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

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


People today who search genealogy internet sites typically discover birth and relationship data, newspaper clippings, pale images or it’s possible a lengthy-lost relative.

Hopwood DePree discovered a 60-home English manor.

As a baby rising up in Holland, Mich., in the 1970s, Mr. DePree was transfixed when his beloved maternal grandfather, Pap, a historical past buff, informed him about a big slice of rolling land throughout the ocean in which his forebears experienced a grand dwelling called Hopwood Castle.

A castle in Britain owned by his loved ones? Named for his family? No way.

Fast ahead 3 and a 50 percent decades. Mr. DePree, by then an actor and producer in Los Angeles, was at his computer early just one night in the spring of 2013, trawling an ancestry internet site.

The earlier had turn into a preferred destination for him following Pap’s loss of life in 2008 and, two yrs later on, the unexpected death of his father, Thomas, from a massive coronary heart attack. Mr. DePree was still left unmoored, uncertain about the way forward. Tracing his roots was a convenience.

That fateful night, he noticed a website link to a story about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Corridor and an previous black-and-white image of a quite stately home in Middleton, England, just exterior Manchester. More and more curious, Mr. DePree designed some e mail inquiries and booked a flight to see firsthand the relatives seat.

A 50,000-square-foot, brick-and-stone manor designed in a quadrangle all over a timber-framed hall, Hopwood Hall had witnessed much better generations. The roof leaked prodigiously, dry rot was ascendant, moisture seeped from the walls, plaster was falling from the ceilings, windows had been missing panes, floors were lacking boards, several sections of the household experienced been vandalized. Trees were being increasing out of the chimneys.

And but … there were being doorways dotted with rivets from the medieval time period — some sections of the residence date to 1426 — and doorways with their primary hand-forged hardware. The wood-paneled partitions in a single of the parlors were being decorated with intricate carvings from baseboard to ceiling. The fireplace in a room recognized as the reception corridor was embellished with an iteration of the Hopwood family coat of arms the family’s heraldic animal, a stag and the Hopwood relatives motto, “By Levels.”

“When I walked in, I felt a thing in me transform virtually straight away. I understood this area was special,” Mr. DePree, 52, stated. “But I was instructed for the duration of that very first stop by that if almost nothing was performed, within just 5 or 10 many years, Hopwood Hall would crumble.”

He chronicles his attempts to help save the corridor in “Downton Shabby: One particular American’s Final Do-it-yourself Experience Restoring His Family’s English Castle,” a memoir released late last month.

Hopwoods lived in the household until eventually the early 1920s, according to the reserve. But after the two heirs had been killed all through Earth War I, their grieving elderly mothers and fathers closed up the residence and moved to London. A cotton company utilized the hall throughout World War II, and in 1946 an get of monks moved in for a couple decades. By the late 1980s, the home experienced turn out to be the obligation of the area authority, which experienced neither the will nor the wherewithal to maintain it. Then arrived Mr. DePree.

The “DIY” in the book’s title is, perhaps, far more than a bit misleading: Mr. DePree, who bears a passing resemblance to Owen Wilson, is not the guy reglazing the home windows, plastering the partitions, stabilizing the foundation or replacing floorboards. Hopwood Hall’s longtime caretaker, Bob Wall, has joked that the acronym really stands for “Dim Inexperienced Yank.”

But credit rating wherever credit score is due: The Yank has occur a extensive way from the humiliating moment when he stood in a parking ton of a Household Depot in Los Angeles, just about in tears due to the fact he could not figure out how to do the job the adhere-on tiles he had purchased for his bathroom ground.

“I’ve acquired how to mix mortar and make plaster molds. I have learned to do pointing on bricks,” reported Mr. DePree, who marketed his home in Los Angeles five years back and moved entire time to Middleton to immerse himself in the preservation endeavours. “But I would not say at all that I’m a skilled craftsman by any stretch of the creativity.”

Continue to, he has carried out a good deal of large lifting since 2017, when he signed a contract with the Rochdale Borough Council, the community authority, to believe obligation for Hopwood Hall. (The Council experienced 1st confirmed his familial bona fides.) The offer gave Mr. DePree 5 a long time to come up with a practicable and totally detailed approach to help save his ancestral property and generate a sustainable design to maintain the lights on.

“His quest actually is the stuff of desires,” Neil Emmott, the chief of the Council, wrote in an email. “When we first read about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t confident if they constituted a viable proposal. Even so, slowly and gradually but absolutely, we have seen how his tricky perform and perseverance coupled with the assistance of lots of local community volunteers is turning the fantasy into actuality.”

“Hopwood was just experience his way when I 1st fulfilled him, but he’s develop into more assured,” stated Geoff Wellens, a regional historian. “I truly believe that that if any person can get the work completed, it is him. It’s his family’s previous dwelling. He has that family tie.”

Little bit by bit, Mr. DePree has grow to be the public facial area of the effort and hard work, its cheerleader in chief and devoted fund-raiser. New grants from Historic England, a governing administration company, and the Rochdale Borough Council complete much more than $1 million.

Thanks to an acquaintance, Mr. DePree was also invited to be part of Historic Residences, an affiliation comprising the entrepreneurs of lots of of Britain’s largest non-public residences. At the very first collecting of the team that he attended, he fulfilled the incredibly welcoming Lord and Girl Carnarvon — “Geordie and Fiona” — the proprietors of Highclere Castle, exactly where much of “Downton Abbey” was shot. He also satisfied Julian Fellowes, the creator of “Downton Abbey” and the proprietor of Stafford Household, a grand pile on the south coastline of England.

“Start with the roof,” Mr. Fellowes advised the newbie about Hopwood Hall. “Make guaranteed it is dry and go from there.”

Before long immediately after his transfer to Britain, Mr. DePree begun a YouTube channel, submitting video clips for friends and supporters to chart the development of the restoration. He also wrote a one particular-person show about his travails and triumphs, and toured it at comedy festivals around the nation.

The rate tag for the home enhancement is $13 million, with annual operating prices believed at $800,000, Mr. DePree reported. Proceeds from his clearly show have been contributed to the trigger a chunk of the royalties from his guide will go toward it, also.

“Many place homes in the U.K. have had to find methods to reinvent them selves to retain up with the huge charges of operating, staffing and routine maintenance, and Hopwood Corridor is on a identical route,” Mr. DePree explained. He hopes to switch the manor into an arts hub for the regional local community and a tourist place. A wedding desired destination, far too. Hopwood Corridor will have all around 25 bedrooms to accommodate the festivities.

There are now at times as quite a few as 30 paid out employees and keen volunteers at the hall on a supplied working day. “We’re relocating forward fairly immediately,” claimed Mr. DePree during a the latest Zoom phone as he walked as a result of the carriage entrance, at this time a keeping area for the big squares of slate that will before long pave the roof. “This calendar year has been remarkable because I have been going for walks into rooms that it experienced not been safe to walk into ahead of.”

But development isn’t always continual. “A handful of months in the past, there was evidence that probably there were bats in the hall, so we had to promptly halt what we were doing and verify with specialists and do a bat survey, due to the fact bats are a secured species,” he stated.

Traveling mammals are among the the lots of complications. Hopwood Hall is also a “Grade 2* listed” setting up, a designation by Historic England for buildings of particular architectural or historical desire. Therefore, walls cannot be knocked down willy-nilly a newly uncovered doorway can not be pried open up with out permission.

Gradually, Mr. DePree has grasped that he isn’t in Los Angeles any more. “I’m understanding about heritage techniques and knowing that you cannot use modern-day supplies,” he said.

In other terms, drywall from Home Depot is not an solution. Alternatively, you have to find some goat hair and, using medieval tactics, mix it with lime mortar. And no off-the-rack windows — you have to use certain glass, Mr. DePree explained, “and load it into a leaded-glass window, which is a whole talent unto alone.”

Below the terms of his arrangement with the Council, Mr. DePree can move into Hopwood Hall as shortly as it is protected to do so — probably this calendar year. At some issue, he’ll formally turn into the proprietor of the assets. “We’re finding closer to the position that it can be entrusted to me,” he claimed.

“Obviously, the loved ones relationship was a selling place with the Council,” Mr. DePree continued. “I never believe any of this would have transpired without having that link.”

His grandfather, he said, would be proud. “He cherished history and he loved his Hopwood identity,” Mr. DePree explained. “Maybe various hundred years from now, men and women will read through about this challenge and there will be 1 or two strains about me.”

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