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Wed 9 Sep 2020
Tixall - The Lost Family Seat
Philippa Wood // Curator
Philippa Wood
Our curator Philippa Wood explores a past exhibition on the Constable's lost Staffordshire home

As grand as Burton Constable is, it can perhaps be surprising to visitors today that in the early 19th Century it stood almost unused for over 10 years when Sir and Lady Clifford Constable chose not to live here. Instead the couple preferred their other house of Tixall Hall in Staffordshire - when not roaming the continent!

Alas, the couple's elaborate lifestyle and grand building projects soon meant that their costs exceeded their income. Tixall was sold to pay outstanding demands, and Burton Constable becoming the couple's new treasure house for their grand and varied collections.

In 2015 Burton Constable explored this story further with an exhibition exploring more of the story of the couple's lost paradise - and a pivotal moment in Burton Constable's history.

The years that followed Tixall's sale saw the couple transfer their extravagance to this new social sphere, transforming it into a centre for arts, philanthropy and entertainment. Extensive renovations were carried out to the hall, a theatre created and musical soirees hosted. A steady supply of expensive bills show that the couple's experience of losing Tixall certainly did not dissuade them from maintaining their earlier rich lifestyle, with the excesses of this period forming the focus on the Hall's 2021 exhibition Drink, Dance and Decadence: the gilded age.

In the end, Sir Thomas Aston Clifford Constable's love of spending and fascination with his second wife Rosina almost saw the loss of Burton Constable too. That it survives in its current form today is a blend of luck, perserverence and determination. Read on to discover more about Tixall, and consider how different the site here might have been today, had fortune taken a different turn.

Today, research into Tixall at Burton Constable continues and the Foundation continues  working to preserve the materials that the Constable family brought with them from this historic house in Staffordshire. The stained glass from Tixall that normally resides in the Long Gallery is currently having a rest at the York Glazier's Trust workshop in York while we fundraise to conserve it - watch this space!

Meanwhile, research carried out only this year into the stained glass in our own chapel has revealed (very excitingly) that it is in fact of English manufacture, and is unlikely to have come from Tixall at all. This ongoing research has also revealed some interesting inaccuracies in Eliza Chichester's model of the Tixall Chapel,demonstrating that one must always approach historical sources with caution. 

At Tixall itself only the Gatehouse still remains as a clear reminder of this 16th Century historic site, being maintained as a holiday residence by the Landmark Trust. The Chapel was taken down and moved to a new location following the sale of the Hall in the 1840s, with the Hall itself suffering the same fate in the 1920s. The 19th Century stables that near bankrupted Sir Thomas are now private residences. 

Doubtless new information will continue to be found about the great Tudor hall of Tixall and the family who lived their during our future research among their posessions here at Burton Constable - a continuation in this fascinating story of the rise and fall of an English stately home.

Tixall Hall by Sir Thomas Aston Chichester Constable, found in his sister Mary Barbara's scrapbook