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

And now for something completely different…


Exciting times awaits, folks. The end of this month marks the one-year anniversary of NM’s Writers’ Bloq. Yessiree, consider me a blog pro! Well almost.

Anyhoo, so in honour of the anniversary, the month of March will see some new ‘developments.’

Firstly the Writers’ Bloq will play host to its very first Guest Blogger, so look out for that this coming Sunday.
And secondly…

I have a confession to make.

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I can remember. Yes, I know, that’s not really a confession and hardly a revelation, just let me continue…

When I nurtured dreams of being a writer as a young girl, I never, ever thought that I would be writing…. fiction.
How’s that? Surprised? I always saw myself writing articles and when it came to books, the only kinds I imagined myself publishing were textbooks and celebrity autobiographies (I’m being serious). Hey, I was young- I was allowed to dream big.
I only started dabbling in fiction writing about three years ago, hence my lack of confidence sometimes with regards to my stories.

Non-fiction, however, is what I consider my comfort zone. I’m not saying it’s easy, in fact, it can be just as difficult even with all the information at your disposal. I enjoy reading and writing it however so I’m hoping you would humour me in this regard.
See, I’ve decided to start a new feature on this blog. I’m calling it History, Myths and Legends. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. There is already a category dedicated to this, as you can see on the side but I’ve decided to up the ante. If you are into historical events, true life mysteries and the supernatural then you’re in for a treat!!!

Once a month, I will dedicate one post to a famous legend, myth or piece of history with/without a supernatural twist. I can’t promise that they will have some literary link but I will try. Therefore to all my writer buddies, if this isn’t your cup of herbal tea, I do apologise. You will just have to wait for another one of my regular posts where I moan about editing. 😉
Also if you have a sensitive disposition and a natural aversion to the supernatural, I will understand if you make yourself scarce. I would hate to think I was the cause of nightmares or sleepless nights. I have affectionately abbreviated the feature to HML (not to be confused with the web-link abbreviation!) so you will recognise the article.

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts about my new blog feature. My very first HML post will be next week : Spring-heeled Jack, the Scourge of England.
See ya then!

NM 🙂

DAY 30 – Favourite coffee table book


Ah, I can’t believe the final day of the 30-day Book Challenge is finally here!! Woo hoo! And a great way to end it too, well personally for me anyway.

For those of you whose parents were members/subscribers to Readers’ Digest (or maybe you’re one yourself) you will probably remember, not only those tiny magazines, but also those wonderful hardback collectors’ item books designed especially for the adornment of your coffee table.

Ironically, even if I had my own coffee table, I would never dream of leaving these precious books lying out in the open. I might sound completely selfish here but the very thought of some careless relative perusing my Great Mysteries of the Past with their grubby fingers is enough to make my skin crawl.
This book combines two loves of mine- History and mystery. In school, all the ideas and information for my English speeches came from this book. And it wasn’t exactly useless when I consulted it for my History essays either.

Great Mysteries of the Past dissects every major mysterious incident in history (prior to 1990) – from Jack the Ripper to the sinking of the Titanic to the murder of JFK.
It also has articles discussing famous legends and the possible truths behind them, like King Arthur, Robin Hood, William Tell and Lady Godiva. As I said in a previous post, sometimes the best mysteries, are real-life ones.
Not surprisingly, the spine of the book has detached itself somewhat (due to excessive use) and the book itself is valiantly holding on to the hard black cover.

Did I stress how much I love this book? Yes I seriously do. I was actually considering it for DAY 26-Favourite non-fiction book but thought it better to save it for the last topic.

So, the 30-day Book Challenge finally comes to an end. My blogging life returns to normal…

NM 😀

DAY 26 and 27 – Favourite fiction and non-fiction book


Favourite Fiction Book

I’m including 2 days in one again because I find Day 27’s favourite fiction book obsolete. If your favourite book ever, happens to be a novel like Hound of the Baskervilles, then it stands to reason that it would also be your favourite fiction book.

DAY 26 – Favourite Non-fiction book

Now here’s something you might not know about me. There was a stage in my life when I barely read any fictional novels. It wasn’t out of choice, I just seemed to be drawn to non-fiction books. Any book dealing with unsolved mysteries, history and legends was my weakness. I still have this inclination but it’s only in the last 3 years, ever since I started writing, that I rediscovered the joys of fiction books. I still prowl the history and esoteric sections of the library and bookstores however, so therefore choosing a favourite work of non-fiction is a bit of a challenge for me.

Holy Blood and Holy Grail by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh is a book I quite enjoyed but it is somewhat erudite and tedious and I sometimes found it difficult to follow the authors’ arguments. I absolutely loved The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. It’s about the cholera epidemic in London in 1854 and is a very exciting and well-written book.
There are many others I enjoyed, including all those Reader’s Digest’s coffee table-type books- Facts and Fallacies, Great Mysteries of the Past etc. But if I am absolutely forced to choose a winner here, then I’m going with The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. I base my choice on my belief that it is the book with the least flaws in terms of dispensing of information.

The Complete Jack the Ripper is by far the best book ever written on the Ripper mystery-I should know, I’ve read a lot of them!

It seems pretty evident that nobody knows more about the famous murders than Rumbelow. Every single person ever considered as a suspect (and there were many of them) is mentioned in his book and each suspect’s case is carefully considered and argued brilliantly. Ironically the one problem with Rumbelow’s work happens to be the one thing that also sets it apart from the other Ripper books. He makes no real effort to provide his take on the mystery whereas all the other books always seem in favour of at least one suspect. He keeps absolutely mum about his own suspicions which can be a difficult thing to do for a non-fiction writer. He lays out the suspects before you as if in a line-up (he does however place slightly more emphasis on the more popular candidates) and traces each one’s movements during the time of each killing.

Rumbelow’s aim is clearly for you to make up your own mind but in the end you are left more confused as to the Ripper’s identity than ever before. Maybe the brilliance of this book lies in this fact, which is probably why I love it so much. Too often you find the thoughts and opinions of an author filtering through what is supposed to be an objective piece of work.

There is another reason I love this book. If you’re a fan of Victorian Literature like me (especially Dickens), you will find Rumbelow’s mouthwatering depiction of London in 1888 to die for! Trust me, if you read it, you’ll be tempted to write a Victorian murder mystery. Sometimes the best stories for inspiration really are the true life ones!

NM 🙂