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

Kim J. Clark

Persons who lookup genealogy websites usually locate start and relationship records, newspaper clippings, faded photographs or maybe a lengthy-misplaced relative.

Hopwood DePree found a 60-area English manor.

As a boy or girl increasing 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 across the ocean where by his forebears experienced a grand dwelling termed Hopwood Castle.

A castle in Britain owned by his household? Named for his spouse and children? No way.

Speedy ahead 3 and a 50 % many years. Mr. DePree, by then an actor and producer in Los Angeles, was at his laptop early a single evening in the spring of 2013, trawling an ancestry site.

The earlier experienced grow to be a most loved spot for him immediately after Pap’s death in 2008 and, two several years later on, the sudden dying 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 consolation.

That fateful night, he saw a connection to a story about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Hall and an outdated black-and-white photograph of a pretty stately dwelling in Middleton, England, just outside the house Manchester. Increasingly curious, Mr. DePree manufactured some electronic mail inquiries and booked a flight to see firsthand the household seat.

A 50,000-sq.-foot, brick-and-stone manor built in a quadrangle around a timber-framed corridor, Hopwood Hall experienced found far better centuries. The roof leaked prodigiously, dry rot was ascendant, dampness seeped from the walls, plaster was slipping from the ceilings, windows were lacking panes, flooring were missing boards, many sections of the residence experienced been vandalized. Trees have been growing out of the chimneys.

And nevertheless … there have been doorways dotted with rivets from the medieval interval — some sections of the residence date to 1426 — and doors with their initial hand-solid components. The wooden-paneled walls in a single of the parlors ended up embellished with intricate carvings from baseboard to ceiling. The fire in a place known 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 family members motto, “By Levels.”

“When I walked in, I felt something in me improve pretty much immediately. I knew this put was exclusive,” Mr. DePree, 52, explained. “But I was told through that to start with go to that if very little was performed, inside five or 10 yrs, Hopwood Corridor would crumble.”

He chronicles his efforts to help save the corridor in “Downton Shabby: One particular American’s Ultimate Do it yourself Adventure Restoring His Family’s English Castle,” a memoir printed late previous month.

Hopwoods lived in the property until eventually the early 1920s, according to the e-book. But following the two heirs have been killed in the course of World War I, their grieving elderly moms and dads shut up the house and moved to London. A cotton business made use of the corridor throughout Globe War II, and in 1946 an purchase of monks moved in for a couple a long time. By the late 1980s, the residence experienced develop into the duty of the area authority, which experienced neither the will nor the wherewithal to keep it. Then came Mr. DePree.

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

But credit wherever credit rating is owing: The Yank has arrive a prolonged way from the humiliating second when he stood in a parking ton of a Dwelling Depot in Los Angeles, pretty much in tears due to the fact he could not figure out how to do the job the stick-on tiles he experienced bought for his lavatory ground.

“I’ve figured out how to combine mortar and make plaster molds. I have uncovered to do pointing on bricks,” stated Mr. DePree, who offered his house in Los Angeles five decades ago and moved comprehensive time to Middleton to immerse himself in the preservation efforts. “But I wouldn’t say at all that I’m a competent craftsman by any extend of the imagination.”

Even now, he has completed lots of heavy lifting due to the fact 2017, when he signed a contract with the Rochdale Borough Council, the area authority, to think obligation for Hopwood Corridor. (The Council had initial confirmed his familial bona fides.) The offer gave Mr. DePree five a long time to arrive up with a practicable and thoroughly in depth approach to preserve his ancestral household and produce a sustainable model to continue to keep the lights on.

“His quest actually is the stuff of dreams,” Neil Emmott, the chief of the Council, wrote in an e mail. “When we initial heard about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t absolutely sure if they constituted a feasible proposal. Nonetheless, gradually but surely, we have noticed how his hard work and perseverance coupled with the assist of many group volunteers is turning the fantasy into actuality.”

“Hopwood was just sensation his way when I initially met him, but he’s turn into far more self-assured,” reported Geoff Wellens, a local historian. “I truly imagine that if any person can get the job carried out, it is him. It is his family’s outdated household. He has that spouse and children tie.”

Little bit by little bit, Mr. DePree has become the community face of the exertion, its cheerleader in chief and committed fund-raiser. The latest grants from Historic England, a federal government company, and the Rochdale Borough Council overall a lot more than $1 million.

Many thanks to an acquaintance, Mr. DePree was also invited to join Historic Houses, an association comprising the house owners of a lot of of Britain’s most significant personal residences. At the initial gathering of the group that he attended, he satisfied the incredibly welcoming Lord and Girl Carnarvon — “Geordie and Fiona” — the entrepreneurs of Highclere Castle, where by significantly of “Downton Abbey” was shot. He also fulfilled Julian Fellowes, the creator of “Downton Abbey” and the operator of Stafford Residence, a grand pile on the south coastline of England.

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

Quickly soon after his move to Britain, Mr. DePree commenced a YouTube channel, putting up films for good friends and supporters to chart the progress of the restoration. He also wrote a one particular-guy clearly show about his travails and triumphs, and toured it at comedy festivals all over the place.

The value tag for the property improvement is $13 million, with once-a-year functioning prices believed at $800,000, Mr. DePree stated. Proceeds from his exhibit have been contributed to the result in a chunk of the royalties from his ebook will go towards it, also.

“Many nation houses in the U.K. have had to obtain strategies to reinvent by themselves to continue to keep up with the huge expenditures of running, staffing and maintenance, and Hopwood Hall is on a equivalent path,” Mr. DePree stated. He hopes to convert the manor into an arts hub for the nearby neighborhood and a vacationer desired destination. A wedding day destination, too. Hopwood Corridor will have all over 25 bedrooms to accommodate the festivities.

There are now sometimes as a lot of as 30 paid workers and eager volunteers at the hall on a specified day. “We’re transferring ahead pretty quickly,” explained Mr. DePree through a modern Zoom phone as he walked as a result of the carriage entrance, now a holding space for the massive squares of slate that will before long pave the roof. “This year has been thrilling simply because I have been going for walks into rooms that it experienced not been safe to stroll into prior to.”

But progress isn’t always continuous. “A number of months in the past, there was evidence that maybe there were bats in the hall, so we had to right away halt what we have been executing and check out with professionals and do a bat survey, since bats are a shielded species,” he stated.

Flying mammals are among the the numerous problems. Hopwood Hall is also a “Grade 2* listed” constructing, a designation by Historic England for structures of distinct architectural or historical curiosity. Consequently, partitions simply cannot be knocked down willy-nilly a freshly found doorway just cannot be pried open up without having authorization.

Gradually, Mr. DePree has grasped that he is not in Los Angeles any longer. “I’m mastering about heritage abilities and comprehending that you just cannot use modern-day components,” he mentioned.

In other terms, drywall from Dwelling Depot is not an choice. Alternatively, you have to locate some goat hair and, employing medieval techniques, blend it with lime mortar. And no off-the-rack home windows — you have to use precise glass, Mr. DePree claimed, “and load it into a leaded-glass window, which is a total ability unto itself.”

Beneath the conditions of his settlement with the Council, Mr. DePree can transfer into Hopwood Corridor as quickly as it’s harmless to do so — possibly this yr. At some issue, he’ll formally turn into the proprietor of the residence. “We’re finding nearer to the stage that it can be entrusted to me,” he claimed.

“Obviously, the spouse and children link was a advertising point with the Council,” Mr. DePree continued. “I really do not feel any of this would have occurred with out that connection.”

His grandfather, he said, would be very pleased. “He loved record and he beloved his Hopwood id,” Mr. DePree claimed. “Maybe a number of hundred years from now, persons will study about this undertaking and there will be just one or two traces about me.”

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