‘Downton Shabby’: A Commoner Takes on an English Castle


Individuals who research genealogy web-sites generally uncover beginning and marriage data, newspaper clippings, faded pictures or it’s possible a extended-lost relative.

Hopwood DePree observed a 60-area English manor.

As a child rising up in Holland, Mich., in the 1970s, Mr. DePree was transfixed when his beloved maternal grandfather, Pap, a record buff, advised him about a enormous slice of rolling land throughout the ocean where by his forebears had a grand residence identified as Hopwood Castle.

A castle in Britain owned by his relatives? Named for his family members? No way.

Quickly ahead three and a fifty percent many years. Mr. DePree, by then an actor and producer in Los Angeles, was at his pc early a person evening in the spring of 2013, trawling an ancestry web page.

The past had come to be a preferred desired destination for him right after Pap’s dying in 2008 and, two many years later, the sudden death of his father, Thomas, from a massive coronary heart assault. Mr. DePree was remaining unmoored, uncertain about the way forward. Tracing his roots was a comfort and ease.

That fateful evening, he observed a link to a story about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Corridor and an previous black-and-white photo of a extremely stately home in Middleton, England, just outdoors Manchester. Increasingly curious, Mr. DePree produced some electronic mail inquiries and booked a flight to see firsthand the relatives seat.

A 50,000-square-foot, brick-and-stone manor developed in a quadrangle around a timber-framed hall, Hopwood Corridor had viewed superior centuries. The roof leaked prodigiously, dry rot was ascendant, dampness seeped from the partitions, plaster was falling from the ceilings, windows have been lacking panes, floors were being lacking boards, numerous sections of the property experienced been vandalized. Trees have been developing out of the chimneys.

And yet … there were being doors dotted with rivets from the medieval period of time — some sections of the property date to 1426 — and doors with their first hand-cast components. The wooden-paneled walls in 1 of the parlors had been decorated with intricate carvings from baseboard to ceiling. The fire in a home recognized as the reception corridor was embellished with an iteration of the Hopwood spouse and children coat of arms the family’s heraldic animal, a stag and the Hopwood relatives motto, “By Levels.”

“When I walked in, I felt anything in me alter almost quickly. I realized this area was particular,” Mr. DePree, 52, reported. “But I was advised in the course of that first visit that if practically nothing was finished, inside five or 10 many years, Hopwood Hall would crumble.”

He chronicles his initiatives to preserve the corridor in “Downton Shabby: A person American’s Best Diy Journey Restoring His Family’s English Castle,” a memoir released late previous thirty day period.

Hopwoods lived in the residence right until the early 1920s, in accordance to the guide. But just after the two heirs were killed for the duration of Planet War I, their grieving aged mom and dad closed up the house and moved to London. A cotton enterprise used the corridor in the course of Planet War II, and in 1946 an buy of monks moved in for a couple decades. By the late 1980s, the property had grow to be the responsibility of the regional authority, which had neither the will nor the wherewithal to sustain it. Then came Mr. DePree.

The “DIY” in the book’s title is, most likely, a lot more than a little bit misleading: Mr. DePree, who bears a passing resemblance to Owen Wilson, isn’t the guy reglazing the windows, plastering the walls, stabilizing the foundation or changing floorboards. Hopwood Hall’s longtime caretaker, Bob Wall, has joked that the acronym truly stands for “Dim Inexperienced Yank.”

But credit rating the place credit is owing: The Yank has occur a long way from the humiliating moment when he stood in a parking large amount of a Home Depot in Los Angeles, virtually in tears because he couldn’t determine out how to do the job the stick-on tiles he experienced bought for his rest room ground.

“I’ve acquired how to blend mortar and make plaster molds. I’ve acquired to do pointing on bricks,” stated Mr. DePree, who offered his property in Los Angeles five yrs ago and moved whole time to Middleton to immerse himself in the preservation attempts. “But I wouldn’t say at all that I’m a experienced craftsman by any stretch of the creativity.”

Nevertheless, he has finished lots of large lifting due to the fact 2017, when he signed a deal with the Rochdale Borough Council, the area authority, to presume responsibility for Hopwood Hall. (The Council experienced 1st verified his familial bona fides.) The offer gave Mr. DePree 5 years to occur up with a practicable and fully in depth strategy to help save his ancestral house and create a sustainable model to preserve the lights on.

“His quest truly is the stuff of goals,” Neil Emmott, the chief of the Council, wrote in an e-mail. “When we 1st listened to about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t confident if they constituted a practical proposal. Nevertheless, gradually but undoubtedly, we have seen how his difficult perform and resolve coupled with the assistance of a lot of community volunteers is turning the fantasy into actuality.”

“Hopwood was just emotion his way when I first fulfilled him, but he’s become far more self-assured,” stated Geoff Wellens, a regional historian. “I certainly believe that that if anybody can get the job done, it is him. It is his family’s outdated house. He has that loved ones tie.”

Bit by little bit, Mr. DePree has turn out to be the general public confront of the hard work, its cheerleader in main and dedicated fund-raiser. Latest grants from Historic England, a government agency, and the Rochdale Borough Council full more than $1 million.

Thanks to an acquaintance, Mr. DePree was also invited to sign up for Historic Residences, an association comprising the proprietors of quite a few of Britain’s greatest private residences. At the first gathering of the group that he attended, he met the extremely welcoming Lord and Girl Carnarvon — “Geordie and Fiona” — the homeowners of Highclere Castle, where by substantially of “Downton Abbey” was shot. He also met Julian Fellowes, the creator of “Downton Abbey” and the owner of Stafford Residence, a grand pile on the south coastline of England.

“Start with the roof,” Mr. Fellowes encouraged the beginner about Hopwood Corridor. “Make absolutely sure it is dry and go from there.”

Quickly following his go to Britain, Mr. DePree begun a YouTube channel, posting films for close friends and supporters to chart the development of the restoration. He also wrote a a single-gentleman present about his travails and triumphs, and toured it at comedy festivals all over the place.

The cost tag for the home enhancement is $13 million, with annual functioning expenses believed at $800,000, Mr. DePree stated. Proceeds from his demonstrate have been contributed to the trigger a chunk of the royalties from his ebook will go toward it, also.

“Many country homes in the U.K. have had to locate ways to reinvent on their own to continue to keep up with the massive expenditures of running, staffing and routine maintenance, and Hopwood Corridor is on a very similar path,” Mr. DePree stated. He hopes to switch the manor into an arts hub for the regional community and a tourist spot. A wedding ceremony place, much too. Hopwood Hall will have all over 25 bedrooms to accommodate the festivities.

There are now sometimes as many as 30 paid personnel and keen volunteers at the hall on a presented working day. “We’re transferring ahead very speedily,” mentioned Mr. DePree through a modern Zoom call as he walked via the carriage entrance, at this time a holding region for the significant squares of slate that will soon pave the roof. “This year has been fascinating for the reason that I have been going for walks into rooms that it experienced not been protected to walk into ahead of.”

But development isn’t essentially continual. “A few months back, there was evidence that probably there were being bats in the hall, so we had to promptly halt what we were doing and check out with specialists and do a bat study, due to the fact bats are a secured species,” he explained.

Flying mammals are between the quite a few troubles. Hopwood Hall is also a “Grade 2* listed” setting up, a designation by Historic England for structures of specific architectural or historic desire. Therefore, partitions just cannot be knocked down willy-nilly a freshly found doorway can not be pried open up without having permission.

Slowly and gradually, Mr. DePree has grasped that he is not in Los Angeles anymore. “I’m discovering about heritage abilities and comprehending that you simply cannot use modern day materials,” he said.

In other words and phrases, drywall from House Depot is not an possibility. Rather, you have to track down some goat hair and, employing medieval techniques, mix it with lime mortar. And no off-the-rack windows — you have to use specific glass, Mr. DePree said, “and load it into a leaded-glass window, which is a full skill unto itself.”

Below the phrases of his settlement with the Council, Mr. DePree can go into Hopwood Corridor as shortly as it’s safe to do so — possibly this yr. At some place, he’ll formally come to be the proprietor of the assets. “We’re finding closer to the stage that it can be entrusted to me,” he reported.

“Obviously, the household connection was a promoting level with the Council,” Mr. DePree continued. “I really do not believe any of this would have took place with out that connection.”

His grandfather, he explained, would be very pleased. “He beloved background and he liked his Hopwood identity,” Mr. DePree claimed. “Maybe quite a few hundred decades from now, folks will go through about this challenge and there will be one or two strains about me.”

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Angela M. Arriola

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