The Chained Oak (Alton Village, Staffordshire, England)
On an autumn night in 1821, the Earl of Shrewsbury was returning to his home in 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.
That night, during a violent storm a single branch from the old oak tree broke and fell. Later that same night, a member of the Earl’s family suddenly and mysteriously died. To prevent any more deaths the 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 two versions of the tale. The Alton Towers version is that the old woman said that for every branch of the tree that fell off, a member of his house would die. That night there was a terrible storm and the tree was struck by lightning and a branch broke, at that instant a member of the Earl’s family was struck stone dead.
The second version is that 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. This story is slightly more plausible, as there are records of a riding accident around that time.
Whatever happened, the end result was still the same. The Earl, to try and protect himself from the curse, ordered that the tree be chained up, to prevent any more fatalities, and the tree has remained that way ever since.
As of 9 April 2007, one of the main branches on the tree fell off. It’s been confirmed by the family that no one has died since the branch fell off.
Since then, a considerable proportion of the chained oak has collapsed. It is thought that a chain, having become integral to the tree’s structure, rusted through and resulted in the collapse of part of the lower side of the tree.
The legend inspired the ride Hex at the nearby Alton Towers theme park.