succeeded his father in 1742. He was MP (Tory) for Reading in 1747-54, and for Essex in 1772-75. On his succession John Conyers began restoration work, only to demolish Heneage's house in c1748 in favour of a new house, built on a nearby site, in 1753-58, to designs made collaboratively by Conyers, John Sanderson (d1774), Thomas Prowse (c1708-67), and Conyers' brother-in-law Sir Roger Newdigate (1719-1806). The result was a Palladian, white-brick, three-storey, seven-bay, pedimented house. In 1761 this house suffered a fire, which was quenched by the water tank on the roof. Alan Cox has suggested that the subsequent water damage to the drawing room was the reason Robert Adam was commissioned in 1763 to make a design for that ceiling. It is not known if this exact ceiling was executed, but there is a corresponding finished drawing for this design held in the Essex Records Office suggesting that it was. It is possible that John Conyers was acquainted with Adam through Lord Shelburne - Adam's patron at Bowood and Lansdowne House - as Lady Shelburne had a cousin called Jack Conyers, but the veracity of this connection has yet to be proven. Moreover, Conyers was a governor of the Foundling Hospital and would have been familiar with a variety of Adam's clients.

Alterations to the interiors of Copped Hall were carried out by John Conyers’ son in 1775-77 to designs by James Wyatt (1746-1813). Wyatt's drawings for Copped Hall are held in the Essex Records Office. The house was sold to the Wythes family in 1869, and they constructed the northern wing in 1895. The eighteenth-century portion of the house was gutted by fire in 1917, and the best surviving records of the pre-fire interior are a collection of early Country Life photographs. The house remained a ruin for many years, and was sold by the Wythes family in 1950, when it was stripped of all useful materials. The new owners, the Talbot Trust, decided to sell the estate in lots in 1984, promoting considerable interest from developers. The Park was purchased and preserved by the City of London in 1992, and the mansion, ancillary buildings and garden were purchased by the Copped Hall Trust in 1995. The Copped Hall Trust seek to reinstate the eighteenth-century interior of the house through a regime of rebuilding and restoration, and are slowly making excellent progress.

Literature:
E. Fitzmaurice, Life of William Earl of Shelburne, afterwards Marquess of Lansdowne, 1912, Volume I, p. 394; A. T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 7, 66; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy 1701-1800, 1997, p. 237; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, p. 179; J. Bettley, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Essex, 2007, pp. 307-8; R. Cassidy, Copped Hall: a short history, 2009, pp. 1-24; J. B. Lawson, 'Conyers, John (1717-75) of Copt Hall, Essex', The history of Parliament online; www.coppedhalltrust.org.uk

I am very grateful to Alan Cox RIBA, Chairman of the Copped Hall Trust, for his advice and guidance.

Frances Sands, 2012
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