Focus: THE STATELY HOMES OF POPLAND

So much for the decline of the nation's great country houses. A new generation of the rich and famous is keen to move in

THE QUIET village of Little Marlow in Buckinghamshire was turned upside down last week when one of its newest inhabitants got married. Fans and photographers descended on the area for the wedding of Scary Spice, who tied the knot from her new home, the Manor House. She recently paid pounds 2.5m for the 16th-century, eight-bedroom riverside property in seven acres of land. It also boasts a stable block, servants' quarters, a huge greenhouse and a dovecote. The Manor House had stood empty for several months and the builders are already at work on extensive refurbishing.

Somehow an ancient country house in need of sensitive renovation doesn't seem the natural habitat of a Spice Girl. But Scary is by no means alone in her desire to be a lady of the manor. Others among today's pop stars who have picked up a mansion include Gary Barlow, formerly of Take That, who lives at Delamere Manor in Cheshire; Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, who paid more than pounds 1m for Horsenden Manor in Bucks; Noel Gallagher of Oasis who bought the Sheiling in Chalfont St Giles for pounds 2m; and Richard Ashcroft of the Verve who lives in Grade II-listed Taynton House in the Cotswolds.

A semi-stately pile set in its own grounds has become a status symbol for wealthy young celebrities and business people. Knight Frank, one of the leading estate agents dealing in country houses, recently surveyed their market and found that their buyers are getting younger: 10 per cent were no older than their thirties and 55 per cent in their forties. Some of these buyers, says Knight Frank, are lottery millionaires; others are whizz kids who have made fortunes, often rapidly, in sports, fashion, entertainment, media, advertising, publishing, and the computer and communications industries. "One of the first priorities for many is to upgrade to a country house," says Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank.

But why? What's the attraction of a crumbling pile miles from anywhere which may need tens of thousands spent on it, will eat up money for maintenance, need staff for its upkeep and will make the security and heating bills for a Docklands penthouse look like peanuts? "People want to go back to a rural idyll," suggests Mr Sweeting. "For many people, a manor house with cottages and 20 acres or so represents that idyll. They look for a place that symbolises how they would like to have been brought up, especially if they are thinking of having children themselves."

And paparazzi are unlikely to mount a round-the-clock watch on the perimeters of a substantial estate in Little Netherby on the Wold when easier prey can be found in Chelsea. Neighbours may fear a sudden rash of all-night parties, but in fact celeb neighbours are likely to be less obtrusive than most. "These people don't want to be known, they want peace and quiet, they don't want to be disturbed," says Mr Sweeting.

All the same, monied incomers are not always welcomed. Gary Barlow upset his neighbours when he banned local fishermen from using a lake in the grounds of his house and put up a tall fence to keep fans at bay. Richard Ashcroft, blamelessly attempting to restore his 17th-century house to its original glory, applied a pink wash to the stucco which had the locals up in arms. (In fact, white washes tend to fade to a dirty cream, while pink tones down to an attractive sandy colour, so Mr Ashcroft may well be vindicated.)

But, if you are prepared to brave this kind of little misunderstanding, what can you get for your money? The farther out of London, the more money will buy. While the M4/M40 corridor to the west of the city is most popular with those who need to be able to zip in and out of London, pounds 500,000 was enough to buy Taynton House and its 23 acres of Cotswold fields and woodland for Richard Ashcroft. Properties recently for sale around the pounds 1m mark include Morely Old Hall in Norfolk, a moated Elizabethan manor house with 31 acres, or Penleigh House in Wiltshire, a Queen Anne house with parkland, stream, stable block and additional three-bedroom Georgian cottage.

For those who can't face potential renovation and maintenance costs on a historic property, new country piles are being built. One of the last acts of the former Conservative Environment Secretary John Gummer was the revision of an exciting document called Planning Policy Guidelines 7 (PPG7), which orders local authorities to give planning permission for new country properties as long as they are "truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings".

Permission has already been granted for new buildings on the sites of derelict country houses and the demand in the South-east has surged; the idea, according to PPG7 is that "each generation will have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the country house, which has done so much to enhance the English countryside".

It does not, however, offer any support to those struggling to maintain existing buildings; and the fates of those existing buildings can be far worse than being bought by a pop star. Architectural historian John Harris spent years touring England to visit stately homes that had fallen into disrepair when the families that originally owned them could no longer afford to maintain them. Many were requisitioned in the war as army billets or turned into hospitals or institutions, and subsequently badly neglected. In his book No Voice in the Hall (John Murray pounds 17.99) he recalls his first visit to Burwell Park in Lincolnshire, where he meets a flock of sheep in the hall and "plaster perfection" in every room. When he goes back for a second visit, men with picks are demolishing the rococo plasterwork and the mahogany staircase is being burned on a bonfire.

Matthew Slocombe, a case worker at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, says that a "caring and interested owner" is the best prescription for preserving old estates, whether that owner is a squire or a Spice Girl.

"One of our basic principles is that of gentle but regular maintenance," he says. The society recommends finding builders, architects and surveyors who are experienced in dealing with older buildings, and it runs a technical advice line for new owners who are unsure. "The one thing I would do is warn people against trying to do too much too soon, before getting a feel for the building," he counsels. "It is essential that people go into these things with eyes open and go gently without rushing." Scary, take note.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Learning Support Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: LSA's required! West Midlands

    MLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: MLD teachers required West Midlands...

    Media Studies Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for a M...

    History Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices