A true Regency eccentric, John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton was born at Halston in 1796. He inherited a fortune worth about £500,000 a year by today’s standards, but died in 1828 at the King’s Bench debtors’ prison in Southwark at the age of just thirty-seven. Alas, we are getting ahead of ourselves . . . .
Young Squire Mytton, expelled from both Westminster and Harrow, arrived for studies at Cambridge University with “2,000 bottles of port to sustain him during his studies.” You will not be surrpised to learn that he failed to graduate. Mytton went on to drink six bottles of port a day, although he was known to drink eau de cologne when brandy was not readily available. Mytton enjoyed country pursuits such as racing, driving and hunting, but he was also civic minded – he ‘invested’ £10,000 to become MP for Shrewsbury by paying ten pounds each for votes, but once elected he spent less that half an hour in the House of Commons.
Madcap pranks made Mytton a legend in his own lifetime and it was said that as a whole, Mytton’s life amounted to a “series of suicide attempts.” A drunken friend was put to bed with two bulldogs and a bear. Mytton went duck shooting by moonlight on Halston’s frozen lake, dressed in only his nightshirt. Disguised as a highwayman, complete with his blazing pistols, he ambushed departing guests on the Oswestry road. In 1826, after winning a bet, he rode his horse into the Bedford Hotel in Leamington Spa, up the grand staircase and onto the balcony, from which he jumped, still seated on his horse, over the diners in the restaurant below, and out through the window onto the Parade. During a visit to France, Mytton set fire to his night shirt in an effort to cure himself of the hiccups. The drastic step did end the hiccups, but left Mytton with serious burns to his upper body.
One biographer notes that Mytton once rode a bear into his drawing room in full hunting costume. “The bear carried him very quietly for a time; but on being pricked by the spur he bit his rider through the calf of his leg.” Mytton owned thousands of dogs and cats during his lifetime, some of which he had dressed in costumes. Perhaps his favorite pet was a horse named Baronet, who had full run of the Hall and who often lay down and napped before the fire.
Halston Hall, Shropshire – More info on their website
‘Mad Jack’ lost his money, but not his friends. Three thousand people attended his funeral. He is buried in the Chapel at Halston, but his ghost is said to appear annually on Mytton’s birthday, September 30th, at theMytton & Mermaid Hotel at Atcham. His funeral procession stopped at the Mytton, then a coaching inn, on the way to Halston Chapel. Mad Jack also lives on today in Mad Jack Mytton Way, a seventy mile route through some of rural England’s most unspoilt and beautiful countryside. The route starts near Highley and ends at the bridge over the River Terne in Llanfair Waterdine on the Welsh border and is regularly used by riders, cyclists and walkers.
Next time, more Mytton anecdotes from Famous Racing Men by Willmott-Dixon Thormanby (1882)