Mind your manor: Hollywood actor moves to England to renovate ancestral castle

Hopwood DePree has been repairing a 1400s home for 5 years

Hopwood DePree at Hopwood Hall, a castle in England he is restoring. (YouTube)
Hopwood DePree at Hopwood Hall, a castle in England he is restoring. (YouTube)

It has all the makings of a made-for-HGTV movie.

A handsome Hollywood actor and producer whose only experience in home renovation ended with him almost in tears while trying to figure out how to use the stick-on tiles for the bathroom floor of his L.A. abode packs up and moves to England to renovate a giant, decrepit manor house that had been in his family for nearly 400 years. Hilarity, of course, ensues.

Only, according to a New York Times report, it is happening in real life.

Shortly after his father died of a massive heart attack in 2013, Michigan-born Hopwood DePree learned that a castle that his family once called home wasn’t just a fairytale his grandfather told him about when he was a small boy — it was a real place known as Hopwood Hall located just outside Manchester, England.

And since 2017, when the 52-year-old DePree brokered a deal with the local authority tasked with restoring the place to take on the responsibility himself, he’s been doing just that — while documenting his progress on YouTube and in the new book, “Downton Shabby: One American’s Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family’s English Castle.”

Since then, he has figured out a thing or two about fixing up the castle dating to 1426 that fell into disrepair in the years since his supposed heirs left it for good back in the 1920s.

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“I’ve learned how to mix mortar and make plaster molds. I’ve learned to do pointing on bricks,” DePree told The Times. “But I wouldn’t say at all that I’m a skilled craftsman by any stretch of the imagination.”

While in England, he hasn’t just worked on the 60-room, 25-bedroom house, which he one day hopes to turn into an arts hub, tourist destination and wedding hall. Along the way, he’s worked on his comedy chops at the Brighton Fringe in 2019 with his stand-up routine titled “The Yank is a Manc.”

But the majority of his time has been spent working with paid craftsmen and volunteers to shore up the manor, earning grants valued at $1 million toward the work, as well as the respect of some who might not have thought he had it in him to get the job done.

“His quest really is the stuff of dreams,” said Neil Emmott of the Rochdale Borough Council, in an email to the Times. “When we first heard about Hopwood’s ambitions, we weren’t sure if they constituted a viable proposal. Nonetheless, slowly but surely, we have seen how his hard work and determination coupled with the help of many community volunteers is turning the fantasy into reality.”

[New York Times] — Vince DiMiceli