"Win, or Whin," says Thomas Blore, "is the more ancient name for genista spinosa, i.e., furze or gorse, and by the name of Win, or Whin, that plant is still commonly known in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and other counties in England farther northwards. And as there yet remains much gorse on the hill eastward of, and facing south-west, and some within a hundred yards of the manor house, it seems not unlikely that the etymon of the name may be Whinfield or Gorsefield. But there is another derivation of the name which is not farfetched and must, therefore, be noticed. Guin, in British, signifies water, and probably the Norman clerk who made the minutes from which Doomsday Book was transcribed, writing from the ear would write it Win, and that the etymon may be Guinfield, or Waterfield; which conjecture is somewhat strengthened by the frequent floods from the little river that runs through Winfield, and which overflows the valley so much that three or four times every winter the pavement of the church of Winfield is nearly a foot under water."
The manor house built by Ralph Lord Cromwell, temp. Henry VI. This Lord Cromwell was Treasurer, and the testimony of Camden that he built the manor house is confirmed by the bags or purses carved on the gateway, for they were belonging to the Treasury.
The building consists of two square courts; one, to the north, has been built so that its south wall forms the north wall of the south court, which has ranges of buildings on the east and west sides and part of the south.
The entrance is under an arched gateway on the east side of the south court. The arch is a round one. From hence the communication with the inner court is under another arched gateway in the middle of the north side of the south court. One half of this range of buildings seems to have been a hall, lighted by a beautiful octagon window. In the other part of this range are the remains of the chapel and of the great state apartment.
Winfield was one of the prisons of the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. Tradition says she was confined here for nine years; but this is doubtful, as she is said to have come here in 1569, but she may have been often elsewhere during that long interval, and returned to Winfield. It was during Mary's residence here that Leonard Dacre devised her escape; but the plot was discovered by Elizabeth's all-seeing ministers, and it was made the excuse to transfer Mary ultimately to Fotheringay, where she was executed.
It is singular, but nearly all the prisons of the Scottish queen have ceased to exist. Not a stone remains of Fotheringay, where she was executed. Tutbury is in ruins; Sheffield Castle has utterly disappeared; Chatsworth has been taken down and rebuilt. The Old Hall Hotel, Buxton, once "The Old Hall," is the only place containing any of the walls that held Mary captive. Her suite of apartments at Winfield were on the west side of the north court.
The manor house suffered from both parties during the civil war of Charles I.'s reign, and in November, 1643, the loyal Marquis of Newcastle stormed and took it.
In August, 1644, Winfield Manor was retaken by Sir John Gell, and on the 23rd of June, 1646, Parliament ordered the mansion to be dismantled. The house was thus reduced to a ruin. The noble ruins that surround the inner triangle are very striking, and also very picturesque from the verdant greensward, the lichens, the wild flowers, and the foliage which have overrun the building. On the north side is a beautiful porch; there is a fine window in the great saloon, and a bay projecting from the great banqueting hall.
The porch is almost entire; it is immediately in the front, and led to the banqueting-room on the right, to the buttery on the left, and straight on to the platform and portal, from which formerly, doubtless, there was a descent to the court, garden, and chapel. All the building was embattled, and dated from the reign of Henry VI. The porch is almost entire; under the battlements is a band of quatrefoils and rosettes, below is an old sundial; the tracery of the window is gone.
The ruins are, in brief, very interesting, and we must regret that such houses, at least, were not kept or restored.
Near the Winfield railway station is a very celebrated hotel, called the Peacock.
Here Dick Turpin stopped to have his famous Brown Bess re-shod.
Underneath, and issuing from the cellars of this house, is a well-built subterranean passage, the full height of a man. It is believed to have been connected with the manor house, as a means of escape or entrance in those troublous times.
Underneath the stables of the Peacock Hotel there is still existing a crypt capable of stabling a number of horses, with an underground passage from the house. The hotel has evidently been a house of some importance, since it has a very large hall.
Winfield has a famous oak tree, standing within sight of the long suite of rooms where Mary Stuart was so long a captive. Peveril of the Peak erected a tower here, and a portion of it still remains amid the ruins; and there was a small tower on the wall close to Mary's apartments. Tradition says that she spent much of her time in summer on this tower, watching for signals from Leonard Dacre, who made many attempts to liberate her. But Lord Shrews. bury was a careful jailer; his vigilance never failed, and the poor queen watched and waited in vain, though it is believed that signals were at times attached to the grand old oak that still survives.