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

People today who research genealogy sites frequently locate birth and marriage data, newspaper clippings, light pictures or probably a extended-missing relative.

Hopwood DePree discovered a 60-place English manor.

As a kid increasing up in Holland, Mich., in the 1970s, Mr. DePree was transfixed when his beloved maternal grandfather, Pap, a background buff, told him about a big slice of rolling land throughout the ocean where his forebears had a grand dwelling termed Hopwood Castle.

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

Rapidly forward a few and a half a long time. Mr. DePree, by then an actor and producer in Los Angeles, was at his computer early a person night time in the spring of 2013, trawling an ancestry internet site.

The earlier experienced grow to be a favorite desired destination for him immediately after Pap’s dying in 2008 and, two yrs later, the sudden dying of his father, Thomas, from a substantial heart assault. Mr. DePree was still left unmoored, uncertain about the way ahead. Tracing his roots was a consolation.

That fateful night, he saw a url to a tale about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Hall and an outdated black-and-white photograph of a very stately property in Middleton, England, just outside Manchester. Increasingly 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 constructed in a quadrangle all around a timber-framed corridor, Hopwood Corridor had viewed greater generations. The roof leaked prodigiously, dry rot was ascendant, dampness seeped from the partitions, plaster was slipping from the ceilings, windows ended up lacking panes, floors were being missing boards, numerous sections of the household experienced been vandalized. Trees were developing out of the chimneys.

And still … there were doors dotted with rivets from the medieval period — some sections of the household date to 1426 — and doorways with their original hand-forged components. The wooden-paneled walls in 1 of the parlors ended up decorated with intricate carvings from baseboard to ceiling. The fire in a place recognised as the reception hall was embellished with an iteration of the Hopwood family coat of arms the family’s heraldic animal, a stag and the Hopwood loved ones motto, “By Degrees.”

“When I walked in, I felt a little something in me transform almost right away. I realized this put was particular,” Mr. DePree, 52, reported. “But I was advised through that first go to that if nothing was completed, in 5 or 10 yrs, Hopwood Corridor would crumble.”

He chronicles his endeavours to help you save the hall in “Downton Shabby: A single American’s Supreme Do it yourself Journey Restoring His Family’s English Castle,” a memoir posted late last thirty day period.

Hopwoods lived in the dwelling right up until the early 1920s, according to the ebook. But immediately after the two heirs were being killed through Entire world War I, their grieving aged mom and dad closed up the residence and moved to London. A cotton enterprise applied the corridor during Earth War II, and in 1946 an order of monks moved in for a handful of decades. By the late 1980s, the house experienced become the responsibility of the local authority, which had neither the will nor the wherewithal to keep it. Then arrived Mr. DePree.

The “DIY” in the book’s title is, potentially, additional than a little bit misleading: Mr. DePree, who bears a passing resemblance to Owen Wilson, is not the person reglazing the windows, plastering the partitions, stabilizing the foundation or changing floorboards. Hopwood Hall’s longtime caretaker, Bob Wall, has joked that the acronym genuinely stands for “Dim Inexperienced Yank.”

But credit history in which credit is thanks: The Yank has come a prolonged way from the humiliating moment when he stood in a parking whole lot of a Property Depot in Los Angeles, practically in tears for the reason that he couldn’t figure out how to do the job the adhere-on tiles he experienced bought for his lavatory flooring.

“I’ve uncovered how to blend mortar and make plaster molds. I have acquired to do pointing on bricks,” reported Mr. DePree, who marketed his home in Los Angeles 5 yrs ago and moved full time to Middleton to immerse himself in the preservation initiatives. “But I wouldn’t say at all that I’m a expert craftsman by any stretch of the imagination.”

However, he has finished a great deal of large lifting given that 2017, when he signed a contract with the Rochdale Borough Council, the community authority, to suppose responsibility for Hopwood Corridor. (The Council had 1st verified his familial bona fides.) The deal gave Mr. DePree five several years to arrive up with a practicable and entirely in-depth system to save his ancestral property and generate a sustainable design to keep the lights on.

“His quest definitely is the things of desires,” Neil Emmott, the chief of the Council, wrote in an email. “When we very first heard about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t positive if they constituted a viable proposal. Nevertheless, bit by bit but absolutely, we have seen how his hard do the job and determination coupled with the assist of quite a few neighborhood volunteers is turning the fantasy into truth.”

“Hopwood was just sensation his way when I initial met him, but he’s turn into a lot more confident,” stated Geoff Wellens, a local historian. “I actually feel that if anyone can get the career carried out, it is him. It is his family’s outdated home. He has that household tie.”

Bit by bit, Mr. DePree has grow to be the public deal with of the hard work, its cheerleader in main and committed fund-raiser. Current grants from Historic England, a government agency, and the Rochdale Borough Council overall additional than $1 million.

Thanks to an acquaintance, Mr. DePree was also invited to join Historic Residences, an affiliation comprising the house owners of several of Britain’s greatest non-public residences. At the initial accumulating of the group that he attended, he fulfilled the pretty welcoming Lord and Girl Carnarvon — “Geordie and Fiona” — the homeowners of Highclere Castle, the place significantly of “Downton Abbey” was shot. He also satisfied 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 advised the novice about Hopwood Corridor. “Make positive it is dry and go from there.”

Quickly following his shift to Britain, Mr. DePree started out a YouTube channel, submitting movies for buddies and supporters to chart the development of the restoration. He also wrote a a single-man display about his travails and triumphs, and toured it at comedy festivals all-around the country.

The cost tag for the dwelling improvement is $13 million, with once-a-year working costs estimated at $800,000, Mr. DePree mentioned. Proceeds from his show have been contributed to the lead to a chunk of the royalties from his ebook will go towards it, way too.

“Many region homes in the U.K. have had to uncover approaches to reinvent themselves to continue to keep up with the monumental charges of running, staffing and routine maintenance, and Hopwood Corridor is on a comparable route,” Mr. DePree reported. He hopes to switch the manor into an arts hub for the local community and a vacationer place. A marriage desired destination, also. Hopwood Corridor will have about 25 bedrooms to accommodate the festivities.

There are now sometimes as a lot of as 30 paid staff and eager volunteers at the hall on a supplied working day. “We’re moving forward pretty swiftly,” explained Mr. DePree throughout a modern Zoom get in touch with as he walked by way of the carriage entrance, currently a keeping space for the big squares of slate that will before long pave the roof. “This yr has been exciting simply because I’ve been going for walks into rooms that it had not been secure to walk into before.”

But development isn’t essentially steady. “A few months ago, there was proof that possibly there were being bats in the corridor, so we had to right away halt what we ended up performing and test with professionals and do a bat survey, due to the fact bats are a guarded species,” he reported.

Flying mammals are amid the a lot of complications. Hopwood Corridor is also a “Grade 2* listed” setting up, a designation by Historic England for structures of particular architectural or historic fascination. For that reason, partitions cannot be knocked down willy-nilly a freshly found out doorway just can’t be pried open without permission.

Bit by bit, Mr. DePree has grasped that he isn’t in Los Angeles any longer. “I’m mastering about heritage techniques and comprehending that you just cannot use modern-day supplies,” he reported.

In other terms, drywall from Home Depot is not an option. As a substitute, you have to identify some goat hair and, making use of medieval techniques, mix it with lime mortar. And no off-the-rack home windows — you have to use particular glass, Mr. DePree stated, “and load it into a leaded-glass window, which is a entire skill unto by itself.”

Underneath the terms of his agreement with the Council, Mr. DePree can go into Hopwood Hall as quickly as it’s protected to do so — perhaps this calendar year. At some level, he’ll formally develop into the proprietor of the assets. “We’re getting nearer to the level that it can be entrusted to me,” he mentioned.

“Obviously, the loved ones connection was a advertising issue with the Council,” Mr. DePree ongoing. “I really do not feel any of this would have transpired without the need of that connection.”

His grandfather, he explained, would be very pleased. “He cherished heritage and he beloved his Hopwood identification,” Mr. DePree claimed. “Maybe various hundred decades from now, men and women will browse about this challenge and there will be one particular or two strains about me.”

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