Garry and Sandy Pimley
Sandy and I first became aware of Copped Hall in the 1980s, some years before it was acquired by the Trust. We used to bring our (then very young) children to walk and play around the west garden. We always wondered what the history of the place was, why and how it had become abandoned and derelict, and what it was like inside.
Later, having heard that the house had been bought by a Trust, and was to be restored, we jumped at the chance to come on a tour and learn more about it. As I recall, Peter Dalton was our tour guide, and we found it absolutely fascinating. I think that there and then, we both decided, independently of each other, to become involved in some way. However, this wasn’t possible for some time, as I was still working and our children were still at school, sweating over GCSEs and then A levels, though we did become members of the Friends of Copped Hall, and Sandy became a Sunday regular.Her main interest was in the gardens. She has always been a keen gardener, and our ‘postage-stamp’ size plot in Walthamstow doesn’t really offer her enough scope. One look at the four acre walled kitchen garden, and she was hooked! My principal focus was the history of the house and the wider site. History has always been one of my interests, and I wanted to learn more about Copped Hall’s rich and varied past, and harboured ambitions to be a tour guide.
In 2005, I retired and was able to become more involved. I did become a tour guide, thanks to lots of support from Sylvia, Maggie and Nicola, and Sandy is now a key member of the garden team. I, too, put in a stint in the garden most Sundays. Fresh air, exercise and good companionship – I can thoroughly recommend it. You don’t even need to be an experienced gardener. My own horticultural expertise remains woefully inadequate. But I can wield a spade and push a wheelbarrow, and there is always someone more knowledgable to advise me on which are the weeds and which are the onions, carrots, or flowers!
Sandy has become quite the entrepreneur ( or should that be ‘entrepreneuse’?), working with the garden team to produce an extensive range of plants for sale to visitors, raising money for the garden – over £2000 last year. Her sales technique is all but irresistible.
I have also, late in life, added another string to my bow – plasterer’s labourer. Most Thursdays I come along with David, our volunteer plasterer, and do the mixing up for him. So, thanks to us, there is not as much bare brick in the interior of the house as there used to be.
Our involvement with Copped Hall has enriched our lives in so many ways - physically, intellectually and socially. Come and join us, and let it enrich yours.
A team of volunteers did a tremendous job some years ago excavating the basement of Copped Hall, finding fascinating objects and fragments. I am now fortunate enough to be caring for and researching that valuable and revealing collection.
In 2010 I was delighted to use my trowel in the most unusual excavation at first floor level below the floor of Lady Henrietta’s dressing room – which lies above the ceiling vault of the Georgian kitchen. Fragments of ceramics and hand-painted tiles were among the finds but the most unusual were the delicately moulded pieces of eighteen and nineteenth century ceiling plaster.
I had never come across the survival of such fragile remains on the site excavations I had worked on with the City of London Archaeological Society (COLAS) or on the foreshore of the river Thames with the Thames Archaeological Survey.
It was my friend and COLAS colleague, Pamla Lamb – also a ‘foreshorer’ – who introduced me to Copped Hall where she was carrying out and co-ordinating extensive work with the finds from the West Essex Archaeological Group’s excavation of the remains of the earlier Copt Hall.
For me, digging there in the Tudor and Mediaeval levels during the summer excavations is always excellent. I have many ‘hands-on’ archaeological activities prepared for the primary school children on the Archaeology Days that Frances Chapman arranges. Viewing the actual excavation site is the highlight of their visit.
I was delighted to be offered the opportunity for year-round work on the finds from the excavations in the 18th century mansion, especially when Alan made available a basement room – my dungeon! – fitted with sturdy shelves. It is always a pleasure on Sunday mornings to discover outside the Artefact Room door some new little treasure kindly left for me by the indoor and immediate outdoor ‘excavations’.
Particularly significant finds are always on display in my room on Open Days. However, if that is when you are exactly too busy to come down then do, please, speak with me to arrange a convenient time when you too can visit the fascinating collection.
Our shared interest in old buildings goes back 33 years when we joined the National Trust on our honeymoon and so have been to many of their properties. But mine started when on a trip to a house and park when I was very young (I cannot remember where). The house was being demolished and even then I thought it was such a shame.
I have lived all my life in Roydon and so like many others have known of Copped Hall for years. We often used to walk to it from the Forest but it was on one of our cycle rides from Roydon 5 years ago we ended up at the front door one Sunday morning and had a long chat with a nice lady (Thea) about the Hall.
We joined at the next Open Day and became volunteers straight away. Sue in the walled garden happily weeding veggie beds and me wherever ‘the boss’ asked me to go. I started in the hall moving piles of whatever needed moving, mainly with Arnold. Before John Gervis left us, he asked if I would take over looking after the grass in the walled kitchen garden, along with Colin, and Sue who cuts the edges. We have continued with this and I enjoy it because of the different sit-on mowers (boys with toys!).
I also seem to have become the ‘path man’ with my work in the kitchen garden and on the Southern Lower Terrace. We are also members of the main gate team. Working at the Hall seems so peaceful and relaxing compared to our jobs - Sue in Sainsburys and me in a welding and metal fabrication environment.
We really enjoy our time at the Hall especially the freedom to do so many different tasks and because of working in all areas, have seen the whole project coming together. Also it is good being with a very nice group of like minded people helping to bring this place back to life.
During my school summer holidays I would often spend time staying over at my Nan’s house. I loved spending time there as she was a very talented and patient lady, a great cook, keen gardener and had lots of knowledge and skills including dress making. I particularly became very interested and helpful in her pretty little suburban garden. I often helped her pick highly scented flowers like sweet peas for the dinner table, they smelt so divine. I would water and nurture all the plants, geraniums, nasturtiums and busy lizzies to name a few. My Nan’s front garden stood out in a colourful way among the terraced row of houses. She had large tubs jam packed full of beautiful floral displays and hanging baskets full to the brim with exotic colourful highly scented flowers. It was in my Nan’s garden where my love of gardening begun. My Mum grew up with an allotment and growing fresh fruit and vegetable was part of her family life. It became part of ours too when my mum and dad got an allotment of their own in Waltham Abbey when I was 10. The years went by and I had a family of my own and my garden growing years began again. I took on an allotment plot of my own in Epping growing a wide variety of fruit and veg. When my daughter started secondary school I decided to enrol on a horticultural course at Capel Manor college in 2002. I studied amenity horticulture and, subsequently, I was involved in many garden projects, digging ponds, designing and general maintenance .
I first discovered Copped Hall 5 years ago when I went to one of the events. I just fell in love with the gardens - the rock garden and long border but, wow, when I walked through the gates of the walled garden I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I visited again on many occasions but it was in 2011 I noticed a sign saying volunteer gardeners needed. Now that my children had grown up I had more time on my hands. It was then that I decided to become one of the volunteer gardeners. My childhood passion for gardening and horticultural knowledge all came back to me and since then I have never looked back. Each week I was helping plant and pick the kitchen produce along with other general kitchen garden duties. I made lots of lovely new friends, all with a common gardening interest.
During open days I noticed we often had many children come along. I would see them wondering around quite happily but thought it would be a good idea to provide them with an area during their visit that I could educate them on how to grow. I put some creative ideas together and it was agreed that I could set up a garden activity in an area where I could produce something for children. The idea was to create large sculptures of people and animals which were actually growing. One of the garden volunteers donated a massive supply of her stockings and tights. I filled these with earth that was seeded with grass seed and shaped them into various forms. There were Koala bears, butterflies, hedgehogs, an elephant, and a 4ft high mole which took four weeks to grow. I wanted to let the children see what each form would look like as the grass gradually germinated and eventually covered the whole sculpture. I also grew a living table with trailing lobelia, ivy and a variety of sedums with a tea party theme on top with some fresh produce. In the following year the theme for the May open day was the 450 anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. For this event I grew a 5ft 5inch high sculpture of him. The children were very excited by all this mad activity – so I judged it to be a success. Adults also were enthusiastic.
My gardening activities at Copped Hall also included the growing of dahlias. In 2014 I won 14 cups for my dahlias, floral art arrangements and home-grown produce at the local horticultural show. At the Epping Christmas Tree festival I decorated a tree on behalf of Copped Hall in the style of a winter wonderland and it got first prize!!
Spurred on by all this I am looking forward to creating more garden themed sculptures for the children at Copped Hall for open days during 2015.
I first visited Copped Hall as part of a school project on tourism in the local area. I don’t really remember much about this first experience of the magic of Copped Hall, but I do remember being shown round the gardens at the time, marvelling at how much beauty could be in one place. Of course, as a teenager my attention was inevitably drawn elsewhere, until many years later when I was drawn back in!I got to know Sylvia Keith whilst working in a local restaurant in Epping. From there she got to know about my love of heritage and history, which had developed and been strengthened through studying a degree in history at the University of Kent. When I moved back to Epping at the end of my studies (and the obligatory trip around the world) Sylvia asked me if I would like to train as a tour guide at Copped Hall. I had not been back to the project since that school days visit and I could not believe how much hard work had been undertaken by all the volunteers! I immediately fell in love and was reminded of the magic that I had felt all those years ago.I trained with Sylvia and Vic Knope as a guide and since then my involvement with the project has spiralled. I joined the Committee of the Friends of the Copped Hall Trust soon afterwards I became part of what some might call the ‘new generation’, passionate about bringing new audiences to Copped Hall and expanding our reach to those people who might not find us with the so called traditional methods. I set up and maintain our Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as working with other members of our publicity sub-committee to send out e-bulletins. Publicity and social media are important components of our tool kit, and sharing Copped Hall with people of all ages is something that will take us further into the future. Last year I was working for The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (which helps projects like Copped Hall) in a communications role. I have seen how these tools have helped projects like ours (although nothing is really like Copped Hall). It’s all about getting the word out and people coming to visit!It was in that role that I had the idea for getting involved with Museums at Night. We are always trying to think of new events to attract people and the idea of an evening event seemed like a great one. It took quite a lot of organising, but with the support of lots of the volunteers and of course, organising the event with Alan Cox, made sure that it was a great success. My specialism at university was Georgian history and I have always loved the social history of this period. Alan and I wanted to showcase what Copped Hall would have been like in the first years of its life. We signed up the Covent Garden Minuet Company for dancing, a harpsichordist and a troop of professional actors (as well as some of our wonderful volunteers!) to show how the principal floor would have been used in 1763. The night itself was very well received by the audience who came along and enjoyed by all. Alan and I have already started to plan the 2015 event, which is very exciting!There are so many things that I love about being part of such a wonderful project. We have an amazing set of volunteers who work flat out at everything they do, everything is a team effort. Mostly I am excited about what the future will bring and how we will adapt in years to come. Seeing the restoration process develop over time has been a marvellous experience; and even though there is much to be done, the finishing line is in sight!This year I will become Vice-Chair of the Friends, supporting Vicky Hoskin in her new role as Chairwoman. I am very excited about what the future holds for our new committee and for Copped Hall, I certainly expect myself to be involved for many years to come. Quite honestly, the magic of Copped Hall is very hard to resist.