Sir Thomas Clifford, the owner of the Tixall Estate, published his History of Tixall in 1817. He states that it was c1766 that the construction of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal was undertaken, which passes for more than two miles through the Parish of Tixall. The Hon. Thomas Clifford had the canal widened in this part of its course into the breadth and sweep of a noble river when viewed from the house or the grounds above. To bring this fine waterway more into sight, he removed at great expense a bank of rock which obstructed the prospect from the house, and threw the intervening ground between the house and the water into the form of a beautiful sloping lawn. It is indeed fortunate that this prospect remains unspoilt to the present day.
Tixall Hall was completed in 1782, and replaced an earlier Elizabethan one. It was built of Tixall stone, with a portico in the centre with four Doric columns, each shaft of stone a single block 15 feet long. The front was extended by screens on either side, decorated in like manner by Doric columns and pilasters. On each of these screens was placed a lion couchant made in pottery by Coade of Lambeth. The whole façade was 144 feet long. Tixall Estate was purchased in 1825 by Viscount Ingestre, heir to the Earl of Shrewsbury, whose seat was the nearby Ingestre Hall. Tixall Hall was then let and finally occupied by the agent to both estates until World War I, when It was used to house Australian troops. After the war it fell into disuse and, after a sale of all the fixtures and fittings, was demolished by the estate in 1927. However, the fine Georgian crescent stables survive; they originally housed 40 horses, with a coach house at the centre and castellated lodges at either end. They have since been converted into twelve houses.
Tixall Gatehouse was built of Tixall stone in about 1580, and is one of the earliest examples of the revival of Greek architecture in England. Its builder, Sir Walter Aston, was so carried away by this fashionable edifice that he placed it right in front of his house, thus blocking the view across the valley. The back of the Gatehouse is identical to the front, and the space between it and the house was walled in to form a courtyard. There are three storeys surmounted by an open balustrade. At each of the four corners is an octagonal tower with an elegant tapering dome surmounted by a gilded vane; they are sixty feet high. At the centre of the building is an open archway through which the carriages passed; on either side were porters’ rooms and above there were servants’ apartments reached by a spiral stone staircase in one of the towers. The windows are very large and they are flanked by coupled columns, Doric on the ground floor, Ionic on the second, and Corinthian on the third. It is now owned by The Landmark Trust, which fully restored it in the 1970’s as holiday accommodation.
Mary Queen of Scots
In August 1586 the Gatehouse received a Royal visitor, albeit an unwilling one. Mary Queen of Scots had been sent from Tutbury Castle to Chartley in December 1585. It was while she was at Chartley that a careful plan to incriminate her was set in motion. Her secret intrigues with foreign Catholics were conducted by coded messages smuggled by a brewer, who, unfortunately for Mary, was a double agent. When English plotters led by Babiinton proposed foreign invasion, the release of Mary and the assassination of Queen Elizabeth, Mary agreed. The reaction was swift; the plotters were clapped in the Tower and Mary was arrested while deer-hunting on Cannock Chase. For a wild moment she mistook the approaching horsemen for her rescuers; her hope turned to utter despair and she knelt beneath a tree and prayed aloud for deliverance. She was immediately taken to Tixall alone, although two ladies and an equerry were allowed to join her the following day with some luggage. Meanwhile her rooms at Chartley were searched and most of her possessions confiscated. She was imprisoned at Tixall for two weeks, but the novelty of the Gatehouse must have been fairly lost on her while she pondered her fate. She was then ordered back to Chartley, and on leaving the Gatehouse a touching sight met her eyes; the beggars of Staffordshire had gathered to greet her, knowing her famous reputation for charity. As the beggars cried out for alms, the Queen of Scots replied sadly “Alas good people, I have nothing to give you. For I am as much a beggar as you are yourselves”. Soon afterwards Mary was taken to Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, where she was tried and subsequently beheaded on 8 February 1587.