Hopwood Hard Hat

A middle-aged American actor, disenchanted with Los Angeles life, falls for an ageing Brit, sells up in sunny California and relocates wholesale to our small, soggy island where – while navigating vitamin D deficiency and confusing colloquialisms – he charms both the locals, who band together to support his highly ambitious (read: potentially harebrained) scheme, and the nation’s aristos, who welcome him into their rarefied world of ancestral piles and shooting parties.

Except, in this Hollywood rom-com, the ageing Brit is a decrepit 15th-century manor house on the verge of condemnation outside Rochdale, and the American actor is, by his own admission, wholly inept at even rudimentary DIY, let alone large-scale historic reconstruction.

Hopwood DePree became de facto lord of the manor at Hopwood Hall in Middleton, Lancashire, in 2017. Such a wreck was the 600-year-old structure that no money even changed hands. He had only to prove to Rochdale council, its erstwhile caretaker, that he could show a workable plan to salvage, restore and sustain the crumbling edifice.

He is now five years into a vast, painstaking restoration of the 25-bedroom stately home, to which he hopes one day to welcome guests again, just as it once played host to overnighters including Lord Byron – who sent an enormous stone fireplace, still fully intact today, as a thank you – Frédéric Chopin and Guy Fawkes.

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