"The White Lady of Toddington", also known variously as "The White Lady of the Vale" and "The White Cathedral" - both "of the Cotswolds" and "The Vale" -, is thought by some to be one of the most complex, enigmatic and fully-realised works by internationally-renowned artist Damien Hirst. Hidden in the Gloucestershire village of Toddington, where the stony uplands of the Cotswolds appropriately meet the fertile plain of the Vale of Evesham, the 'Lady' is visible for miles - across the fields, but especially from the anciently occupied Hills which surround it: Cleeve, craddling the spectacular Neolithic long barrow at Belas Knap; Bredon, topped by its embracing Iron Age fort; Broadway, with its elegant Tower, dreamed by Capability Brown, a residential folly built in the late 1700s only years before Toddington Manor itself.
Toddington Manor: The base of "The White Lady": a pre-Victorian Gothic Revival masterpiece designed and lovingly built across the early 1800s by the 1st Baron Sudeley as his home: Which became the design template for the Houses of Parliament, the Home of the Mother of Parliaments, burned down in 1834 and rebuilt under the design chairmanship of the 1st Baron Sudeley.
Toddington Manor: Bought by the National Union of Teachers fleeing the bombing of London in the Second World War; a temporary refuge for soldiers rescued from Dunkirk; home to British and American forces taking the war back to Europe; residential base for Irish Christian Brother seminarians after the war; occupied briefly by an international boarding school before slipping into disuse; looked at fleetingly by Charles and Diana seeking a country home to start their new life together; neglected and stripped by thieves of lead, and then re-discovered: By Damien Hirst, looking for a home, both for himself, and for a gallery of art to share his collections with the public and display works of his own.
Damien Hirst bought the Manor in 2005, and began the White Lady project in earnest in 2006, when he encased the Manor in the largest expanse of scaffolding then seen in Europe, and proceeded to wrap the scaffolding in white protective sheeting - a cocooning shroud, under which the glories of the Manor could - not least in imagination - safely be revealed and restored: Where there had been neglect and loss, the intimation of a promise: of rebirth and hope.
References to his own work - "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", "For the Love of God", even "Verity" with its physical assertion of defiance against mortality - vie with allusions to the work of others: Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty", interacting with elemental change in the white salt of the Great Salt Lake; Christo's "Wrapped Reichstag"; Tracey Emin's "My Bed", its stained and busy residue of suicidal depression contrasted in the clean white lines of The White Lady's sheeting, cleansed by the continual exposure to the elements which are simultaneously, subtly, undermining the fabric's integrity:
"What is born, dies; what is created, ends. And is reborn through the vision of the artist, and the daily labour of women and men".
Visiting: Village fetes were once held on Toddington Manor's lawns, when villagers walked the grounds and toured the magnificent wood-panelled rooms within; but like Stonehenge, The White Lady can now be seen by the general public only from a distance. The best views are from the village churchyard (donations to the upkeep of the church are encouraged), and from the surrounding hills. As a living installation in the landscape there is no "best" time to visit; but at dawn and sunset the white of the sheeting blazes, and catches the colours of time in change.
The views expressed are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, its friends, family, or employees.