Aerial View Hopwood Hall

LONDON – Many people searching genealogy websites for information about their ancestors encounter poignant geographical details, long-lost relatives or historical insights – good, bad and ugly. 

Michigan-born actor, screenwriter and producer Hopwood DePree found an abandoned, but once-resplendent 50,000-square-foot estate in the English countryside – his family’s ancestral home where his 14th great-grandfather was born. 

Armed with little more than a Hollywood resume, a spray tan and deep unfamiliarity with British customs, norms and manners, DePree, 52, came up with a plan to rescue the neglected 60-room, 600-year-old mansion.

Long ago, Hopwood Hall teemed with butlers, maids, cooks, cleaners, carriage drivers, farmers, beekeepers, blacksmiths, butchers, weavers, wood cutters, carpenters, stablehands, horsemen and ice keepers. When DePree moved to England to rescue Hopwood Hall, it was all but ruined. 

USA TODAY wrote about this ultimate fixer-upper quest in 2019. After a U.S. literary agent saw the story, she asked DePree to turn his tale of swapping Los Angeles for a hard hat, acres of damp plaster and a rural scene just outside Manchester into a book. Now that book is here: Downton Shabby: One American’s Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family’s English Castle. It publishes with William Morrow (HarperCollins) on May 31. 

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