Hidden royal joke about famous Sheffield prisoner Mary Queen of Scots at City Hall

A joke set in stone links Sheffield City Hall with the city’s historic gem Manor Lodge.

By Julia Armstrong
Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 10:42 am

David Templeman of the Friends of Manor Lodge said that his colleague John Clarke amazed him when he told him this story – and he is an expert on the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was kept imprisoned at Manor Lodge and Sheffield Castle for 14 years by the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury and his famous wife, Bess of Hardwick, on the orders of Mary’s cousin Queen Elizabeth I as she was her rival for the throne.

John writes: “Last year, 2020 was an important year in the history of Sheffield and its Manor Lodge, the 450th anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ arrival in our city.

“All the planned celebrations have had to be put on hold for a year, November 28 2021, when it will be called the 450 (+1) anniversary.

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Manor Lodge, where a royal rival to Queen Elizabeth I was once kept prisoner

“However, nothing compares to the 19-year delay we saw for the 350th anniversary, and the unveiling of Sheffield’s best-kept secret. In 1920 the architect E Vincent Harris finished the plans for the City Hall in the centre of the town with a hidden gem and the best-kept joke in Sheffield, set in stone.

“As we know, Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth never met in person, so he would ensure they never would, even in death. If the ghost of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots actually ended up in Sheffield and both being music lovers and they wanted to go to a concert, then how would he keep them apart?

“In 1920 E Vincent Harris came up with the solution - he gave them separate doors. If they dare to go in the wrong door, there is a smaller one in the middle for the Earl of Shrewsbury with an arrow slit to be safe.

The coat of arms for Mary, Queen of Scots over the door at the City Hall

“Due to the financial crisis in the country, the City Hall was not started until 1932 and opened in 1939. However, the tribute was still built and remains amazing and unknown even today by most, despite its size and its splendour.

“Queen Elizabeth’s door is to the left and Mary’s to the right, the Earl’s in the middle, and never the twain shall meet. Each has its own coat of arms above to be safe.

"If he had wanted to put a different twist on things by balancing the door positions as to the heights of the three great historical characters, then this would have been the scenario - Earl of Shrewsbury on one side and Mary on the other side, both being almost 6 feet tall, and in the middle, Elizabeth who was just 5 feet 5 inches.“This solution would also have reflected the situation in Sheffield as the Earl was Mary’s custodian and Elizabeth in the middle, keeping a close watch on them both (an alleged affair between them).”

John adds: “The two queens meeting up is still even more prominent today, a reminder to Hollywood to get their facts right if they ever do another Mary film. In most TV dramas and films, for effect, they always get the two queens to meet.”

The doors dedicated to royal rivals Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots - with the Earl of Shrewsbury's, complete with arrow slit, in the middle to keep the peace!

Manor Lodge is well worth a visit – book in advance at https://sheffieldmanorlodge.org/