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Spring-Heel’d Jack – The Terror of London

by Katrina The Good | Published on August 1st, 2021

The Victorian Era of London, England was a beautifully dark period in history. On one hand there was great advancement in industry and science. On the other hand the streets of London were full of filth, overcrowded areas, and poverty. With all this social unease it is not surprising that a great deal of mysterious and infamous figures roamed the dingy streets of London. All entities from spectral ghosts, to the Devil himself, and of course Jack the Ripper, left the Destitute of London in a state of consistent anxiety. One of these verboten figures is that of Spring Heel’d Jack: an entity that wore a tight fitting white suit, with flaming red eyes, metal claws attached to his finger tips, and springs on his boots that allowed him to jump to superhuman heights to terrorize the damp streets. 

 

Spring Heel’d Jack is considered to be one of the first Urban Legends on record. This never ending legend first began during the Victorian Era of England in 1937. This shadow man seemed to favor attacking women and children of all ages. Even though these attacks first began to be reported in October of 1837, nothing was written in the papers until after the first of the year of 1938. Despite the delay in reporting to the public, the first publicly known encounter with Spring Heel’d Jack would set the tone of this mysterious cryptid for centuries to come. 

In the evening of February 1838 Jane Alsop answered her door bell. Outside her door a man shouted that Spring Heel’d Jack had been apprehended and they needed assistance. Jane Alsop brought out a candle to the man that called out from the nearby darkened alley. Instead of taking the candle, this otherworldly stranger blinded Jane by blowing blue fire in her face. Then proceeded to shred her dress and skin with sharp metal claws on his fingertips. As Jane tried to flee the assailant continued the assault until Jane made it back into her home.

Several days later another young woman named Lucy Scales was walking with her sister one fine evening. Suddenly the shadowy figure of a man jumped out in front of the two women and blew fiery, blue flames into Lucy’s face that seemed to trigger a seizure. It seems that Lucy and her sister did recover from their attack. From these accounts sent a ripple effect across England into what many scholars deem a period of mass hysteria. Unsolved petty crimes, death of livestock, and any inconvenience was blamed on Spring Heel’d Jack.

Even though stories of encounters with Spring Heel’d Jack spread all across England, there is not a great amount of formally published first hand encounters with this phantom. It seems that the handful of verified accounts created a monster of their own. The legend of Spring Heel’d Jack seeped into Victorian popular culture in the form of popular Penny Dreadfuls, short stories, plays, and word of mouth. As time moved forward the reported stories of folks' encounters with Spring Heel’d Jack became more and more fantastic. So much so that many officials and journalists of the time began to grow more skeptical of the existence of Spring Heel’d Jack at all. 

Then the copy cats and mass hysteria morphed this urban legend even more. On March, 20 1838 the The Morning Post reported a scene of chaos that occurred in the area of Kentish Town. Police Constable Markham was doing his normal rounds in the area, when he was called to a large group of panicked women and children shouting “Here comes Spring Heel’d Jack!” Constable Markham was able to bring the culprit into the police station for questioning. It was an unnamed man that had a deformed face, who was also wearing a mask made of blue shiny paper. The man insisted that he meant no mischief on his part and that the crowd became hysterical as he tried to travel through the area. The police accepted the man’s statement, released him, and burned the mask. Was this man an innocent bystander of a people’s imagination or did he intend to fabricate a copycat situation. That will likely never be verified. In 1904, the town of Liverpool was the last place and time that Spring Heel’d Jack was seen, leaping from the ground to the rooftops of houses and businesses and then drifting away into the night, never to be seen again. 

Historian Mike Dash has spoken of the alleged encounters with Spring Heel’d Jack as that of a “ghost, imp, or devil.” At this point in time in England, there is a great amount of unusual spiritual practices and monstrous beings stalking through London’s dark streets. During the research phase of this write up it was found via Wikipedia that there was a series of encounters that were not unlike Spring Heel’d Jack.

This entity was called the Hammersmith Ghost. The story of this specter began in 1803 and was said to be the spirit of a man that committed suicide a year prior. During this time it was believed that the souls of people that committed suicide could never rest. This restless ghost attacked men and women alike walking down the streets of Hammersmith. 

The main feature noted about the Hammersmith Ghost is that it was perfectly white. This noted aesthetic actually led to the murder of a bricklayer called, Thomas Milward, on January 3, 1804. The suspected murder was Francis Smith. Mr. Smith stated that it was his intention to rid Hammersmith of the malicious spirit once and for all. On the evening in question, Smith staked out the neighborhood well after the evening. Then Smith stated that he stopped a perfectly white figure walking down a well known area; it was then he took his shot. Thomas Milward was shot on the left side of the jaw and killed instantly. 

The white uniform Thomas was wearing was his bricklayer’s work clothes. During the trial Thomas’ widow stated that she had warned him to wear a coat over his uniform as it was not the first time he was mistaken for being the Hammersmith Ghost. After this incident it seems that reports of the Hammersmith Ghost faded away. Even though Spring Heel’d Jack hasn’t been spotted since 1904 the story is alive and well in this modern day, in the form of comic books, video games, and movies. What really happened between 1837 and 1838 in London, England will always remain a mystery.

 

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