By Alex Matthews
A renowned Hollywood producer and director is desperately battling to save his ancestral home in the north of the UK.
Hopwood DePree, from Holland, Michigan, is facing a bill of up to £10million to save the 590 year old Hopwood Hall, which could otherwise sink into a state beyond repair within the next five years.
The hall was home to his family from its construction as a small manor house in 1426 until the death of Colonel Edward Hopwood in 1942, and in 1811 even hosted the poet Lord Byron.
The US producer and director, who was once named one of ’20 people to know’ by The Hollywood Reporter, has moved from the sunshine of Hollywood to a rented home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, to fix up the home his ancestors owned.
After taking on the hall in Middleton, Greater Manchester, last summer he is now working flat out alongside builders to waterproof the building before winter comes around.
Hopwood is also enjoying the British way of life, appreciating a pint in the pub after a long day at the site.
Hopwood, 48, said: “I was amazed when I first visited the place. I could just feel the history all around me.
“We don’t have anything like this in the States and it incredible think my family had lived here.
“It’s in a bad way and I was told that if no one did anything it would be beyond repair in five years.
“I decided I couldn’t let it go and, as it had belonged to my family, it was up to me to restore it.
“I’ve thrown myself into it completely. I’m determined to do everything, from securing funding to getting my hands dirty and helping the builders.
“It’s going to take three to five years to have to fully restored, but I’m hoping to move in myself quite soon.
“We just need to get the building fully waterproofed this summer.”
Hopwood, a 14th generation member of his family, had heard stories about the house from his grandfather, also named Hopwood, growing up.
However, the grandson believed them to be fairy stories made up by his grandfather as a way of explaining their name.
But his grandfather’s tales were actually entirely accurate, despite him never having visited England himself.
Hopwood said: “My grandfather used to talk to me about a grand old house in England our ancestors had owned. I honestly thought he was making up fairy stories, although I liked the sound of them.
“Growing up in Michigan with a name like Hopwood was not easy. I was named after my grandfather, but lots of the kids in the neighbourhood would be quite mean about it, and ask me why my name wasn’t normal. I used to ask myself the same thing sometimes.
“Being at the hall now is amazing because I realise all my grandfather’s stories were correct.
“He talked about the bricks having been made from the clay in a nearby stream, and you can see exactly where they took it from.
“I can walk through the trees where he said my ancestors would walk through. It really helps me to feel all the history in the place and I love it.
“I’m not sure where my grandfather got his stories from but what he was saying was true.”
Hopwood’s college and acting career took him from Michigan to LA, where he went on to star in, direct and produce several movies and TV shows including The Last Big Attraction (1999) and Gordo’s Road Show (2004).
He also converted a former whip cream factory into sound studios for training and hiring unemployed car and manufacturing workers in the area.
Late one night when he was researching his family history on the internet, Hopwood came across his ancestral connection to Hopwood Hall.
After flying out in 2014 to visit the hall and seeing the state it was in, he decided he had to act.
He struck a deal with Rochdale Council to take over the 60-room property, part of which will become his private residence, and has secured a £276,000 grant from Historic England to help fund the immediate, critical repairs.
Hopwood said: “I was amazed when I found the connection to the hall. I was just sat at home late one night and I’d started researching my family history because I had nothing else to do.“It’s not the first major restoration project I’ve taken on and as a movie director I’m used to managing lots of different aspects to make a project come together as a whole.
“Restoring the hall will be a huge task but I’m confident I can do it with the help of local people.”
Hopwood is hoping the renovation of the hall will revitalise the local economy.
He is aiming to allow building trades students from the nearby Hopwood Hall College to put their skills to the test during the renovation and will use as many traditional trades as possible to return the building to its former glory.
His eventual aim is for the hall to become his home and an arts centre to give back to the local community.
In the meantime, he is becoming a hit with the locals, many of whom already know his name and his beaming Hollywood smile.
Hopwood said: “I’m really loving it here in the UK.
“People ask me what its like giving up the sunshine in Hollywood for the winters here and the answer is it’s not too bad.
“Everyone here has been extremely friendly and very supportive of what I’m doing and I couldn’t do it without local support.
“At the end of a long day it’s great to go to the pub for a pint. That’s a part of British culture I really enjoy.”