As many of you will be aware the archaeological investigations at Copped Hall have been running for a number of years. However, fewer may be aware of who runs this project. The archaeology is carried out by the Copped Hall Trust Archaeology Project (CHTAP) - a group formed by the Trust in partnership with the West Essex Archaeological Group (WEAG) who are a group of both amateur and professional archaeologists. The group has worked on many notable local sites over the years, such as the Little London Roman Bath House, Wanstead’s great lost Roman Villa and, most famously, Harlow’s Roman Temple. All related research papers were fully published to a professional standard, as the results of our investigations at Copped Hall will be in due course.
In 2001 WEAG was invited by the Trust to carry out excavations at Copped Hall. The first trenches we excavated were to investigate the standing remain.
Fifteen years since our first trench, we are still engaged with the Trust in this fascinating project. There are many interesting questions outstanding such as the nature of the Tudor and later gardens and the full extent of the medieval moat. There also remain many unknowns about the earlier house and its outbuildings.
WEAG has now been at Copped Hall for 17 years but in fact 2018 is our 60th anniversary, an occasion celebrated during the last open day at the house.
This year we have investigated the substantial walls to the west of the Elizabethan house, remodelled several times over the centuries. When first constructed these walls were almost a metre wide and were likely to have stood to a great height. Close inspection of the bricks suggests that it may be as early as c.1500, approximately the same time as the monks built the medieval building - later incorporated into the Tudor house. The substantial nature of the building and the use of such high quality bricks would suggest that this was also a building of high status. To the west there is yet another set of walls. These are of very poor quality construction and were built after the first modification to the former wall.
Last year we continued our investigation of the life history of the staircase in the gardens. This is becoming more complicated than first suspected. It would appear that when the retaining wall was installed to create the change in level, a staircase was built into the wall and this was later modified to the elegant staircase with sweeping balustrades that can be seen in the 1735 Farmer drawing.
When most people think of archaeologists they usually imagine people outside digging in muddy holes. The truth is very often that for every hour spent digging there can be up to 10 hours of post excavation work, from simply cleaning the tools to drawing complex site plans and the recording of archaeological layers. One of the most time consuming tasks is the recording and interpretation of the finds. The vast majority of these are objects such as brick and tile which, while they can reveal many fascinating details of the site, only do so after much complicated processing. Occasionally objects with a more instant and intimate story to tell come to light and this is a note on one such find from Copped Hall.
As most of you will know, Queen Mary I was a one time resident of Old Copt Hall and perhaps most famously a strict Roman Catholic even under the rule of her staunchly protestant brother Edward VI. On 28 August 1551, Sir Anthony Wingfield, Lord Chancellor Richard Rich and Sir William Petre went to Old Copt Hall to order Princess Mary Tudor and her household to stop hearing the Catholic Mass.
Mary treated their authority with contempt and stated in her reply that she was prepared to die for her faith. She also demanded the return of senior members of her household who had been imprisoned by the king. They were returned. A most fascinating personal glimpse into this story is the plaquette discovered in our excavations in 2009. This small pipe clay object is inscribed with the words ‘Sancta Maria Mater Dei Ora Pro Noblis’ - ‘Holy Mary Mother of God Pray for Us’ which comes from the Catholic prayer ‘The Hail Mary’. This inscription, along with the 16thC date would suggest that the object belonged to Queen Mary or a member of her household.
This year WEAG (West Essex Archaeological Group) will be continuing our excavations of Old Copt Hall. Let’s hope that we find another object with such a fascinating story to tell. If you would like to help us in our search for Old Copt Hall’s rich history then please check the Trust’s website for details of how you can participate. These details can also be found on the WEAG website along with a much more detailed story of the archaeology.