This spectacular gatehouse is a fine example of Elizabethan architecture, one of the best of its time. It has long outlasted the great house it once served.
‘One of the fairest pieces of work…in all these counties’
Tixall Gatehouse was built in about 1580 by Sir Walter Aston to stand in front of an older house. It is a delightful example of the Elizabethans’ uninhibited assimilation of Classical elements into the English style before Palladianism took hold. The main house and a successor, built in 1780, have now disappeared but the gatehouse still survives and is surrounded by grass. It was described in 1598 as ‘one of the fairest pieces of work made of late times in all these counties’ and, more recently, as ‘an Elizabethan ruin, without roof, floors or windows, used as a shelter for cattle’. To be on the roof terrace, its weather vanes re-coated with gold leaf in 2012, is a majestic experience.
Voluptuous ladies disguised as angels
The gatehouse was in a sorry state until we bought it for £300 in 1968. On its first floor we made five large rooms, one of them a gallery with an oriel window at each end above the two archways. In the spandrels of these archways are, facing the outside world, armed warriors; and on the inside, voluptuous ladies thinly disguised as angels. Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned at Tixall for two weeks in 1586 and her son James I came here once for two days. In 1678 the Aston of the day was sent briefly to the Tower, accused of a part in the Titus Oates conspiracy. A century later his descendant Thomas Clifford, guided by ‘the celebrated Brown’ and his pupil Eames, ingeniously made use of a new canal to form a lake in his park, known to boaters as Tixall Wide. The roof is paved with stone and to be high up here among the balustrades and turret tops with an Arcadian landscape on every side is highly recommended.