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Hex: The Chained Oak Legend

In a small woodlands known as Barbary Gutter near Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, England, lies a great oak tree shackled by thick, rusted chains, which provides the eerie setting to a famous 19th century legend:

Returning to his home, Alton Towers, by carriage one autumn evening in the 1840s, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was accosted by an elderly woman who appeared suddenly in the road. She begged for a coin but was cruelly dismissed by the Earl, who ordered her off his land. In a rage the woman called after him, “For every branch that falls from this old oak tree, a member of your family will die,” cursing, legend has it, him and his entire family.

Initially the Earl paid her no heed, but, later that night, when a violent storm tore a branch from the tree and his son inexplicably died, the devastated Earl ordered that the branches should be chained up to prevent any future tragedies.

A slight variation in the tale has the son riding through the woods the next day when the branch falls on him, which is slightly more plausible as there are records of a riding accident in the area at this time. In fact, various elements of the original story have a factual basis, for example, the tree, which, as aforementioned, still exists, did once sit beside a roadway the Earl would have frequented to get to the nearby church, and he would have been the only person with the authority to have the tree chained. In 2007 one of the main branches collapsed, the chain having become integral to the tree’s structure and rusting through, but the family confirmed no one died.

[Sources: Photographs are mine | Chained Oak | Alton Towers Heritage]

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