Spring-Heeled Jack, the Scourge of England. An HML Post


50 years before Jack The Ripper terrorized London’s East End in 1888, another Jack gained notoriety in England. For a century he proved to be a terrifying menace, yet to this day nobody has been able to shed light on the true identity of:

SPRING-HEELED JACK

September, 1837. London England. Polly Adams was walking through the area of Clapham late one night when a tall man in a black cape jumped out of nowhere and accosted her on a deserted street. The attacker tore her clothes, grabbed her breasts and clawed her stomach. A policeman found her lying unconscious while on the beat.
A month later, in nearby Barnes Common, Mary Stevens was walking home when a man sprang in front of her from a nearby alley. She suffered a similar ordeal to Polly Adams.

Spring-heeled Jack by artist Anthony Wallis. Image taken from abnormalsanctuary.com

The very next day, not far from where Mary was attacked, the same fiend sprang in front of a moving carriage, scaring the driver and causing him to lose control and crash the vehicle. In full view of the driver and other witnesses, the man took off again, escaping by clearing a 9-foot wall with one bound!

This remarkable feat was not the only unusual feature of this strange entity. More horrific was the description of this person as provided by his victims and witnesses:

A man with bird-like claws for hands, glowing, protruding red eyes with blue flames emitting from his mouth. His face was long with a pointy chin. He wore a black cape and had a maniacal laugh…

And of course, he could jump incredible heights. The whole city of London was now in fear of the entity now known as Spring-heeled Jack. Even the Lord Mayor was forced to get involved after receiving numerous letters from panic-stricken residents. He declared Spring-heeled Jack a ‘public menace’ and an official group of policemen and volunteers was formed to catch the culprit.

More incidents followed and SHJ continued to make headlines.

20 February, 1838, Limehouse District, London. Lucy Scales and her sister were walking home around 8.30pm when Spring-heeled Jack jumped right in front of Lucy and spat blue flames in her face, temporarily blinding her. He made his escape by jumping from the ground onto the roof of a house.

Two days later on February 22nd, he struck again, this time attacking Jane Alsop at her very home in the Bow District.
Late that night, there was a knock on the door and being the only occupant awake in the house, Jane answered it. The late-night visitor claimed to be a policeman and announced that he had captured Spring-Heeled Jack. He demanded that the young girl bring a candle at once for it was very dark outside. When Jane returned with the lit candle, she noticed in its light, that the visitor, with his glowing red eyes, was none other than the fiend himself. He spat blue and white flames in her face and grabbed her hair with his ‘metallic’ claws. He tore at her clothes but luckily Jane’s family were roused by her screams. Her sister came to her rescue and pulled her out of his grasp.

A few more attacks followed but after 1839, there seemed to be a few decades of solace for the people of London, as SHJ disappeared from the limelight…

1877, Aldershot, London. In an army camp in Aldershot, young Private John Regan was attacked- Spring-heeled Jack spat blue flames in his face but then fled when other sentries on duty came to his aid. The bounding menace apparently let out a demonic cackle as he leaped over all the men clearing over 10 feet. The soldiers fired shots at him but it did not seem to affect him.

Spring-heeled Jack Heads North

St. Francis Xavier Church in Liverpool. Image taken from Wikipedia

A month after the Aldershot incident, SHJ was spotted in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. He made other appearances in various parts of England- his last reported sighting being in Liverpool in 1904. Hanging from a steeple of St. Francis Xavier’s Church, onlookers watched in shock as he let go off the steeple, falling straight to the ground. Thinking that he committed suicide, they rushed to the spot where he landed. To their surprise, they found a cloaked figure, standing, unhurt. He then ‘raised his arms and took off’.
This last sighting was over a hundred years ago. The legend of Spring-heeled Jack has become a mystery of the past. Or has it?

14 February, 2012. Scott Martin and his family were travelling home by taxi from Stoneleigh at around 10pm on Valentine’s Day, when they saw a strange man run across the road at lightning speed and jump over 15ft wall on the side of the road. The family were terrified by the apparition and the cab driver refused to drive back alone.

Hoax & Hysteria?

A few eyewitness accounts have suggested rational explanations for SHJ’s supposedly supernatural feats.
One witness claimed to see a spring apparatus attached to his leg (hence his name). Another stated that he had seen an emblem/crest beneath Jack’s cloak, suggesting that the fiend was of royal stock. In 1838, the Lord Mayor received a letter claiming that the chauvinistic Marquis of Waterford was responsible for the attacks. The ‘Mad Marquis’, as he was known, was notorious for playing sadistic tricks on women and became the police’s number one suspect until he moved to Ireland in 1843. The possibility that there could have been more than one Spring-Heeled Jack, is very likely.

I have not read a sceptic’s thoughts on the blue flames and the high-jumping however. I have made an attempt at calculations regarding the leaping. According to a few websites, an average NBA Basketball star can jump up to 30 inches vertically (that’s 2.5 feet). Michael Jordan can reportedly jump up to 40 inches (3 feet). SHJ was said to clear walls of 10 feet! The world high-jump record, which currently stands at 2.5 metres (8 feet) comes close but doesn’t apply as SHJ used to leap forward and land on his feet (something I’ve never seen a high-jumper do!).

As for the blue flames, I was reminded of The Hound Of The Baskervilles where the said hound’s supernatural appearance was due to a phosphorus mixture. Considering that scientists dismiss this as artistic licence on ACD’s part, for in real life phosphorus would have killed the dog, I think we can dismiss this as an explanation for Spring-Heeled Jack’s mouth of flames as well.

So my perceptive readers, what do you think? Was Spring-heeled Jack an elaborate hoax? Or was something more sinister afoot?

NM 🙂

Fiction influenced by Spring-Heeled Jack

– Spring-Heeled Jack by Philip Pullman.
– Spring-Heeled Jack , The Attercliffe Prowler(Graphic Novel) by Craig Daley

Other ‘real’ related Monsters

– The Mothman
– The Perak (of Czechoslovakia)
– The Monkey Man (of India)

REFERENCES

http://www.springheeled-jack.com/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring-heeled_Jack

Boar, R. & Blundell N. The World’s Greatest: Unsolved Crimes. Octopus Books Ltd. 1984.

http://www.thecobrasnose.com/xxghost/shj.html

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40 thoughts on “Spring-Heeled Jack, the Scourge of England. An HML Post

  1. nelle says:

    Spring Heeled Jack… such a name! Heh, I know someone originally from the Lincoln area. I wonder if she knows the story?

    Good stuff, so interesting!

    • Nisha says:

      I was worried I might scare you off, lol. I’m glad you enjoyed it, surprisingly Mr. Spring-Heel is not so well-know as his namesake The Ripper. I’ve been reading about scary monsters and legends from the time I was young but I only came across SHJ a couple of years ago! Can you believe?

  2. Jacques says:

    THis is so cool.. love it

  3. trixfred30 says:

    Spring-Heeled Jack – that’s a new one on me. Maybe he was a character made up to scare daughters into staying at home. Or maybe he’s an immortal who turns up every now and then playing gags on unsuspecting revellers – God knows what he makes of the Elephant and Castle on a Sunday morning when Ministry of Sound turns out…

    • Nisha says:

      Yeah, true, maybe it is a practical hoax to scare young women. Though he’s apparent appearance leaves a lot of unanswered questions. I do wonder what a group of young drunken revellers might do if accosted with such an entity…ha ha! 😉

  4. My son has been inspired by Jack and is writing a serialised story on him at the moment. I had never heard of him before. He also will find this article interesting so I will bookmark it to show him.

    • Nisha says:

      Really? I would LOVE to read your son’s story! Like I said in my reply to Nelle, I only heard of him recently too. Strange how such a strange entity is treated with such obscurity when there were so many eye-witness accounts!
      Thanks, hope your son finds it helpful. 🙂

      • Will puts his story on Movellas the site for teenage writers. He has done three short parts to it at the moment. I, also, think it is strange how so little has been heard of this character. So much so that I positively felt my eyes widen with interest when I saw your post. I think it is wonderful that you chose to write about him.

      • Nisha says:

        Oooh, your son sounds like a famous author in the making!
        I actually found about SHJ in passing. I used study the murders of Jack the Ripper and in one particular Ripper book, the name just popped up. I could have done a post on the Ripper but everybody knows about him and info can be gleaned anywhere. I’m choosing topics for HML that people are not familiar with…

      • Will will be really happy that you said that. I think that you are going the right way looking for less known subjects. I know that when I spot something like your article on Jack, I get really excited and I also find it so inspirational. I shall look forward to what you come up with next.

      • I forgot to say that Will will be having a look at it today and said “thank you” in advance.

  5. Timely post—I just watched a Criminal Minds episode about a Jack the Ripper copy cat. 😉 Intriguing, informative post, Nisha. Keep ’em coming!

    • Nisha says:

      Ooooh sounds like an exciting episode! They show Criminal Minds here but I never watched it.

      Glad you liked the post, August, there will be more of it coming soon, don’t worry… 😉

  6. Great post, Nisha! Like the direction you’re going with this new feature on your blog. Spring-heeled Jack was also the inspiration for the Stephen King short story “Strawberry Spring”. It’s in his collection “Night Shift”. Good read.

    • Nisha says:

      Thanks Kelly, my aim is to educate and entertain at the same time- to ‘edutain’, and I’m glad you’re liking it!

      I never knew King wrote a story inspired by Spring-heeled, I need to check that one out! Thanks for that! 😀

  7. Fascinatng – I used to work in the Limehouse/Bow area – still creepy to walk around at night !

  8. Will has enjoyed your article very much and has found out some things which he did not know. Thanks.

  9. beckyday6 says:

    Thanks for bestowing your knowledge upon me Nisha! This was really interesting. I’d heard the name Spring-Heeled Jack vaguely but I’d never really given it much thought. I certainly didn’t know anything about him. Blue flames? Jumping walls of 10 feet!?!? This stuff is crazy. All I can say is he must of had a really bad after taste from all that fire haha.
    As for the jumping, maybe he was a magical free runner? 😛 If that’s actually a real sentence haha. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmMPCbRuW2Y

    Loving the new post idea, I’ll be looking forward to the next one 😉

    • Nisha says:

      Damn, my ankles hurt from just watching that Ha ha! Great vid, and one excellent explanation for the jumping. Leaping in front of people from a height can certainly be explained this way but what about jumping ONTO high buildings? Hmmmmmm….
      Yeah I bet the blue-flame aftertaste is what made him so pissed off and made him start attacking people, hahahaha!

      So glad you enjoyed it. It is a lot of hard work composing it though, I must admit but a helluva lot of fun! 😀
      My next HML post will be next month so you’ll have to wait awhile I’m afraid… 😦

      • beckyday6 says:

        Hmmmm….wait, wait, I know this one……. HE BUILT AN ANTI GRAVITY DEVICE! Behold the Becky knowledge! 😉

        Haha, that’s fine no worries, it will give me something to look forward to. It will be interesting to see what mysterious topic you come up with next.

    • Nisha says:

      An Anti-gravity Device!!! Why of course! Excellent work, Great Beckster!! I think we solved this mystery then…
      Lol.
      Next HML post will hit very close to home for me: the Tokoloshe. Look out for it! 🙂

  10. I had read about this fellow before, but the 2012 incident was an interesting addition. Thanks for a neat post!

    Laura Ritchie

  11. The “unknown” artist behind that B&W picture of Jack is the excellent Anthony Wallis. I originally commissioned this as an illustration for my book “Haunted Wandsworth” (The History Press, 2007). It’s a great picture!

  12. jenniferneri says:

    Hi Nisha—really late to getting to read your post (I’ve been in novel hibernation). Very interesting post, and I liked the addition of the 2012 incident. Look forward to more! 🙂

  13. Peter Willis says:

    Hi Nisha. The Stoneleigh story interests me, as I am interested in recent sightings of Spring Heeled Jack. A large entity chased me out of the Cholera Grounds in Sheffield back in 1981 when I was a child. It moved with all arms and legs. It chased me out of the burial grounds and part way down a nearby road. It then chose to disapear. Spoke to an ‘expert’ who thought my sighting was not Jack as such large entities have been seen the world over.
    Recently, I did a paranormal investigation in them very same burial grounds. I took random photos in the grounds. Most dark as I was shooting as night was drawing in. One looked like daylight conditions. This light blurry photo returned a figure gesturing from the edge of the woodland. He appears to be breathing fire! If the face is zoomed in on, the face looks half human / half animal.
    I am convinced this is photographic proof of Spring Heeled Jack.
    Please visit http://www.paranormalpubs.com to view the photograph on my photo gallery.

  14. Peter Willis says:

    Spring Heeled Jack was seen in the Cholera Grounds, Sheffield, during his 19th Century reign of terror.

  15. Marc Schuster says:

    The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder is a fun sci-fi take on Spring Heeled Jack, and I’ve wondered if Morrissey’s song “Spring Heeled Jim” is related.

    • Nisha says:

      I don’t usually read sci-fi but I will look out for that one, thanks Marc! Yeah, SHJ has been referenced in pop culture before and it definitely sounds like Morrissey was influenced by it… 

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