ID: RTC_303

TitleCopt Hall - draft statement of significance

The following article describing Copt Hall, Little Wigborough, was probably written for the National Trust, and paints a romantic picture of the area. The author is not known. It was in the papers saved by Bernie Ratcliffe who worked on New Hall Farm.

The 400 acres of Copt Hall combine ancient land use with modern farming practices. Ownership records go back a 1000 years, the names of the former landowners reflecting the history of England.
This gently undulating farmed landscape surrounding the Blackwater Estuary is still ruled by nature, the weather and the seasons. Working the heavy clay land in spring is a gamble, where the weather has all the cards. Until the 1970's the area was dominated by the hedgerow elm trees. Now only a few dead skeletons remain among the salt stunted hedgerows. The land behind the seawall has been won from the sea by enwalling the saltings 2 centuries ago and was then used to graze sheep. The agriculture support in the 1960's paid for the levelling and draining of these rough pastures enabling them to produce arable crops. Today however, rising sea levels threaten these man made barriers and nature may well take back the shoreline it requires to soften the power of the tides and act as a buffer between sea and land.

Reminders of the past blend harmoniously with modern technology. The isolated settlement of church, manor house, workers cottages and cart sheds are joined by a modern grain store. The public walk headlands cultivated and harvested by giant lumbering farm machinery or tread the old green lanes dating back to Roman times.
Sailing barges and smacks still occasionally navigate the channels and creeks, recreating scenes from the Victorian novel Mehalah, but now mingled with the often noisy leisure craft. Mud, salt and high tides, harvest and freshly tilled earth smells reinforce this place of plough and sail.

Beyond the estuary, the apparently featureless landscape under the vast skies reveals, on a clear day, Bradwell power station overshadowing St. Peter's Chapel, the first church in England. In the near distance, toward Mersea, the caravan park cascades down the flanks of the Island, and forms the backdrop for the old oyster shed.

The saltings, glistening at low tide, provide a home and feeding area for many of the estuary birds which make the Blackwater Estuary nationally important. Copt Hall was bought by the National Trust in 1989. In the original survey of the coast carried out for Enterprise Neptune in 1963, the Blackwater Estuary was not identified as being worthy of protection. Today it is greatly valued as an important overwintering site for wildfowl and waders and supports a great range of sea and shore birds. It is also renowned for its sense of isolation. In spite of being so close to the sprawling suburbs of London, Copt Hall still feels spacious, ancient and remote.

In winter, when under towering grey clouds, the icy North Easterlies have driven home the last dog walker and the lone wildfowler, this bleak landscape resounds to the cry of the curlew, shelduck and a thousand geese, resembling more the Arctic tundra than a fragment of the Essex coast.

SourceMersea Museum