Gertrude Thimelby


Tixall Poetry (1813)

Arthur Clifford, Tixall Poetry; with Notes and Illustrations (Edinburgh, 1813).


Gertrude Thimelby (née Aston), daughter of Sir Walter Aston, later Baron Aston of Forfar (1584-1639), was a poet who belonged to a Roman Catholic family at Tixall, in Staffordshire, which was itself perhaps at the centre of a provincial aristocratic social network of like-minded persons. Two manuscript verse miscellanies largely or partly compiled by her have been identified (Bodleian MS Eng. poet. b. 5 and Huntington HM 904), the latter also partly compiled by her sister Constance Fowler (d.1664). Constance's letters to her brother Herbert Aston (1614-88/9), himself a poet, and compiler of his own verse miscellany (Yale, Osborn MS b 4), characteristically ask him in 1639 ‘send me some uerses for I want some good ones to put in my booke’ (British Library, Add. MS 36452, f. 30v).

Gertrude Thimelby's original contributions to this close-knit family and cultural community include nineteen poems, which are known only because they were edited for publication in Arthur Clifford's Tixall Poetry (1813). It has been suggested, by Gerard Kilroy, that she may also have been the author of ‘Meditations of the principal obligations of a Christian, taken out of the scriptures, councils and fathers’, a series of twenty-four meditations edited by Clifford from a transcription in ‘Gertrude Aston's book, given her by her Revd. Mother, and Aunt Winifred Thimelby, 1671’. Clifford himself speculatively attributes this work to Winifred Aston, though conceding that the handwriting was not particularly characteristic of her hand.

Although the corresponce of the Aston family that Clifford subsequently published as Tixall Letters in 1815 still survives (incorporated in nine volumes of Aston Papers in the British Library, Add. MSS 36444-36452), unfortunately other papers in the ‘great trunk’ of papers ‘brimful and overflowing’ to which he had access, including the three poetical manuscript volumes he recorded in 1813, have not been seen since then. Neither is there any record of them in subsequent sales of the Tixall library, by Puttick & Simpson and others, which was widely dispersed. It is not impossible that the poetical manuscripts could eventually resurface.

Peter Beal