In these fraught days optimism and looking on the bright side is in short supply and – let’s be frank -being of good cheer is not easy whatever nation you belong to. US folk like their eggs sunny side up. Whilst they suggest “You have a nice day now” Brits when asked how they are say “Not too bad” with a little cloud following them around.
Train strikes, economic disasters, war, political errors and the usual British weather does tend to make one feel a tad pessimistic in the UK. Not if you’re an American with a silly name like Hopwood Depree.
Hopwood is a 52 year old US actor, author, comedian, filmmaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Well he was. Right now his focus is on saving a crumbling stately pile near Middleton in Greater Manchester called Hopwood Hall.
Through online research Hopwood discovered what his grandfather told him in bedtime stories as a boy about a magnificent family house across the pond was not a fairy-tale but actually true. It exists. Well, sort of.
This rundown mansion has suffered from many decades of neglect to the point where it was in danger of being bulldozed.
So Hopwood has given up his successful life in Hollywood and moved to damp Lancashire in an attempt to rescue a former family home which will need millions to restore.
Is he mad? Not quite as Hopwood has several cunning plans Baldrick would be proud of.
Americans love to discover they have British roots. If they don’t they love someone who does. NBC lapped it up.
But of course TV does not make a visceral connection and is out of the viewers mind by the next ad break. So where do you start to raise the money for such a project? Writing a book about what you’re doing is a good start.
“Downton Shabby” documents his journey to date. He’s also got a You Tube channel following his ongoing quest to make this ancient and unloved pile into something which can give back to its local community. So where did it start?
Hopwood Hall is a Grade Two listed brick-and-stone manor house built in a quadrangle style around a timber-framed hall dating back to 1426. Some of the current building dates to the early 17th century – but right now it’s a mess. Rotting floorboards, peeling plaster, mould and weeds are just a few of the problems that will not get him a loan. But there is hope.
“Emergency stabilising” is the term used by a professional team he’s brought in to start the restoration. Historic England have come onboard to provided grants to replace the roof in the most endangered parts and volunteers from the local community are behind them.
Retired Rochdale folk are coming together to garden, clear and make friends with each other in order make this 600 year old place habitable again.
There are also opportunities for young apprentices to learn the skills needed to repair and replace the ancient brick, wood and glass that make Hopwood Hall unique. It’s a work in progress.
Of course asking people for charitable donations to rescue a place when the country is on its knees economically isn’t going to work. Lots of folk will express interest, but few will reach into their pocket.
Enter the press and PR people. If they get it right, expect a CH5 documentary series, column inches in the Telegraph weekend style column, a guest spot on Ch4’s Sunday Brunch and, if they’re lucky, Alan Titchmarsh in the bushes.
This will be followed by a taster opening of a few rescued rooms before you’re led like a lamb into the gift shop.
Recently I drove a 300 mile round trip to watch an air display at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The weather was dreadful, most of the headline acts were cancelled and it was a very expensive experience. But it was saved for me by one aircraft.
She was mothballed, silent now in her hanger but still the star I had come so far to finally step aboard. Preserved in aspic was the test model of a commercial airliner pushed to its limits. During one flight test she reached 1450mph or Mach 2.23 – more than twice the speed of sound. Concorde remains the fastest commercial airliner on the planet.
Nearby is the SR71 Blackbird spy plane which is still the fastest military aircraft ever to have flown – at three times the speed of sound she flew so high and fast her pilots wore astronaut suits.
It saddened me to see them both together gathering dust in retirement. The Imperial War Museum who look after these iconic machines is well drilled. It’s a place with massive facilities to preserve, display and teach us what we as humans can achieve.
A rescue package is not in place for Hopwood Depree and his family home This current economic situation may sink her.
I left with much to think about. What could we preserve and what should we leave behind?
Hopwood’s book is available at Amazon
Northern Male writes about many different subjects – read more of his articles here