Often, I have heard it said that once you are working in heritage and museums, whenever you visit places of interest, you will view them with very different eyes to others.
Recently, I paid a visit to a very interesting heritage site and former neighbour of Rod Stewart, Copped Hall, in Epping. I found that as I wandered around, without even realising, I was consolidating our Trainee learning in this unfamiliar environment.
Restoration at the hall is currently underway to return the building and gardens to their former glory. Having stood high up overlooking the M25 for many years, with wind whistling through its shell, it was once possible to see through un-glazed windows from one side of the building to the other when driving past. Major structural renovations have been underway since 2001 and it is still pretty chilly there today, but much progress has been made by the Copped Hall Trust.
Outside, a large walled garden with glass houses can be found. Having been once handcrafted by talented blacksmiths, the gates are now heavily corroded, in need of TLC (tender loving conservation) and repairs to losses, especially on fine areas of detail.
Inside, the building is presented as it is – a work in progress.
By being invited into the building site as part of a guided tour, it is possible to gain an understanding of both the history of the Hall and the huge project that is underway to restore the spaces. In 1917, a fire caused much destruction. The building was beyond financial repair for relatives and was stripped of anything of value, including staircases!
Now, the challenge is to creatively tell the story of the hall. I loved how features, which would have been expensive to restore, were imaginatively (and much more cheaply!) recreated using design and interpretation, such as the ‘marble’ fireplace above. These extra touches to the bare rooms bring the space to life in a clever and simple way.
Travelling through the building works, I found myself agreeing with the guide that the site (although cold!) is in a very relaxed and approachable form in its current state. Sometimes, less is more and I noticed that it is possible to learn much about the history of the building just from reading the walls and using your imagination. Simple interpretation, placed on bare walls at various places of importance, make this even easier, aiding storytelling.
Furniture, objects and clothing on display at the site are currently a little more sacrificial than many conservators might like, but this gives a raw and authentic feeling. Even if they are not always original to the location, objects on display have a functional nature and illustrate life at the hall well.
The spaces are also brilliant for use for education and events. School groups regularly visit and there is an education programme in place. Volunteers and staff have been working hard to create event. The line up includes a pudding tasting evening (yum!), workshops, open gardens, concerts, theatre and archaeological digs.
Overall I found Copped Hall to be a fascinating place, and learnt much from my visit. It will be very interesting to see how it develops further in the future.
Oh, and if you happen upon the original front gates there is a £1000 reward!
See you soon, Esme.