Chained Oak

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Chained Oak

The Chained Oak is an oak tree, tied in chains, near to the village of Alton, Staffordshire, England. The tree, referred to as "The Old Oak", is the subject of a local legend involving the Earl of Shrewsbury and an old beggar woman.


The legend goes that on an autumn night Earl of Shrewsbury was returning to his home at Alton Towers when an old woman suddenly appeared in the road. The coach stopped to find why she was there, and then the old woman begged for a coin. The Earl cruelly dismissed her, so the old woman placed a curse on him. The old woman said, "For every branch on the Old Oak Tree here that falls, a member of the Earl’s family will die." The Earl dismissed this and carried on his way.

The same night a violent storm caused a single branch from the old oak tree to break and fall. Later that same night, a member of the Earl’s family suddenly and mysteriously died.

Now firmly believing the power of the curse, Earl ordered his servants to chain every branch together to prevent other branches from falling. To this day, the Oak tree remains chained up.


There are slight variations in the story, however the core remains the same.

  • One version states it was an old man who cursed the earl, not a woman.[1]
  • A second version is that instead of a storm bringing down a branch, the Earl's son was out riding the next day and, as he passed the old oak tree, the woman had been standing under a branch which fell on top of him, knocking him from his horse and killing him.[citation needed] This story is slightly more plausible, as there are records of a riding accident around that time.[dubious ][citation needed]
  • The Third Version, and the one featured at Hex – the Legend of the Towers features the Earl bringing the fallen branch back to the towers, performing experiments in his vault to try and break the curse.

Recent falling branches[edit]

On 9 April 2007, one of the tree's main branches fell off. The Talbot family confirmed that no one died when the branch fell.[2]

Since then, a considerable proportion of the chained oak has collapsed. It is thought that one of the chains, having become integral to the tree's structure, rusted through resulting in the collapse of part of the lower side of the tree.

Date and identity[edit]

Various dates are attributed to the legend of the chained oak, affecting the identity of "The Earl". The Talbot Family, Earls of Shrewsbury, began building nearby Alton Towers in 1801, on the site of the former "Alveton Lodge".[3] The new house they created was known at that time known as "Alton Abbey" (despite no religious affiliations or history). The 15th Earl (died 1827) made the house their permanent home in 1814. His nephew and successor, the 16th Earl (died 1852) moved to the house in 1831, after the family's principal residence, Heythrop Park, burned down.[4] It was during the 16th Earl's residency the house became known as "Alton Towers".

The legend has various dates attributed. BBC Stoke and Staffordshire give date the legend as 1821,[1] which would identify the earl as Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury.
Alton Towers Heritage state the chaining occurred "around the 1840s", which would identify the earl as John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury.[2]

The 16th Earl is remembered as "Good Earl John" for his charity, having supported local schools and churches, and financed the construction of new Catholic chapels around the Midlands, including in the village of Alton where he also built almshouses for the poor and elderly.[5] His reputation does not seem to fit that of the Earl in the legend.


The legend states a member of the Earl's family (sometimes quoted as his son) suddenly died or was killed when riding.

The 16th Earl's only son died in infancy;[6] this does not fit with legend as it happened before John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury, and was not caused by a horse riding incident.
The 16th Earl had 2 daughters, the youngest, Lady Gwendoline Catherine Talbot, died in 1840 aged only 22.[5] This fits with the legend's date range, but her death was not mysterious: she died of Scarlet fever in Rome.[5] Also 3 of Gwendoline's children died of measles shortly after their mother,[5] meaning the Earl had 4 deaths in his close family, not the single one described in the legend.

Rational explanations[edit]

The 15th and 16th Earls of Shrewsbury built and then extended Alton Towers and its gardens. During their tenure, thousands of new trees were planted, but the old trees were "greatly prized". The Chained Oak was situated in a highly visible" position, "just off a carriage-way" frequently used by the Earls. As such, the tree may have been wrapped in chains simply to preserve it, and prevent it from collapsing under its own weight.[2]


Public footpath left of Chained Oak B&B. Follow downhill 500 meters and its on the right.

Alton, Staffordshire, England.

In popular culture[edit]

The legend was adapted and fancifully elaborated to form the back-story for the ride "Hex" at the nearby Alton Towers theme park. The ride depicts a bolt of lightning striking the tree and causing a branch to fall.[7]


  1. ^ a b Sam Hale The legend of the Chained Oak", Odd Staffordshire, BBC Stoke and Staffordshire
  2. ^ a b c Steve Hollyman and Gary Kelsall (2008). "The Legend of the Chained Oak". Alton Towers Heritage. Archived from the original on 2013-04-30. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  5. ^ a b c d Kohn, Marc-Arthur. "The Tragic Destiny of the British Aristocrat known as Rome's Mother of the Poor" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  6. ^ The Institute of Our Lady of Mercy. "John Talbot". Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  7. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°59′12″N 1°54′06″W / 52.986761°N 1.901769°W / 52.986761; -1.901769