Monday, December 12, 2022

Downton Shabby by Hopwood DePree

First Line: It was one of those nights when you hope your biggest responsibility will be uncorking a bottle of wine.
Hollywood producer Hopwood DePree grew up listening to his grandfather's tales of their ancestors, the Hopwoods, who owned a castle in England. Believing the tales contained their fair share of hyperbole, imagine his shock when late-night internet surfing showed Hopwood that his family did indeed have a castle in England. 
DePree traveled to the English Midlands and found the 60-room, 600-year-old Hopwood Hall to be derelict, on the verge of collapse after being abandoned by the family when their two sons were killed in World War I. The mansion had been occupied off and on since, but the last few decades had seen it crumble: trees growing in chimneys, holes in the roof, and water running down the walls.
DePree fell in love and vowed to save the place, even though restoration would take millions of dollars that he didn't have and force him to move from Los Angeles to a crumbling mansion just outside of Manchester. But move he did, and the fairy tale began.
This is a case of making a purchase because I fell in love with a book title, even though Hopwood Hall was more tumbledown than shabby. Then I began to read Downton Shabby and didn't want to put it down. My husband grew up in the area. When DePree attends a meeting at the Rochdale Town Hall, I know where he's going; I've been there and other places to which he referred. Moreover, I felt a kinship with him. One night years ago as I looked through a few entries in the geneaology my mother had done on our family, I noticed that one of my ancestors' houses had a name. Would it come up in an internet search, I wondered? It did, and when I discovered it was now a museum in Bradford, England, I knew I had to visit-- just like DePree when he found Hopwood Hall on his internet search.
The history of the house is fascinating, with its secret rooms and passageways, and the work necessary to restore it is daunting. Yet--even though a corner of your mind may think DePree is insane to take on this task-- you desperately want him to succeed. One of the major obstacles to the restoration is vandalism. There are rumors of treasure to be found inside the house, and break-ins have been common. Smashed 17th-century windows and prised-up floorboards sickened me, but I also had to smile at the British knack for a memorable turn of phrase. (One vandal came in too close contact with the razor wire atop the fence... razor wire that the locals call "scrotum shredders".)
There are heartwarming parts to DePree's experiences, too. His learning curve as he learned British traditions and colloquialisms. The coming together of the surrounding community to help him, the friendship and invaluable advice given to him by townspeople, historic heritage groups, and the owners of similar houses. DePree's descriptions of the Victorian Christmas celebrations held in Hopwood Hall made me want to fly over and help him decorate.
All in all, Downton Shabby is an absorbing read about one DIY novice's quest to save a historic house. I hope DePree keeps us informed of his ongoing progress.  

Downton Shabby: One American's Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family's English Castle
ISBN: 9780063080850
William Morrow © 2022
Hardcover, 320 pages
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


  1. I haven't found anything with a name in my genealogy except a pub! And Google helpfully provided a picture! Sounds like a fun story to dip into.

  2. Oh, this sounds really interesting, Cathy! It sounds as though it tells the renovation story as well as telling the story of a place and its people. And it's even better that you know the place and could relate as you were reading. Little wonder you liked this so well.

    1. I hope he succeeds in restoring the place. It has a fabulous history.

  3. What an interesting read! Yes, I can imagine thinking DePree is insane for taking this project on - it sounds a bit overwhelming. But, also hoping he succeeds. All the difficulty will be worthwhile when the work is finished.

  4. I can see why you fell in love with the title. And how nice that the rest of the book was just as good. I love reading these kinds of memoirs. :D

    1. DePree had me laughing at some of his culture shock.

  5. Well, this is quite fascinating. I'm always interested in efforts to restore historic homes.

  6. I've enjoyed stories of homes in other countries (another form of vicarious travel!), so this is a good addition to my list. :)

    1. Gotta love that vicarious travel (and I do)! :-)


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