Jack Mytton (1796 – 1834)
Born at Halston Hall near Oswestry, Jack inherited the gaff and the revenue from 132,000 acres of land in Shropshire and North Wales at the age of two when his father popped his clogs. This meant that money was never a concern but Mytton showed from an early age that he was a restless and troubled spirit. Expelled from Westminster school and Harrow, he spent some time at Cambridge University where he was the life and soul of the party, shipping in some 2,000 bottles of port to see him through his time there. Naturally, he left without a degree.
After a brief spell in the army, in 1819 Mytton decided to turn his hand at politics. He hit upon a wonderfully effective electioneering stunt – offering the constituents of Shrewsbury £10 each (a prodigious amount at the time) to vote for him. He was elected but he found the political grind a bore, attending parliament for just thirty minutes before giving up his seat.
Having exhausted the normal sources of employment for a gentleman, Mytton settled down to a career of eccentricity. He liked to experiment. He wondered whether a horse pulling a carriage could jump a tollgate. A wrecked carriage and some cuts and bruises ensued. He would drive deliberately at ruts in the road to see what would happen. Invariably, his carriage was overturned. In 1826 for a bet, which he won, Mytton rode his horse into a hotel in Leamington Spa, ascending the staircase and from the balcony jumped over the diners in the restaurant below, still seated on his horse, making his exit via a window. Astonishingly, no one was injured in the caper. Want a cure for hiccups? Set your night shirt alight to give yourself a fright. It worked!
Mytton was surrounded by animals, having some 2,000 dogs of various types, mainly hunting breeds. His favourites were fed on steak and champagne and some were decked out in livery and other fancy costumes. His horse, Baronet, was given free range of Halston Hall and was often to be found stretched out in front of a roaring fire.
A keen huntsman – he had 150 hunting breeches, 700 pairs of handmade hunting boots, 1,000 hats and 3,000 shirts – Mytton would often go out hunting. Often though, he felt so warm during the heat of the chase that he would strip off and follow the petrified fox in the buff. At night he would leave his bed, stark naked, armed with his favourite gun and fire off at the local ducks.
A visit to Halston could be an experience One evening he entered the drawing-room riding a bear. All went well until he spurred the bear to go faster. The creature took umbrage and bit him on the leg. It was later killed after biting a servant. After entertaining a local parson and doctor who then went on their way, Jack donned a highwayman’s mask, surprised his guests firing shots into the air and was amused as they fled in terror. One benefit was that Mytton was so careless with money that he left bundles of it around the estate which guests were free to make off with.
Mytton was a prodigious drinker, quaffing eight bottles of port a day together with copious quantities of brandy. Inevitably, his lifestyle caught up with him and the money ran out, dying in a debtors’ prison in Southwark “a round shouldered, tottering old-young man bloated by drink, worn out by too much foolishness, too much wretchedness and too much brandy”.
Mytton’s ghost is said to haunt the Mytton and Mermaid in Atcham on his birthday, 30th September, and he is commemorated in Shropshire by the Jack Mytton Way, one of the longest bridleways in the country.