When Damien Hirst bought a historic mansion in the Cotswolds, he had big plans. The crumbling 19th-century Toddington Mansion, which the world’s richest artist bought for Â£ 3million in 2005, would be restored to its former glory, turned into his family home, and would be a spectacular gallery for his collection of personal art.
But 17 years after its purchase, the property remains uninhabited and covered with scaffolding and tarpaulins. Locals called it a “horror”, “white spot” and “scourge in the countryside”.
Frustrated local residents of Toddington, 10 miles east of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, are now taking matters into their own hands. This week, the parish council will meet to come up with a plan that he hopes will force Hirst to finally keep his promise to restore the property.
“We want to see what can be done, if at all,” said Toddington Parish Council chairman Nigel Parker. âIt is one of the biggest horrors in the region. People are fed up with it. Damien Hirst has owned this property for 17 years now, but it is still clad in scaffolding and tarpaulins, and to our knowledge no restoration is in sight.
Hirst rose to fame in 1992 when his pickled tiger shark proved to be the centerpiece of the acclaimed Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. A sliced ââcow and calf and pickled sheep quickly followed one another, but Hirst’s twin obsession with death and publicity was perhaps best illustrated with his controversial 2007 platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with diamonds, which he said was sold for Â£ 50million.
Hirst’s work – and the prices it sold for – became synonymous with the new wealth of the late 1990s and 2000s. This came to a head in September 2008 with the sale of over 200 of his works at Sotheby’s for a total of $ 200 million, the same day Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering a global financial crisis.
Hirst bought the sprawling Gloucestershire Estate, which bankrupted the family who built it, for Â£ 3million as locals said it was intended to be his family home and a spectacular gallery for his collection personal art.
But following his separation in 2012 from his longtime partner Maia Norman, the mother of his three sons, the project has stalled, with locals complaining that they have been kept in the dark.
The property is on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register and the heritage organization has said it intends to work with Tewkesbury Borough Council ‘to encourage the owner’ to continue with restoration.
Malle Hague, who lives near the mansion, said: âI wish he was okay. It would be nice if he could at least cover up that white spot. He’s an artist – he could just paint it.
âIt is a scourge for the countryside. It is an area of ââoutstanding natural beauty, but you can see it for miles. At first he did a lot of good work, but it’s been going on for too long now. “
Completed in 1840, the construction of Toddington Manor took 21 years. It was built by MP Charles Hanbury-Tracy, later Lord Sudeley, and the scale of the business eventually bankrupted his family in 1893.
Composed of a quadrangle and surrounded by cloisters, the house has a large entrance hall, a grand staircase, a wood-paneled dining room 40 feet long and two libraries, with stone carvings. and intricate wood.
It is one of the earliest examples of what became Victorian Gothic, and when Sudeley helped select Charles Barry to rebuild the Houses of Parliament, the architect is said to have taken Toddington as one of his models.
Councilor John Evetts, chairman of the Tewkesbury board planning committee, said: âIt has been a very long time since he bought it. I’m told Hirst never applied for a building permit.
âAs chairman of the local planning committee, to my knowledge, he never spoke to us. I work in restoration and conservation and I think the restoration could cost Damien Hirst Â£ 50million and not be finished.
âThe speech of the city is that when [split with his partner] he lost interest in this project. As far as I know, there have been no other planning approaches or other permissions granted. It seems that he has just abandoned it or is getting bored of it. It is the biggest white elephant I have ever seen. In fact, ‘madness’ would be a good word.
Bert Alvis, a local farmer and parish councilor, complained that his repeated requests to the property management company failed to elicit illicit responses.
âI asked the agent, who manages the domain, and they have no idea. We heard he was going to use it as a private home and private gallery for his collection, âhe said. âBut after the crash, everything stopped. It’s strange: no one says anything to anyone.
Last year it was revealed that Hirst, who is said to be worth Â£ 315million, took out Â£ 15million in Covid loans and put staff on leave at taxpayer expense. Although his main business, Prints and Editions, has Â£ 188million of art on its books, it hasn’t made a profit since 2016, and Hirst has shut down many of its businesses in the past four years.
In 2018, it was revealed that Hirst was closing his prominent restaurant in Ilfracombe, Devon, just a year after closing his gallery in the town.
It was featured as part of a restructuring of his sprawling Science Ltd empire, but also drew local criticism that the artist had left some properties vacant. Hirst has built up a formidable real estate portfolio since exploding onto the UK art scene. Toddington Manor, however, was meant to be his piece de resistance.
A spokesperson for Tewkesbury City Council said he was “pleased that there are intentions to fix it”. But he added that no current planning requests were listed and “we are not aware of any work that has taken place.”
Parker, chairman of the parish council, said: âAfter the meeting we can write to Damien Hirst and his representatives, or Tewkesbury may do so. But, anyway, it’s about time this got resolved.