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

Persons who search genealogy websites frequently uncover delivery and marriage data, newspaper clippings, pale photographs or perhaps a lengthy-dropped relative.

Hopwood DePree located a 60-place English manor.

As a youngster increasing up in Holland, Mich., in the 1970s, Mr. DePree was transfixed when his beloved maternal grandfather, Pap, a history buff, advised him about a big slice of rolling land throughout the ocean in which his forebears had a grand household termed Hopwood Castle.

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

Fast forward three and a 50 percent a long time. Mr. DePree, by then an actor and producer in Los Angeles, was at his laptop or computer early just one evening in the spring of 2013, trawling an ancestry internet site.

The past had develop into a favorite place for him soon after Pap’s loss of life in 2008 and, two many years afterwards, the sudden loss of life of his father, Thomas, from a large heart attack. Mr. DePree was remaining unmoored, unsure about the way ahead. Tracing his roots was a comfort and ease.

That fateful evening, he saw a url to a story about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Hall and an aged black-and-white photo of a very stately dwelling in Middleton, England, just exterior Manchester. Progressively curious, Mr. DePree made some e mail inquiries and booked a flight to see firsthand the family seat.

A 50,000-sq.-foot, brick-and-stone manor designed in a quadrangle all around a timber-framed hall, Hopwood Corridor had witnessed superior generations. The roof leaked prodigiously, dry rot was ascendant, humidity seeped from the walls, plaster was slipping from the ceilings, windows ended up lacking panes, floors were being lacking boards, a lot of sections of the household experienced been vandalized. Trees were increasing out of the chimneys.

And nevertheless … there were doors dotted with rivets from the medieval interval — some sections of the property date to 1426 — and doors with their unique hand-solid components. The wooden-paneled walls in a single of the parlors were adorned with intricate carvings from baseboard to ceiling. The hearth in a room regarded as the reception hall was embellished with an iteration of the Hopwood family members coat of arms the family’s heraldic animal, a stag and the Hopwood family motto, “By Levels.”

“When I walked in, I felt some thing in me change virtually right away. I understood this place was special,” Mr. DePree, 52, said. “But I was informed all through that very first pay a visit to that if very little was performed, inside five or 10 years, Hopwood Hall would crumble.”

He chronicles his efforts to preserve the corridor in “Downton Shabby: One particular American’s Top Do it yourself Adventure Restoring His Family’s English Castle,” a memoir revealed late last month.

Hopwoods lived in the residence until the early 1920s, in accordance to the e-book. But immediately after the two heirs were being killed all through Entire world War I, their grieving elderly mom and dad closed up the property and moved to London. A cotton enterprise utilized the corridor throughout World War II, and in 1946 an purchase of monks moved in for a couple many years. By the late 1980s, the property had come to be the duty of the local authority, which experienced neither the will nor the wherewithal to sustain it. Then arrived Mr. DePree.

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

But credit history where credit is owing: The Yank has come a extended way from the humiliating minute when he stood in a parking great deal of a House Depot in Los Angeles, nearly in tears because he couldn’t figure out how to operate the adhere-on tiles he had purchased for his toilet flooring.

“I’ve acquired how to blend mortar and make plaster molds. I’ve learned to do pointing on bricks,” reported Mr. DePree, who marketed his dwelling in Los Angeles 5 many years back and moved complete time to Middleton to immerse himself in the preservation initiatives. “But I wouldn’t say at all that I’m a qualified craftsman by any extend of the creativity.”

Continue to, he has done plenty of major lifting considering the fact that 2017, when he signed a agreement with the Rochdale Borough Council, the nearby authority, to assume accountability for Hopwood Corridor. (The Council had first verified his familial bona fides.) The offer gave Mr. DePree 5 decades to arrive up with a practicable and entirely comprehensive approach to help save his ancestral residence and develop a sustainable product to hold the lights on.

“His quest genuinely is the things of dreams,” Neil Emmott, the leader of the Council, wrote in an e-mail. “When we initial listened to about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t certain if they constituted a feasible proposal. Even so, slowly and gradually but undoubtedly, we have observed how his really hard function and determination coupled with the aid of several local community volunteers is turning the fantasy into reality.”

“Hopwood was just emotion his way when I 1st satisfied him, but he’s come to be a lot more self-assured,” claimed Geoff Wellens, a neighborhood historian. “I certainly imagine that if everyone can get the task done, it is him. It is his family’s old household. He has that household tie.”

Bit by little bit, Mr. DePree has turn into the general public deal with of the effort, its cheerleader in chief and dedicated fund-raiser. The latest grants from Historic England, a govt company, and the Rochdale Borough Council total more than $1 million.

Many thanks to an acquaintance, Mr. DePree was also invited to be part of Historic Homes, an association comprising the entrepreneurs of lots of of Britain’s biggest personal residences. At the first collecting of the team that he attended, he satisfied the incredibly welcoming Lord and Lady Carnarvon — “Geordie and Fiona” — the entrepreneurs of Highclere Castle, in which significantly of “Downton Abbey” was shot. He also fulfilled Julian Fellowes, the creator of “Downton Abbey” and the operator of Stafford House, a grand pile on the south coastline of England.

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

Quickly soon after his go to Britain, Mr. DePree started off a YouTube channel, posting videos for close friends and supporters to chart the progress of the restoration. He also wrote a a single-man present about his travails and triumphs, and toured it at comedy festivals around the region.

The rate tag for the house enhancement is $13 million, with once-a-year functioning prices believed at $800,000, Mr. DePree stated. Proceeds from his display have been contributed to the result in a chunk of the royalties from his book will go towards it, far too.

“Many region houses in the U.K. have experienced to uncover strategies to reinvent by themselves to preserve up with the huge expenses of operating, staffing and servicing, and Hopwood Corridor is on a comparable route,” Mr. DePree mentioned. He hopes to turn the manor into an arts hub for the nearby neighborhood and a tourist destination. A marriage ceremony destination, also. Hopwood Hall will have close to 25 bedrooms to accommodate the festivities.

There are now from time to time as several as 30 paid personnel and keen volunteers at the hall on a supplied day. “We’re shifting ahead really swiftly,” stated Mr. DePree during a new Zoom call as he walked via the carriage entrance, now a keeping spot for the massive squares of slate that will quickly pave the roof. “This yr has been thrilling simply because I’ve been walking into rooms that it experienced not been risk-free to walk into right before.”

But development isn’t always steady. “A several months ago, there was evidence that perhaps there were being bats in the corridor, so we experienced to immediately halt what we have been accomplishing and check out with industry experts and do a bat study, since bats are a secured species,” he mentioned.

Traveling mammals are among the the quite a few problems. Hopwood Corridor is also a “Grade 2* listed” making, a designation by Historic England for buildings of unique architectural or historical interest. For that reason, partitions simply cannot be knocked down willy-nilly a recently learned door just cannot be pried open devoid of authorization.

Slowly and gradually, Mr. DePree has grasped that he is not in Los Angeles anymore. “I’m discovering about heritage skills and being familiar with that you just can’t use present day elements,” he mentioned.

In other words, drywall from Dwelling Depot is not an solution. As a substitute, you have to locate some goat hair and, utilizing medieval approaches, mix it with lime mortar. And no off-the-rack windows — you have to use particular glass, Mr. DePree explained, “and load it into a leaded-glass window, which is a full talent unto alone.”

Underneath the conditions of his agreement with the Council, Mr. DePree can go into Hopwood Hall as soon as it’s safe to do so — possibly this calendar year. At some position, he’ll officially turn out to be the owner of the house. “We’re receiving nearer to the point that it can be entrusted to me,” he stated.

“Obviously, the relatives connection was a promoting level with the Council,” Mr. DePree continued. “I really don’t feel any of this would have happened with out that relationship.”

His grandfather, he stated, would be very pleased. “He beloved background and he cherished his Hopwood id,” Mr. DePree said. “Maybe numerous hundred yrs from now, men and women will read about this task and there will be one or two strains about me.”

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