• Downton Shabby

  • One American's Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family's English Castle
  • By: Hopwood DePree
  • Narrated by: Graham Halstead
  • Length: 8 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (45 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 Ancestry.com, 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 fairy-tale 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.  

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2022 Hopwood DePree (P)2022 HarperCollins Publishers

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Opportunities squandered

I really wanted to enjoy this book. I first read about this story in the NY Times, and thought it was a fascinating tale, and so I downloaded the audiobook. Mistake. The author is not a writer, which would be fine if he had a strong editor who had pushed him beyond superficial introspection and predictable arcs. He didn't. And so the book is teeming with cliches (people are dressed to the nines, hearts race, stomachs sink, etc), bland descriptions (I lost count of how many rooms and windows are simply "large," how many hallways are "long," and how many beams are "dark wood"), long quotes jammed into characters' mouths that serve as exposition ("Well, legend has it that Guy Fawkes..."), and often just the wrong word choice (voices "quiver" instead of quaver, he decides to "buff up" and not brush up on his English history). It's like we're hearing a first draft of a book, not a finished product. I stuck with it because the story—of an American who learns he's the only descendant of an English family whose ancestral home is in desperate need of repair, and so he uproots his life to oversee the renovation—really is remarkable. But DePree is not the one to tell it. He tries too hard to be funny, but he simply isn't. The whole Connecticut-Yankee-in-King-Arthur's court examples are overwrought and feel like they're aimed at a fourth-grade audience. (Sweaters, in England, are called jumpers. He excavates that one for minutes.) But more importantly, there's so much we DON'T hear about that could have been so fascinating. Like England's conflicted feelings about restoring its grand country estates, like how the landed gentry came to build these places to begin with and on whose backs, like how DePree leveraged social media to gin up interest in his project. Like who Hopwood DePree actually IS. This is perhaps the most confounding aspect of the book. He is cryptic and elusive about his personal life, about his financial situation, about what, if any, salary he's drawing for this work. And of course it's completely his right to disclose only as much about these things as he cares to, but this book is, after all, partly a memoir, and I came away feeling I didn't know this guy in the slightest. He's as one-dimensional as the characters he introduces us to. I'm sure he's a complex and compelling person, and I left it thinking that the book (and by extension, his passion project) would have been better served if he'd been pushed to be more candid.

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A light-hearted fun read.

This story takes you on such an interesting journey of Hopwood not only finding a new life project, but also discovering parts of himself. I like the way he talks about how his attitudes about life change as he becomes immersed in his new life in England. It is impressive that he cares so much for him family--that was admirable!

The narration is excellent also.

If you want an uplifting story this is a great choice.

1 person found this helpful

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Author’s desperate attempt at a film

This book is written in a way lacking truth and soul, and more an attempt at generic feel-goodism lines that he obviously hopes would translate to an eventual film. It feels like he writes things to cutely fill space rather than advance the story.

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Amazing book!

It makes me want to check my family history! So exciting to think of what your ancestors were like… this book follows the exploits of Hopwood, who discovers his funny name connects him to a mansion in England. “Hopwood Hall” however is in disrepair and it is up to Hopwood to save it!
It made me laugh, it made me cry!

1 person found this helpful

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Finding purpose, and a future, in the past

This is a wonderfully entertaining memoir about an American actor and producer who voluntarily gives up his career and home in sunny Hollywood to move to rainy northern England to direct a madcap effort to preserve his family's ramshackle ancestral home. The country manor, parts of which are 600 years old, is maybe a decade from being too far gone to preserve. In fact, some of the locals already refer to it as a "pile." The guy's visa application is nearly denied by English officials question why anyone in his right mind would desire take this on. But on every page the reader discovers -- along with author Hopwood DePree himself -- why directing this monumental restoration effort could become his life's work. There's honest soul searching. There's delight of discovering the fabric one is cut from, There are funny clashes between two cultures which share a language. There's a curmudgeonly caretaker, a cranky neighbor, and an environmentally conscious ghost that roams the hall. This story of a madcap midlife crisis will introduce you to the nuts and bolts of wholesale historic preservation attempts. The tale is charming.

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Extremely engaging!

Loved it! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I highly recommend. Hopwood's story is humorous and moving.

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"English Castle"

There's some interesting thought provoking stuff here, not all intended. The basic story is appealing, there are some issues. It's not a "castle", despite the title, that sort of mistake is a red flag history is secondary. Odd given DePree's goal of restoring a historical property. He has an elementary understanding of England, but we also can tell he's smarter - too cute at times. Nowhere does he discuss "landed gentry" to which the estate belongs, comprising about 1,000 estates in England sandwiched between the nobility - who had castles - and everyone else. They were sort of proto middle-class and the manor a proto McMansion with an army of servants. These estates remain controversial, not unlike slave plantations of the American south (forced labor work camps? Beautiful relics of a bygone era?), although this one has been so chopped up for use by a community college it's hard to complain. I felt a bit cheated as there is missing backstory about Hopwood, it's hard to get a handle on who he really is. So much is still unknown - will he complete the renovation, will he find a wife, what will happen to the house. I admit to being hooked in but it does feel like a hook. I wish him the best, despite the complaints it's a genuinely noble thing to restore a home, even if not actually a castle.

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Off to England

First time reviewing a book.. Loved the story, loved the narration can't wait for a follow up I'm hooked.

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A magical journey through time!

Absolutely loved this tale of struggle and growth to save a grand ancestral home! Fabulous!

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Penelope

I enjoyed listening to this book about Hipwood Hall. I recommend this book to anybody that loves history.

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  • Jean Mc
  • 08-06-22

Excruciating narrator excellent story.

I almost gave up on this as the narrator is utterly incapable of doing English/northern accents. However if you can stand him and manage to get through the patronising " what are these English people like" bits which are obviously meant for the American market the story of Hopwood Dupree and his passion to save this house is fascinating.

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  • thegoodlife
  • 07-29-22

Don't be put off by the accents!

I loved listening to this book - such a wonderful story of perseverance and community.
It is beautifully narrated by Graham Halstead, an American with a warm and gentle voice, except that... he needs some training in British accents and pronunciation! If you can ignore the dodgy accents, this is a delightful and, at times hilarious, listen. I now want to visit the hall.
Highly recommend and good luck to everyone involved in the restoration of Hopwood Hall!

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  • Conditiae
  • 06-23-22

Funny and fascinating

A highly entertaining book for the British reader, both the author's vignettes of his adventures as a newcomer (think Bill Bryson) and also the narrator's incredible accents. No, frankly in-credible. Dick van Dyke deserves a medal in comparison! Really enjoying listening to this book and glad to support the author in such a worthwhile endeavour. His work to save his house is inspirational.

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  • Paul A. Wright
  • 06-22-22

Great book.

A real feel good story. It is both interesting and funny and leaves you willing everyone to succeed with the project. It is also enlightening how much hard work and effort goes into such a project and highlights much of the red tape behind the scenes, causing further problems, delays and frustration. But above all else, the book highlights what can be achieved with vision, determination, hard work and community spirit.

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  • j
  • 06-17-22

Good giggle at the reader trying to do an accent!

the story is a great and amusing account of an American trying to deal with English culture, while trying to do what seems an impossible task. The reader hower, while reading the role of enthusiastic American well , is utterly hopeless at British, particularly northern accents. He veers often into Scotland, southern England and practically anywhere but a Rochdale accent, with miss pronounced place names to boot. I found the performance both amusing and annoying at times. but if you can oversee the fact that this guy clearly lied on his CV to get the job you will enjoy the tale. Well done Hopwood is all I can say!

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  • Paula
  • 06-16-22

A Heartwarming Tale

I really enjoyed this book. The American narrator had a real struggle with the English accents though. His Mancunian went from English to Welsh, a bit northern, a bit Cockney before settling mostly on a sort of Scottish accent. I would normally have had to return the book because of this but I hung in there because the story itself was entertaining, humorous and interesting. Hopwood takes a little poetic licence here and there; for instance, I think it would be difficult to find many thatched cottages in Yorkshire! I’m very interested in family history and old buildings so Hopwood’s discovery that he, an American living in Los Angeles, is descended from the landed gentry in Lancashire going back many generations and then visiting the stately home his family once lived in, had me hooked. I loved the book and have docked the narrator one star just because of his problems with dialect. It did not spoil my enjoyment of the book once I got used to it. I thoroughly recommend this book and I hope there will be a second instalment as the rescue operation of Hopwood Hall progresses.