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

DAY 20 – Book you have read the most number of times


I sort of have an idea but it’s not like I keep a tally or something. If I really like a book, I do have a tendency to read it again after some time has passed. Therefore there are quite a few books out there that I’ve read at least twice.

Except for the Deathly Hallows, I read all of the Harry Potter books at least twice (I’ve read Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Azkaban 3 times).
Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian only got boring for me after my third go.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of the Four and Study in Scarlet were both read twice although I think I also attempted Sign of the Four for the third time but eventually got bored with it half-way through.
Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers was also read twice though I’m not sure why I read it again-it’s not one of my favourites.

The book I have borrowed the most times from the library is the Complete Jack The Ripper by Donald Rumbelow, which is a non-fiction book. This might be due partly to the fact that at one time I was writing a Victorian murder story (I thought it was crap, so it lies unfinished) and was using this book as a reference. It’s still a great book anyway and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

This leaves us with the two books that keep popping up in this Book Challenge.
I read Hound Of the Baskervilles either 3 or 4 times, I can’t remember. My Penguin Classic version of Dracula I read only once but I have read (as I mentioned in another post) a couple of other editions before and my Ladybird Childrens’ version I’ve gone through like a hundred times (although I know that one doesn’t count! ).

So who is the winner here? I’ll let Sherlock and the Count fight it out…

NM 🙂

DAY 17 – Shortest book you ever read


I found this topic to be quite bothersome to be honest. Because I’ve read so many short stories and Victorian novellas in my lifetime, it’s hard for me to distinguish them in terms of length.

Honestly I’m too lazy to search the internet for every book I had in mind just to check if they’re considered a short story or not. It’s all very confusing to me so I’m just going to go out on a limb here and wing it, as they say. If any of the books/stories I mention below are in fact short stories, please forgive me.

Collector's Library books. Penguin Classics and Wordsworth have nothing on these guys!

When thinking about this topic, I found myself pulling out a few Collectors’ Library books I have in my possession. Obviously due to their appearance, the books give the impression of being really short. They are quite small and cute with a very small font compared to ‘normal’ size books like a Wordsworths Classic for example.
So I wondered if it would be accurate of me to compare the number of pages in a Collectors’ Library book as suppose to a Wordsworth or Penguin.
Off course it could all just be an optical illusion and in font size they might be exactly the same (see, told you it was bothersome).

Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (Wordsworths) has a respectable 256 pages; Hound of the Baskervilles (Collectors) has 200; and Jekyll and Hyde (Collectors) a paltry 96, actually 87 if you leave out all the title pages. Despite its size, the blurb to my copy of Jekyll And Hyde refers to it as a novel. Right….

Thinking back to all the other books I’ve read but don’t own: Le Fanu’s Carmilla, I remember as being quite short but don’t ask me how many pages it is for I read it a long time ago. And should I even consider Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? I always thought it was a short story but coming in at 128 pages (Penguin), that’s way more than Jekyll and Hyde!

Whether Christmas Carol is a shortie or not, it doesn’t matter. The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is still the shortest by a long shot (ha ha, see what I did there?) and therefore today’s winner.

I suppose you want me to tell you about the book? Truth is, there’s not much to tell. EVERYBODY knows this story even if they didn’t read it.
The term ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ has become synonymous with being two-faced, so while reading the story the suspense and mystery has already been killed due to this piece of general knowledge. I have no doubt that the book’s very first audience were probably thrilled out of their gaiters in finding out who Mr. Hyde really was, and obviously this initial reaction was the precedent that set in motion the success that the book was to have.

I could go into detail of how Stevenson based his story on a real Scottish nobleman named Deacon Brodie who lived in 18th century Edinburgh but do you really want a history lesson on a Friday? No I thought not.

A piece of Classic literature in under 100 pages. Quantity does not always mean quality, Mr. Dickens..

NM 🙂

Day 10 and Day 11 of 30-day Book Challenge


Okay I’m breaking the rules here and including two days in one, for the simple reason that I don’t think a single post for each of the below is necessary.

Book that changed my life?

I thought long and hard about this and the truth is, there is no single book that has changed my life. Every book I have ever read has influenced me or my writing in some way or the other. Unless its absolute crap off course. But then, even The Ghosts of Sleath made an impact on me that was monumental.

Favourite Book from your favourite author?

My answer to this I have already covered in Day 1. Arthur Conan Doyle is my favourite author and it stands to reason that my favourite book of his would be Hound of the Baskervilles.

So its two for the price of one- sometimes a bargain means a compromise in quality. Sorry!

NM 🙂

Ps. for the full list of the 30-day Book Challenge click here.

DAY 1 – Favourite Book


Day One of the 30-day Book Challenge and it’s an easy one.

My favourite book ever? This masterpiece:

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan so this book does it for me. From Watson’s accurate but misinterpreted observations, down to the general helplessness of their client and off course the genius of Holmes himself, all the classic elements of the Arthur Conan Doyle short story seem to extend itself in this novella for our prolonged enjoyment.

There is one difference between the short stories and Hound of the Baskervilles however: and that is that one single mouth-watering scene.

We all know Sherlock has a thing for dramatics.
Apart from The Adventure Of the Empty House, never has there been a scene where the Great Detective makes an appearance (or should I say reappearance) that is more exciting, more riveting, more surprising and just downright more awesome than when Watson is hiding out in a stone hut on the Moor that he thinks is being inhabited by an escaped convict and on hearing footsteps, readies himself and his gun for the criminal, only to be greeted by that familiar voice that says,

“It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson, I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in.”

Absolute magic.