Mad Jack, a bear and a frozen lake

Map of the week – Mad Jack, a bear and a frozen lake
Halston HallMap: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 County Series from 1874

John “Mad Jack” Mytton (30 September 1796 – 29 March 1834) was born to a family of squires and  became notorious as a notable British eccentric and Regency rake.

Jack, on entry to Cambridge University, took with him 2,000 bottles of port to sustain himself during his education. After his studies he embarked on The Grand Tour of Europe followed by a spell of Military Service before inheriting the family seat at Halston Hall, Whittington (near Oswestry in Shropshire) along with an annual income of £20,000 (close to £800,000 in today’s money), which he proceeded to spend at an unsustainable rate and with an increasingly eccentric behaviour.

At Halston, on a freezing winters day, he would lead his small army of stable lads on rat hunts, each stable boy equipped with ice skates.

He arrived at one particular dinner party at Halston Hall riding a bear and when he tried to make it go faster the beast bit deep into his calf. Despite being bitten, Mad Jack kept the bear Nell as a pet.

He would reportedly get out of bed in the middle of the night, take off his nightshirt and set off completely naked  carrying his favourite gun across the frozen fields towards his lake. Here he would ambush the ducks, fire a few shots and return to bed apparently none the worse for his ordeal. His most extraordinary day’s shooting came when he got fed up waiting for the birds to come within range, stripped naked, sat on the ice and slowly shuffled forward on the slippery surface until he was within range.

A fan of horse riding and hunting, Mad Jack set out to test if a horse pulling a carriage could jump over a tollgate. As many would have predicted it couldn’t.

In 1831 he fled to France to avoid his creditors, prison and court. After a couple of years he decided to return to England and ended up in the King’s Bench debtor’s prison in Southwark, London, where he died there in 1834 a ’round shouldered, tottering old-young man bloated by drink. Worn out by too much foolishness, too much wretchedness and too much brandy’.

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