Friday, April 11, 2008

Toddington, Gloucestershire

Here in the Cotswolds, celebrity neighbours are so common they’re usually greeted with a shrug. Half the royal family lives round here, after all. (‘Tetbury man to wed’ was the local paper’s laconic headline when Charles and Camilla announced that the time had come to put their relationship on a more formal footing.) So the revelation that no-longer-Young British Artist Damien Hirst was buying Toddington Manor hardly raised an eyebrow in these parts, except among those for whom sharks, dot paintings, and diamond-studded skulls aren’t the last word in art.

But a few of us rejoiced. Toddington Manor is a stunning Victorian house that has been empty and unloved for years. It was designed by its first owner, Charles Hanbury Tracy, who was on the committee that chose Barry’s design for the then-new Houses of Parliament. The building has more than a touch of the Houses of Parliament about it – late-Gothic windows and tower, some stunning gargoyles, a cloister corridor, lots of Gothic details inside and out.

It’s very grand, but it isn’t exactly homely. Which is why, I think, that many of the well-heeled who’ve considered it have backed out. The rooms are grandiose – but not that big. The main route around the house is the cloister, which is more churchy than housey. Putting en suites in upstairs would cause all kinds of conservation nightmares. And the repair bill must be stratospheric. What it needs is an owner who’s rich, but doesn’t just want to live there.

Enter Mr Hirst and his art. He plans to restore the house and use it to show off his collection. And he seems to be getting on with the task in hand. Shortly after he bought the place, the whole house was covered by the world’s biggest span of scaffolding. Now he’s sheathing the place in plastic too. It looks as if he’s commissioned Christo and Jeanne-Claude, wrap-artists extraordinaire, to do what they did to the Reichstag a few years back. But it’s probably an indication that there’s some serious restoration going on in there. Roll on the time when the work’s done and we can visit the house. After all, if we don’t like the art, we can still admire the gargoyles and the stained glass. As Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud is fond of saying, ‘It might just work.’

Toddington Manor: the house as it was


Peter Ashley said...

Great blog Philip, thankyou. It's very encouraging to see someone, viz Mr. Hirst, spending their money positively in the Cotswolds, rather than the emetic sight of the usual jacuzzi-headed celeb culture vainly impressing their Groucho Club bar fly companions and upsetting the locals in equal measure.

Anonymous said...

I do hope Mr. Hirst will open his wonderful Toddington Manor residence to the public very soon when he is satisfied with the restoration which seems never ending. I am very familiar with this marvellous house having lived in Toddington village in the early 1970's. I frequently visit the PETT centre (Planned Environment Therapy Trust, Archive & Study Centre) in Toddington and always make a point, while staying there, of engaging in countryside nature walks which frequently enable views of Mr. Hirst's manor as a backdrop to Cotswold vistas.