There has always been a certain madness about Toddington Manor, the Victorian Gothic extravaganza owned by artist Damien Hirst that has dominated the Gloucestershire village for the past 200 years.
Take the bewildering scale and over-the-top style, with a vast, ridiculously ornate stonework facade that provided the inspiration for the Palace of Westminster — and reportedly got singer Madonna's heart racing.
Outside, it is a huge sprawl of quadrangles, cloisters and towers. Inside, there are more than 300 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, two libraries, a 40 ft oak-panelled dining room, countless staircases and an exquisitely designed indoor 'riding loop' a quarter of a mile long — just to keep the horses dry on a grey day.
Damien Hirst and Sophie Cannell in 2018. The artist owns Toddington Manor, a stunning Victorian Gothic extravaganza
Experts describe the Grade I-listed pile, which took 20 years to build from 1820, as 'one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture anywhere'.
So it seems a bit of a shame that, for the past 17 years — in fact, pretty much ever since Hirst snapped it up for about £3.1 million in 2005 — the whole thing has been encased in scaffolding, shrouded with acres of white plastic sheeting and, other than a quick flurry of work in the early years, left largely untouched and uninhabited for more than a decade.
No builders, say locals, no project manager, no contractors, no noise — and according to councillor and chair of Tewkesbury council's planning committee, John Evetts, no planning applications.
And, perhaps most importantly, no sight of all that Gothic splendour, either. Just a lot of flapping white plastic gleaming in the sun and dominating the landscape — in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, of all places.
Frustrated locals in the pristine village of Toddington, ten miles east of Tewkesbury, refer to it as an 'eyesore' and a 'white blob'.
'Apparently, it's the largest free-standing scaffolding of its kind in Britain,' says Malle Hague, 74, who lives with her husband in the manor's restored carriage house, which sits outside the grounds.
'It's this big white block, blighting the landscape. I wish he'd do something. He's an artist. Can't he just paint it green or something?'
At the Toddington Parish Council meeting this week, members were desperate for answers after a decade-long blank, not just in progress but also in communications.
Toddington Manor in 2005. Inside, there are more than 300 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, two libraries and a 40 ft oak-panelled dining room
'We were told it would take four to five, or even maybe ten years,' says chairman, Nigel Parker.
'But it has been 17 and still nothing's happening. We don't even know how to get hold of him, or anyone, to find out.'
The pity is that it all started so promisingly back in 2005.
Left uninhabited for 20 years by the previous owner, it was a mess and in need of an owner with ambition, stamina and bucketloads of money.
From a distance, it was still a great — albeit ostentatious —beauty and very dear to the locals' hearts.
But up close, it had dry rot, wet rot, needed a new roof and complete refurbishment after being used as a £5,000-a-year school for overseas students.
Meanwhile, Hirst — estimated to be worth £315 million — was at the peak of his success and awash with vim and vision.
First, it was going to be a family home for him, his long-term partner Maia Norman and their three sons. There were whispers, too, of an art factory or perhaps a specialist centre for him to cast his bronzes.
The riding loop was to double as a spectacular art gallery to display his personal collection. The great salons would be buzzing again as they were in the heyday of the 1900s.
Yes, the works were likely to cost £50 million or so, but that was small change to Hirst, the high priest of what became known as Britart in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Toddington Manor today. Frustrated locals in the pristine village of Toddington, ten miles east of Tewkesbury, refer to it as an 'eyesore' and a 'white blob'
He shot to fame in 1992 when his 14 ft tiger shark pickled in formaldehyde became the focal point of the Saatchi Gallery Young British Artists (YBA's) exhibition. Next came a pickled sheep and a sliced cross-section of a cow and calf, and three years later he won the Turner Prize.
Charles Saatchi loved Hirst's art and did an excellent job of inflating prices. But countless critics dismissed it as a classic case of the Emperor's New Clothes — suggesting it was a gigantic con on the art world, exploiting the pretentiousness of some art-lovers, while no one had the guts to call him out.
Meanwhile, tales of bad boy Hirst, self-appointed leader of the pack of YBAs (which included Tracey Emin), were forever popping up in the news; his wild partying, his coke-fuelled rampages, how he would get so drunk he would end up breaking into his own home and a particularly unpleasant-sounding party trick he performed over and again involving a part of his anatomy and a 50 pence piece.
But his success meant that he was one of the very few people with the wherewithal to rescue Toddington.
So, presumably, English Heritage was thrilled when the multi-millionaire celebrity bought the manor, along with Historic England, which has the properly on its 'at risk' list.
But not quite as happy as the villagers of Toddington who, the year before, had railed hard against a planning application for a rather dismal-looking hotel on the 200-acre site.
'Warner Leisure Hotels submitted horrible extension plans,' says Malle Hague. 'The hotel would have tripled