There is a most peculiar legend of Staffordshire and we can safely say the only one that has ever been made into a ride.
The Legend of the Hex at Alton Towers opened at the turn of the Millennium and remains one of the most fascinating attractions, as does the tale and real tree upon which the legend is based.
The ride is set within the restored ruins of Alton towers themselves and the queue begins in the real armoury of the towers.
I remember queuing up and watching this video transfixed by the story and the legend surrounding this mysterious old tree (Les Davies who is in the video explaining was one of my dad’s friends) ..
Seeing is believing…
I first visited the tree on the path to dimming low when I was about 12 or 13 years old and remember no one at my school believing it existed when I told them about it. I couldn’t believe that I was standing right in front of it. It looks so large and so old it really is a sight to behold. There are also worn stone steps leading up to it which have seen well over a century of visitors cautiously make their way toward the tree.
I remember noticing that the tree had actually grown around the huge, rusted chains so this wasn’t something someone from Alton Towers had done recencently to give credence to the story of the new Hex ride. These chains had been on this tree quite clearly for the best part of a century if not quite a bit longer.
The Tale of the Earl
One cold, rainy dark night in Autumn 1821, the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot, was travelling past the site of the oak tree on his return home. An old woman blocked the passage of his carriage and begged him for some spare change.
The Earl ignored her plea and ordered her out of the way. The woman, irate at his arrogance, screamed a curse at him: “For every branch that falls from this oak tree, a member of your family will die.”
Later that same night there was a violent storm whereby a lightning bolt severed a branch from the oak. As the curse had warned, a member of the Earl’s family suddenly died.
Determined to avoid a repeat of the tragedy, the Earl ordered that every branch of the tree be chained so that no branch would ever fall again. Or so the story goes…
1300 years ago..
The tree is around 1,300 years old and has, according to local legend been the site of animal and human sacrifice over the centuries.
It is true that the chains were hand-forged which dates them at around the 1800s, a similar time to that which the legend is based.
It is well documented that oaks and other trees were often worshipped or held sacred before Christianity took root among the population. As old as it is, the oak may have been the focal point for similar such attention in centuries gone by.
Perhaps then, the importance of the site was passed down from generation to generation, thus leading an unknown party to secure the oak in chains sometime in the 1800s.
A Branch fell…
In 2007 a major part of the tree, weakened by the chains that had become embedded in its core, broke away from the trunk and crashed to the ground.
The descendants of the Earl of Shrewsbury were contacted and informed.
There followed no sudden fatalities.
Myths and legends are often based on truth. Storytelling was often used as a means to educate (and warn) others of the dangers of the world and to explain a community’s customs.
Since that first visit it has held me fascinated for many years and still does to this day.
Alton Towers have of course embellished the story with the part of the Earl removing the fallen branches to his vault but I believe the crux of the story is indeed true.
Either way, the imagination runs wild when standing looking up at the tree and looking down the valley imagining that cold, winter night in the Hex film.
What is for certain is the fact that we don’t know and likely never will which makes this all the more intriguing.
Whether the tree has preternatural or supernatural powers is left entirely to us but it does hold an incredible historic energy to it.
It is, and will continue to be, one of Staffordshire most famous enduring mysteries.