Your heritage, by post

The middle-classes want aristocratic style. The aristocrats want middle-class money. Thanks to mail order, business can be conducted at a discreet distance. By Serena Mackesy

This, as you may or may not know, is the weekend of the Burghley horse trials. But there is something extra this time on top of the usual sight of horses cavorting through a Capability Brown landscape. Lady Victoria Leatham, curator of the Burghley stately home and a familiar face to devotees of the Antiques Roadshow, is launching a new venture in the heritage market in association with her old friend Elizabeth Nicholl: mail-order heritage reproductions.

The middle classes have, of course, always aspired to get their hands on the accoutrements of stately living. Some are unafraid to be seen to aspire, and scour the design market in search of things new and impressive, things that may well turn into the next century's heirlooms. Another, larger group, aspire but don't want to be seen to do so. They seek to link themselves to a grander past and, if possible, a grander class. The hunt is always on for a ducal link, however distant.

This is a sort of muted aspiration, and something that we British, with our fear of being accused of showing off, are very good at. A worn Persian rug is always better than a brand new Axminster; better to have a battered bergere than a comfy sprung sofa. We spend our time rummaging around auction houses and plundering the attics of those of our betters who fall on hard times in order to fill our living-rooms with carelessly scattered items that we can dismiss with an airy hand wave and a "That? I inherited that" or a "Those? Oh, those were a wedding present."

The Eighties were a great time for design. As in the Victorian era, the bourgeoisie were permitted to be pleased about their sudden wealth and could spend it on things that were obviously new and obviously expensive. But now even the bourgeoisie know unemployment, and those of us who are in work feel a bit awkward about being seen to be earning more than our peers. If we're going to have things, it has to look as though we might always have had them.

One of the more popular ways of doing this is to buy stuff that could be linked with the noble "younger son" professions: the military, the Raj, and urban practices like the law. So the tills of the General Trading Company ring loud and clear as we troop out with carved Indian cupboards and Benares ware pots that look as though they came back across the sea along with the steamer trunk that now serves as a coffee table. Peter Jones groans beneath its load of wastepaper baskets showing old London street scenes, and handsome leather-bound bedroom sets with drawers and brass handles called things like the Campaign Collection. But an awful lot of people hanker after something just that little bit grander.

Meanwhile, the aristocracy, who have had to reinvent themselves as businesspeople or sink without trace, have been casting around for ways to make money from this urge without actually flogging off the family silver. All grand houses supplement their tour income with a shop selling reproductions, but there is one flaw in that arrangement: they have to pull the punters in in the first place. Or, as Lady Victoria puts it rather more gently: "There are people who are elderly, or stuck at home with the children, or just a long way from the shops. Mail order has always seemed a bit of a missed medium to me. And I've always felt that the heritage tradition gets a rough deal. The market needs stirring up."

The Past Times catalogue has been exploiting this niche for some years - the latest one has Rococo paperweights, botanical-print keyboxes. Now there is a chain of shops as well. Lady Victoria's Ancestral Collections catalogue, however, aims to be far more exclusive. Where Past Times' merchandise sometimes seems disappointingly mass-produced, Ancestral Collections' goods are all made by artisans and no attention to detail has been spared. Many of these things look like the real McCoy, and you can feel smug in the knowledge that some of the money from each sale goes directly to the upkeep of the house your purchase orginated from.

The first catalogue contains a variety of items from five stately homes in mainland Britain, all members of the Historic Houses Association: the Duke of Atholl's Blair Castle; the Leathams' Burghley; everyone's favourite film set, Castle Howard; Elton Hall; and Knebworth. Each house has contributed four prototypes, all guaranteed to warm the cockles of the Fulham Road. The most expensive reproduction is a rather delicious Georgian-style stool with scrolling and curved seat from Castle Howard at pounds 390. Forty-five pounds will buy you a resin reproduction of a cherub wall-bracket given to the Duchess of Atholl by Queen Victoria. For pounds 380, you can have a hand- thrown charger, a 151/2-inch plate in blue and white depicting Burghley before Brown saw its capabilities. Or, then again, you could spend pounds 67 on a loo-brush holder - not just any loo-brush holder, but one made from a facsimile of an artillery-shell-case carrier thought to have been used in the Boer War.

The original marketing plan included a launch in the United States. But Lady Victoria spent two years researching potential markets, and eventually decided to start in the UK alone. "I was told on several occasions," she says, "that the market in America is more or less saturated now, and they're so sophisticated that you literally have to provide things before they think they need them." So, at least in the short term, you won't have the embarrassment of finding your Burne-Jones print or your brass doorstep (each pounds 57) in a lounge in New Jersey.

In the long run, Ancestral Collections hopes at the very least to expand into Europe. "The houses over there are spectacular," says Lady Victoria. As one of those rather driven and extensively knowledgeable heritage people, she obviously can't wait to start tracking down craftsmen who are good with gilt or awesome with alabaster.

While the operation stays small, though, it can lay claim to exclusivity. If all goes well, the next catalogue will have expanded to include goods from a further three houses, but quantities themselves will stay low. "We're a cottage industry, really,'' says Lady Victoria. "My partner Elizabeth Nicholl is a great packager. She comes all the way down from Northumberland and spends all day in the stockroom.''

How the world has changed.

Ancestral Collections, Old Corn Store, Burghley Courtyard, Stamford, Lincs PE9 3JY (01780-482522). Past Times: 0800 106666

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own