For me, Tixall is one of the most interesting sights in Staffordshire.
The Gatehouse today stands curious and alone, an ancient sight of Elizabethan magnificence in the middle of a field and a defiant remnant of a bygone age and the last remaining trace of an old Great Hall, once home to an infamous prisoner, Mary, Queen of Scots.
The medieval manor house was replaced by Sir Edward Aston, High Sheffif of Staffordshire in 1555 and Gatehouse was built in 1580 by Sir Walter Aston
Described by Sampson Erdeswick in 1598 as “one of the fairest pieces of work made of late times in all these counties“, she has seen the rise and fall, the plotting and scheming, the loves and losses, of many great families.
Most famously, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Tixall Hall for two weeks in 1586 while her prison rooms at Chartley were searched and her secret papers seized.
Her jailer Amias Paulet had gone to assess the hall in September 1585 as a more permanent residence. Paulet thought the house was suitable but argued it would be a pity to make Sir Walter and his household of 100 persons move out, as his high standing and religion was good for the region. Aston argued that the move would disturb his farming and he would be forced to sell his sixty cattle and his plough oxen.
As she left Tixall, Mary is reported to have wept to the poor gathered at the gates, “I have nothing for you, I am a beggar as well as you, all is taken from me.”
To think of all of the people who have passed under this very archway and who’s footsteps have smoothed the cobble stones and echoed off the walls, the place is now silent, providing shelter in the middle of the field under the great rooms of the gatehouse.
There are now many portraits of Mary in the rooms at the Gatehouse, including a small sober print of her which looks down upon the beautiful bath tub in the turret bathroom, as if to remind bathers to gather their rosebuds whilst they may. I find it profoundly moving to think of all the days and all the lives this building has seen – grand to lowly, happiness to the deepest sorrow – and all those it continues to see.
Date of visit – 2nd February 2020