The earliest description of Tixall Gatehouse can be found in Erdeswick's Survey of Staffordshire of 1598. The author describes how Sir Walter Aston had 'beautified, or defaced (I know not which to say)' the fair house built by his father, Sir Edward, by adding directly in front of it 'a very goodly gate house of stone ...being one of the fairest pieces of work made of late times, that I have seen in all these countries'. According to his descendant, Sir Thomas Clifford, he did this in about 1580.
Old Tixall Hall itself, which dated from 1555, was a typical mixture of stone and timber-framing, such as might have been built at any time in the previous hundred years. The Gatehouse, on the other hand, was an example of the latest fashion in architecture, being richly decorated with Classical ornament, as learned from the Continent but used with that uninhibited Mannerist exuberance that was unique to England. There is a brave, but not quite textbook, attempt at the Classical orders on each main elevation. In the spandrels above the archway, armed warriors face the outside world while curvaceous ladies thinly disguised as angels watched over the inner courts. The quality of the carving is extremely high.
We have no record of how the Gatehouse was divided inside, nor of its use. Two original fireplaces survive on the first floor so there must have been at least two rooms here with cIosets opening off them in the corner turrets. These may have served as lodgings for guestsor for an important household official such as the Steward. The roof terrace may have served as a platform from which to watch the hunt in the surrounding deer park. The main function of the Gatehouse, however, was simply to impress, to show off the wealth and power of its owner.
The Astons were an old and respected Staffordshire family. They had lived at Haywood since the 1200s, but acquired Tixall by marriage in 1507 and with the building of a new house there it became their home. Under Sir Walter Aston it was also involved in one of the chief historical dramas of the day. Sir Walter, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and served her as Sheriff of Staffordshire and Justice of the Peace, was a staunch Protestant and keen prosecutor of Catholics. As such, his house was a safe choice when, following the discovery of the Babington Plot in September 1585, it was felt necessary to remove Mary Queen of Scots from her prison at Chartley for a short time. She spent two weeks at Tixall before returning to Chartley.
Ironically Sir Walter's grandson, another Walter, became a Catholic himself. He was ambassador to Spain under James I and Charles I, who made him a Baron. He and his son William lived in great style at Tixall. They entertained lavishly and were keen patrons of the arts and literature. But times were still dangerous for Catholics: in 1679 Lord Aston was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being accused of involvement in the Titus Oates conspiracy, a supposed Catholic plot against the life of Charles II which led to the execution of a number of Catholics but turned out to have been largely fabricated by Oates, a clergyman who had pretended to join the Jesuits.
In 1751 the 5th Lord Aston died aged 28 leaving two small daughters. Tixall Hall was left empty for many years and when the younger daughter, Barbara, and her husband Thomas Clifford, came to live there in 1768, was all but derelict. They pulled down the Tudor house and while living in a Georgian addition to it began work on a completely new house. This was built not on the site of the old one, however, but further to the east, where its outlook was not blocked by the Gatehouse. As a result the Gatehouse now became an ornamental building in a park landscaped by Capability Brown and William Emes.
Thomas and Barbara Clifford left Tixall to their eldest son, another Thomas, who was made a baronet in 1815. He completed his parents' work, employing Samual Wyatt to decorate the new Hall. A scholar and a poet he also, with his brother Arthur, wrote a history of Tixall. His descriptions of his home, of which he was deeply fond, can also be read as a form of epitaph, since in 1821 he inherited another great estate, Burton Constable in Yorkshire. His son, a second Sir Thomas, decided to live there and put Tixall up for sale in 1833. It was bought in 1845 by his neighbour, Lord Talbot of Ingestre.
Lord Talbot let Tixall to a series of tenants. His son, the Earl of Shrewsbury, lived there briefly while Ingestre was rebuilt after a fire in 1882. Thereafter it was once again rented out or left empty until in 1927 it was demolished. Just the Gatehouse and the Cliffords' unusual semi-circular stable block survive to remind us of a long and interesting history.