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This is part of the landscaped grounds of a country house, dating primarily from the C18th and early C19th. The site of the Darlands Lake Nature Reserve, formerly part of Copped Hall and its landscape park, lies towards the centre of a large triangular tract of farmland, bounded to the north by Totteridge Lane, a ribbon development running beside Totteridge Common with large houses in grounds of the C18th, C19th and C20th. Copped Hall stood on the south side of Totteridge Lane, opposite St. Andrew's Church. To the south-west, The Ridgeway presents a similar pattern of development, on the south-eastern side is denser residential development of the C20th. From Totteridge the land slopes away to the south, giving panoramic views towards the Ridgeway. The Darlands Lake Nature Reserve comprises the southern section of the former landscape park at Copped Hall, consisting of Repton's ornamental lake and the wooded belt around it, and a fenced access path from Totteridge Lane. In 1949 it was designated a SSSI for its colony of fritillaries but in 1981 not re-notified as there was evidence that these had been planted.
Copped Hall is first mentioned as being held by John Copwood who died in 1543; it was then held by the Clyffe family until 1632 or later. In the early C18th the hall was in the possession of Joseph da Costa; a bird'-eye view of c.1725 in Badeslade and Roque, Vitruvius Britannicus, 1739, 'A Prospect of Coppeed-Hall at Totteridge in the County of Hertford the Seat of Joseph da Costa Esqr.' shows the hall, three ranges of the C16th style adjacent to a farmyard and out-buildings with a large formal pleasure-ground and deer park. The pleasure grounds are shown comprising a quartered walled garden with statuary, kitchen gardens, walks and terraces, a long water and on the eastern side a wilderness with serpentine walks. A long avenue roughly aligned with the house runs north-south across the park beyond. In 1780 the estate was occupied by William Manning, who planted a circular spinney in 1810 to mark the Jubilee of George III. In c.1799, the year in which he purchased the estate, Manning enclosed the common land between Totteridge Lane and the park wall. His son, later Cardinal Manning, was born in the house in 1808. In 1815 the Manning family moved to Kent, and the house was sold or let.
According to Cardinal Manning's account written in 1881, describing a nostalgic visit he made to Copped Hall (then in the ownership of Samuel Boulton) in that year, the gardens at Copped Hall had been redesigned in the early nineteenth century by his mother and father. 'But what interested me most is the memories of my dear father and mother. They knew all about her laying out the garden and told me that when the brook Dollis was widened out into the lake, as it is called, my mother is said to have spread sheets over the fields to see where the view of the water would be best seen from the house.' Manning described the gardens in 1881 as 'enlarged and greatly improved, but the old outlines remain - a new conservatory where the old was, the dairy unchanged, the rosary - but another and larger beyond it. In front of the house the iron fence is moved far down the field, so as to make a level terrace before the windows, and then a bank and a lower lawn. The trees are preserved everywhere, and are very fine. A garden road runs down all round the water, and returns to the west of the house. I do not know when I have seen anything so beautiful within so small a space.' The hall's owner, Mr. S.B.Boulton 'showed me the clump planted by my father in 1810, for the King's Jubilee (G.III), and the oaks on the lawn, said to be planted by my father and each one of us. True enough there are seven, the eighth is gone. They stand so - ' (there follows a dot diagram showing trees planted in an oval with one missing).
The young Manning was aged only seven or eight when he left Copped Hall for a new home, Coombe Bank in Kent, and while some of the information in his written account of the visit was drawn from memory, the rest was apparently prompted or verified by Boulton. Manning's biographer E.S.Purcell requested a second account of Manning's visit from Boulton for the biography which he published in 1896, which was largely repetitive; Boulton remarked on Manning's 'astonishing memory as to details, considering that he had not seen the place for more than seventy years... I took him to see the spinney planted by his father in commemoration of the jubilee year of George III; and also the 'Lake' a piece of ornamental water of about four and a half acres, laid out by his mother; also the summer house in which Bulwer-Lytton wrote some of his novels.'
Manning's father William was a prosperous West India merchant, a Tory MP from 1798-1830 and governor of the Bank of England from 1812-13. A reference in Humphry Repton's Designs for the Pavilion at Brighton, 1808, describes the execution of a covered corridor like that at Woburn for 'Mr. Manning's Villa at Totteridge,' (the colonnade apparently appears in a contemporary view of the south front of Copped Hall in Knowsley Clutterbuck, see below) and it is possible that William Manning might also have also commissioned Repton to work on the landscape at Copped Hall during the same period, perhaps to 'improve' or contribute a design for the works initiated by his wife. However, no Red Book is known to have survived, and Repton's possible involvement cannot be further substantiated, although the lake and the circular ride connecting it with the house shown on the map of 1850 are typical of Repton's designs . (Repton is also described as the lake's designer in sales particulars of 1850.)
The lake, created by damming and widening the Dollis (now Folly) Brook was in existence by 1815, at the time when the estate passed into the hands of Richard Hall, Esq. of Portland Place, later Sir Richard Hall. As Cardinal Manning described the garden road running 'all round the water' at Copped Hall as a feature of the grounds which was new to him, then the road must date from between 1815-50, and may have formed part of a new programme of improvements instigated by Hall. If Repton had already worked at the house it is conceivable that Hall returned to him, or to his design, to provide further landscaping and lay out the carriage road. Knowsley Clutterbuck gives a view of the south front of the house taken from the lake at about this time, showing a Reptonesque colonnade. In 1850 sales particulars for the estate stated that 'the Pleasure Grounds were laid out by Repton'. At this time the park comprised 73 acres with the lake and boat house, an avenue of elms, timbered park, walled garden, melon ground and vegetable garden. The house with its principal front on the south side commanded views across the park towards Hampstead Heath. The lake formed the main prospect from the house across sloping parkland dotted with trees and copses, and the major feature of the circular route which traversed the perimeter of the park.
Between 1858 until his death in 1873 Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton occupied the house, living also at Knebworth. He ran an experimental dairy at Copped Hall in the 1860s and is said to have written his novel, 'The Last Days of the Barons', in a summerhouse on the estate. He gave the house a new Italianate facade and terrace topped with classical busts. Lytton was followed by a Mrs Kirby, in occupation in the 1870s, and then by Sir Samuel Boulton (1830-1913), Lord of the Manor of Totteridge and a prominent industrialist who enlarged the house, laid out new ornamental avenues and built an icehouse to the south-east of the house. In 1910 a C17th tithe barn at Copped Hall was scheduled as an Ancient Monument.
Copped Hall was demolished in 1929, and by 1935 the present Darlands House had been erected on the site of the house and former farmyard, with a row of smaller houses fronting Totteridge Lane on the site of the former pleasure grounds and kitchen garden, and The Close, a further development on the north-eastern corner of the park between the entrance lodge and C19th icehouse. Many trees planted in the C19th are preserved in the gardens of these houses, and the remains of a plantation of the C18th and C19th survive at the eastern end of The Close. Darlands House itself stands in large gardens thickly planted with many mature C19th specimen trees which still open onto the former park to the south, and can be viewed from a farm track close to the start of the path to the nature reserve. The open park between the former house and lake has become farmland, left as rough pasture. In consequence much of the former park's extent of 73 acres is in separate private ownership and inaccessible.
In 1982 the Darlands Lake Nature Reserve was created when a 21 year lease on the lake and its curtilege was granted to the R.S.N.C. Wildlife Partnership by Barnet Council. Immediately prior to this the lake was used as a wildfowl refuge. In the 1960's (1949 according to London Ecology Unit) a colony of Fritillary plants was discovered on the site leading to its designation as an S.S.S.I. by the Nature Conservancy Council, later rescinded when plants found to not be naturally occurring.
The main approach is via a footpath from The Close on Totteridge Lane, quite close to the site of the C19th entrance drive, which joins the a tree-lined pathway following the C19th route from the former pleasure grounds to Repton's lake, passing close to Manning's copse of 1810, a stand of mixed mature deciduous and coniferous trees. The prospects across the former park, now mainly rough farmland, are still open and recognisable, particularly that from the edge of woodland on the north side of the lake looking back towards the house, although saplings and undergrowth have blocked views of the lake from the present house. The lake now lies at the centre of a thickly wooded belt with many mature oaks, some coniferous specimens, willow, holly and rhododendron. It retains its C19th serpentine outline, with the embanked dam at its eastern tip at the head of a small, thickly wooded plantation with vestiges of a C19th layout of serpentine paths. At either end of the lake the feeder brook runs through stone and brick-work culverts, now much broken and decayed; the lake is considerably silted up and the depth of water much reduced. A narrow perimeter path encircles the lake, with a derelict C20th boathouse on the south-western bank.
The reserve is managed and maintained by a site warden and local volunteers who attempt to maintain paths and water-courses and log fallen trees. Open glades have been established in parts of the woodlands where non-indigenous trees had proliferated. As the lake has continued to fill up with silt and leaves, the Trust has considered the viability of dredging and clearing its banks, but in view of the prohibitive expense they have instead concentrated on clearing the feeder streams to increase the water flow. The preservation of an open stretch of well-oxygenated water is imperative to maintain the habitats and breeding grounds of a number of rare water-fowl.
Victoria County History Vol. III; Dictionary of National Biography; ES Purcell, 'The Life of Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster', (London, 1896) G Carter et al, 'Humphry Repton Landscape Gardener 1752-1818', (Norwich, 1982); LB Barnet Library Services, 'Local Maps and Views, 1600-1850', (London, 1972); J Thorne, 'Handbook to the Environs of London' (1876); R Clutterbuck, 'The History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford', Vol. II, 1821; Knowsley Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire Illustrated, Vol. 7, c.1832-40, P460A, Herts. Record Office; Indenture between William Manning and Richard Hall of Portland Place, 31st July 1815, D/ERmT2, Herts. Record Office; Deeds, Copped Hall 1722-99,D/ERmT1, Herts. Record Office; Sales Catalogue Copped Hall 1850 (includes map), Ref. D/ERmE2, Herts. Record Office