It wasn’t long after all the guests had gathered for dinner, when the eccentric host arrived by riding on a bear! Even though they were startled by the scene, they had learnt to expect such bizarre theatrical antics from the celebrated hard-hunting Shropshire squire, John Mytton.
But their amusement was short-lived. It turned to alarm when Mytton spurred his steed and was bitten savagely in the leg-a typical ending to one of his escapades.
With a lineage stretching back about 500 years before his day, Mytton lost his father, when he was just two years old and would inherit the family seat, Halston Hall, Whittington, (near Oswestry in Shropshire), which was worth £60,000, as well as an annual income of £10,000 from rental and agricultural assets generated by an estate of more than 132,000 acres in North Wales and Shropshire.
He was sent to Westminister School, only to be later expelled for fighting with a master. He was then sent to Harrow School, from where he was also expelled after three terms. He was educated by a disparate series of private tutors, whom he tormented with practical jokes.
On one occasion, he left a horse in one tutor’s bedroom. Despite having no significant academic achievements, he was accepted and admitted to the University of Cambridge, to which he took 2,000 bottles of port wine to sustain himself during studies. He found life in the university boring, and dropped out.
He would then go on to work in the military full-time and later part-time.
Mytton had numerous pets, including some 2000 dogs! Steak and champagne were fed to some of his favorite pets. Baronet, his favorite horse, had free range inside his house, and lay in front of the fire with Mytton.
Mytton had used his own pack of vicious hounds to hunt foxes ever since he was ten years old, and was known to go hunting in any kind of weather. He usually wore a light jacket, thin shoes, linen trousers and silk stockings while hunting in winter, but would not hesitate at all to strip naked and continue hunting just for the thrill of the chase. He was seen hunting naked even through snow drifts and rivers in full spate.
His love for hunting was such that he continued despite being unseated and sustaining broken ribs -“unmurmuring when every jar was an agony”, and sometimes led his stable boys on rat hunts, each stable boy being equipped with ice skates.
His wardrobe included 150 pairs of hunting breeches, 1000 hats, 700 pairs of handmade hunting boots, and some 3000 shirts!
Speaking of shirts, Mytton once tried to cure his hiccups by setting his shirt on fire. It happened during his stay in Calais. “Damn this hiccup” said Mytton as he stood undressed on the floor, apparently in the act of getting into bed. “But I’ll frighten it away” said Mytton and proceeded to do something that no witness thought he would do. Seizing a lighted candle, he applied it to the tail of his cotton shirt, and was enveloped in flames instantly. A guest had seen enough and quickly beat out the flames. “The hiccup is gone, by God!” said Mytton as he reeled, naked, into bed
Not only did John Mytton or “Mad Jack” as people commonly called him, mind accidents, but he positively embraced them.
He once drove his gig (a simple two wheeled horse carriage) at a high speed and decided to prove that a horse pulling a carriage could not jump over a closed tollgate. He was right.
On another occasion, he asked his unsuspecting passenger whether he had ever been upset in a gig, to which the man replied in the negative. “What!! What a damn slow fellow you must have been all your life!” responded Mytton and promptly drove his gig up a sloping bank at full speed, tipping himself and the poor passenger out.
It is said that in 1826, in order to win a bet, he rode a horse into the Bedford Hotel opposite the Town Hall 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.
Mytton was a notable spendthrift.
Those who visited his estate sometimes found banknotes secreted around the grounds, whether simply lost or left on purpose. He would toss bundles of notes to his friends or servants, or hurl the money into a hedge. He dissipated his entire inherited fortune in less than 15 years.
His agent calculated that if he could but reduce his expenditure to £6,000 a year for six years his estate would not have to be sold, but Mytton declared that “I wouldn’t give a damn to live on £6,000 a year!”
He fled to Calais to avoid his creditors. He had met an attractive 20-year old woman named Susan on Westminister Bridge and offered her £500 a year to be his companion, despite having a daughter and four sons with his second wife Caroline Gifford, and also another daughter from his first wife, Harriet Emma. Susan obliged, accompanying him to France and staying there with him until his last days.
Mytton ended up in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark.
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”.