Downton Shabby

Downton Shabby

by Hopwood DePree
Setting: England
Genres: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs, House & Home / Remodeling & Renovation, Travel / Europe / Great Britain
Length: 8:52
Narrator: Graham Halstead
Published on May 31, 2022
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook Source: Library

HGTV meets Downton Abbey! A ready-for-TV story—with charm and humor in abundance—about a Los Angeles producer who moves to England to save his ancestral castle from ruin.

Hollywood producer Hopwood DePree had been told as a boy that an ancestor—who he was named for—had left his family’s English castle in the 1700s to come to America. One night after some wine and a visit to, Hopwood discovered a photograph of a magnificent English estate with a familiar name: Hopwood Hall, a 60-room, 600-year-old grand manor on 5,000 acres. And with that, Hopwood DePree’s life took an almost fairytale turn.

Hopwood Hall, in northwest England, was indeed his family’s ancestral home. It had been occupied continuously by the Hopwood family for five centuries until the last remaining male heirs were killed in World War I. Since then, the Hall had fallen gradually into disrepair and was close to collapse. When Hopwood visited, he discovered trees growing in the chimneys, holes in the roof, and water sluicing down walls. It would take many millions to save the Hall—millions that Hopwood certainly didn’t have—but despite the fact that he lived in Los Angeles and had no construction skills, Hopwood DePree came to a conclusion: He would save Hopwood Hall.

Downton Shabby—the name Hopwood coined for the glorious ruin—traces Hopwood DePree’s adventures as he gives up his life in Hollywood and moves permanently to England to save Hopwood Hall from ruin. But the task is far too big for one person, of course. Hopwood discovers that the Hall comes with an unforgettable cast of new neighbors he can call on for help—from the electrician whose mum had fond memories of working at the Hall to gruff caretaker Bob, and the local aristocrats who (sort of) come to accept Hopwood as one of their own. Together, as they navigate the trials and triumphs of trying to save an actual castle, Hopwood finds himself ever further from the security of his old life, but comes to realize that, actually, he’s never been closer to home. 

This was a fun story of how some time investigating his ancestry changed his life. What he thought would be a once in a lifetime trip to England to see this house turned into an obsession. Honestly it sounds like the local authorities who had been dealing with this falling down house realized they had perfect person to hand the problem off to. At first they used him as a figurehead to show that there was interest in restoring the house. Eventually they got him to take responsibility for it. There was probably a lot of very relieved council people when they realized that they could offload this major hassle on the weird American.

I found myself getting very irritated at times while listening to this book. Hopwood is amazed over and over again that people use different words in England than in America. They do things differently too. I’m hoping he exaggerated many of his stories of cultural confusion. If not, he’s really making Americans look dumb. (Not that we need a lot of help with that.)

I listened to this audiobook so I didn’t get to see any pictures of Hopwood Hall. After I finished I started looking online. The reality of the deterioration of the Hall was so much worse than I was imagining. There is a YouTube channel dedicated to the renovation at Hopwood XIV where you can see for yourself. It is hard to remember that these videos are being filmed now, after several years of renovation. It was even worse before.