With my ear to the ground for other infeasibly overambitious restoration projects, the case of the imperilled Hopwood Hall outside Rochdale and its eponymous saviour Hopwood DePree cannot have failed to make it onto my radar. As soon as it did, I immediately sent a message of support. This was in 2017.
The story behind Hopwood's involvement in saving the building, as an Hollywood producer resident in LA, is a remarkable one. So remarkable in fact, that as the plot of a Hollywood movie, it would stretch credibility. Growing up in the U.S., Hopwood's grandfather told him tales of a family castle in England. Hopwood, took these just as stories, but later in life after his grandfather, and indeed father had passed away, some late-night wine-fuelled web-surfing revealed the reality of the rapidly disintegrating Hopwood Hall. This was the long lost family castle, dating from 1420.
On Hopwood's first visit, he realised he would be changed by the building and made a commitment to do what he could to save it. Hopwood's account of the story "Downton Shabby" has just been published, and I realised it was a "must read" for me. I finished the book last night.
|Downton Shabby - The Book|
This blog article is purely a book review, in the context of my own restoration project. Previous blog book reviews may be found here.
There are endless resources on the Web if you want to find out more about Hopwood and "his" Hall. Naturally, Hopwood is not publicity shy: there is a vlog; a comedy stand-up tour (not joking!); a website and now this book, which has in turn caused a minor media storm. Here's a good starting place for web-surfing, wine-fueled or otherwise:
"Downton Shabby" is written with a light touch, and is very much an "entertainment". There is not a great amount of self-reveal, but enough to ground the book in reality. Hopwood starts to look into surrogacy as a way of having children as he gets older, but then withdraws for the present as the hall demands his full attention. He is drawn back into the Hollywood-life every now and again, and clearly still wants to have relevancy there amongst his crazy circle of friends, but ultimately realises where his soul is more nourished, despite the damp and cold of Salford. It is a compelling tale of self-discovery.
The best and funniest parts of the book are the accounts of his clashes with British culture. You can't help but fall in love with his builder Bob, who is forever making jokes at Hopwood's expense - and Hopwood comes to realise that this "culture of insult" is very much the British way and even learns to love it himself. Hopwood is embraced by the British aristocracy and British establishment, themselves encumbered by crumbling stately piles. They generously provide help, advice and friendship. While Hopwood often feels out of place and not worthy in their company, it is a tribute to the quality of the man that he is open and non-prejudicial, in a way that perhaps only a foreigner can be.
There were many resonances with Balintore Castle: the cold, the discomfort, the despair, the scale of works required. I found reading anything on dry-rot intensely uncomfortable, and had to speed read these passages. I related to Hopwood's heartache when vandals destroyed historic fabric: during my tenure at Balintore historic fabric has been destroyed too, and I also cried.
In particular, I related to the life-changing journey. His total involvement with the building has spanned almost 10 years now. This ramped up in 2017 when he took responsibility for the building from Rochdale Council. Continuing with a restoration in the longer term can be more difficult than starting off, particularly when light cannot be seen at the end of the tunnel. It took 12 years before there was a single habitable room at Balintore Castle. This was not the way I had planned things to go at all, but there were Council prohibitions, and the despair this caused was huge.
Anyhow, it looks like Hopwood really is in it for the long term, and his persistence has turned around many of the doubters that appear in the book. Hopwood insists throughout that the restoration is not an individual effort, and even guiltily confesses to claiming the use of the word "we" even though the only thing he is "hands on" with, a lot of the time, is the keyboard. Anyhow, I wish him and his team the best of luck.
And if it is in any doubt, "Downton Shabby" is heartily recommended. It is far better than it has any right to be. :-)
|Hopwood Hall as first spotted by Hopwood on the Internet|
|a current Hopwood Hall interior|