- Before: Adam Holt's 1738 plan of Coopersale (D/EAH acc6 199.21), Reproduced by permission of the Berkshire Record Office
- After: Detail of Chapman and Andre map of Essex 1777 Reproduced by courtesy of Essex Record Office
In 1774 Lancelot “Capability” Brown advised John Archer on improvements to the small park at Coopersale, Epping, Essex.
Brown’s account book shows that he visited the 11-hectare (27 acres) park at Coopersale House in 1774 and produced a plan. Maps from the 18th century suggest that the shape of the existing lake was altered after Brown’s visits, but there are doubts over whether the work was ever done. Brown may also have advised owner John Archer about diverting the public road away from the house.
John Archer consulted Brown about making improvements to the park at Coopersale in the mid-1770s. Brown’s account book (see online) shows that he received £36 and 15 shillings (more than £58,000 in 2015) in March 1774 from “Archer, Coopersale” for “journeys and Plans”. Archer’s daughter married Jacob Houblon, who owned Hallingbury and Hatfield Forest, where Brown had already worked.
Brown’s plans for Coopersale have not survived and the estate was shut up less than two years later, following the death of Archer’s wife, Lady Mary. It is unlikely that much work on Brown’s design could have been done in that short time or that it would have survived the following years of neglect.
Changing the lake
At the time of Brown’s visit the main lake at Coopersale was an irregular polygon shape. An existing lake had already been altered in 1738 by designer Adam Holt (whose plan is shown above), as part of a scheme for then owner William Eyre Archer. It is thought that Brown’s plan included altering the lake to make a longer sheet of water, with a softer outline.
On both the Chapman and André map of 1777 (see online) and the Ordnance Survey drawing of 1799 the lake has been extended beyond the pleasure ground and tapers to the north-west. However, later maps show the lake without this 'extension' and looking very much like Adam Holt’s design. This could be because the lake had silted up over the years and returned to its original shape. It is more likely that Brown’s changes were never made and that the maps reflect the owner’s plans rather than a survey of what was actually there.
It has also been suggested that Brown gave advice to John Archer some time earlier than 1774 about moving the public road (now called Houblons Hill). In the summer of 1770 John Archer was granted a highway diversion order for this road, which had run along the east of the property close to the front of his house. Later maps show that this change was made. The new road was also cut into the hillside, a few feet below the level of the enlarged grounds. This is the type of improvement that Brown would have made so that the road didn't interrupt the view.
The estate lay empty until 1800 and was eventually sold by the Archer Houblon family in 1914. It remains in private ownership and the house and gardens are listed Grade II.
Lancelot Brown and his Essex Clients: A Gazetteer of Sites in Essex Associated with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783, Essex Gardens Trust, 2015
John Chapman and Peter André, A Map of the County of Essex 1777: www.chapmanandremapofessex.co.uk/
Capability Brown's account book, page 110: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001485