Hopwood Hard Hat

When US film-maker Hopwood DePree discovered his family’s derelict English ancestral home a decade ago, he left Hollywood and started a new life near Rochdale to save the crumbling mansion. He has now told the story in a book called Downton Shabby.

Hopwood Hall is perhaps the ultimate home renovation project.

Some of its 60 rooms have big chunks of floor and ceiling missing, and walls have developed strange stained patterns through a combination of time, damp and neglect.

DePree points out a 17th Century fireplace that once belonged to poet Lord Byron, who visited while writing his seminal work Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The fireplace is across the other side of a room that has no floor at all, except a single plank for anyone adventurous enough to get a closer look.

But DePree is making progress, slowly. One wing that was at risk of imminent collapse has just been stabilised, and around 25 tonnes of slate have been put on the roof to make the historic building watertight for the first time in years.

“If people looked at it, they would say, oh my gosh, you have so long to go,” says DePree of his long quest to restore the hall. “But I know where we started, and we are getting there.”

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