Spring-heeled Jack


Who was Spring-heeled Jack? Was he anything to do with Jack The Ripper? I wasn’t sure, so I asked Wikipedia and this is what it told me:

Spring-heeled Jack is a folklore character of victorian times who was known for his bizarre appearance and startling leaps and bounds. The first claimed sighting of Spring-heeled Jack was in 1837. Later sightings were reported all over Britain, and the last reported sighting is said to have been made in Liverpool in 1904.

In October 1837, a girl by the name of Mary Stevens was walking to Lavender Hill where she was working as a servant. On her way through Clapham, a strange figure leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, while ripping her clothes and touching her flesh with its claws, which were, according to her deposition, “cold and clammy as those of a corpse”.

The next day, the leaping character is said to have chosen a very different victim near Mary Stevens’ home, inaugurating a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Several witnesses claimed that he escaped by jumping over a 9ft high wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter.

Gradually, the news of the strange character spread, and soon the press and the public gave him a name: Spring-heeled Jack.

The matter was discussed in The Times, and many places in and around London reported similar “wicked pranks”. One writer said several young women in Hammersmith had been frightened into “dangerous fits” and some “severely wounded by a sort of claws the miscreant wore on his hands”. Another correspondent claimed that several people had died of fright across South London, and others had had fits. The police were instructed to search for the individual responsible, and rewards were offered.

Perhaps the best known of the alleged incidents involving Spring-heeled Jack were the attacks on two teenage girls, Lucy Scales and Jane Alsop.

Jane Alsop reported that on the night of 19 February 1838, she answered the door of her father’s house to a man claiming to be a police officer, who told her to bring a light, claiming “we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. She brought the person a candle, and noticed that he wore a large cloak. The moment she had handed him the candle, however, he threw off the cloak and “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance”, vomiting blue and white flame from his mouth while his eyes resembled “red balls of fire”. Miss Alsop reported that he wore a large helmet and that his clothing, which appeared to be very tight-fitting, resembled white oilskin. Without saying a word he caught hold of her and began tearing her gown with his claws which she was certain were “of some metallic substance”. She screamed for help, and managed to get away from him and ran towards the house. He caught her on the steps and tore her neck and arms with his claws. She was rescued by one of her sisters, after which her assailant fled.


Eight days after the attack on Miss Alsop, on 28 February 1838, 18-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister were returning home after visiting their brother, when a person, who was wearing a large cloak, thrust “a quantity of blue flame” in her face, which blinded her and set her into fits.

Her brother added that on the evening in question, he had heard the loud screams of one of his sisters moments after they had left his house and on running up Green Dragon Alley he found his sister Lucy on the ground in a fit, with her sister attempting to hold and support her. She was taken home, and he then learned from his other sister what had happened. She described Lucy’s assailant as being of tall, thin, and gentlemanly appearance, covered in a large cloak, and carrying a small lamp or bull’s eye lantern similar to those used by the police. The individual did not speak nor did he try to lay hands on them, but instead walked quickly away. Every effort was made by the police to discover the author of these and similar outrages, and several persons were questioned, but all were released.

After these incidents, Spring-heeled Jack became one of the most popular characters of the period. His alleged exploits were reported in the newspapers and became the subject of several penny dreadfuls and plays performed in the cheap theatres that abounded at the time.

Sceptical investigators have dismissed the stories of Spring-heeled Jack as mass hysteria which developed around various stories of an atavistic bogeyman or devil which have been around for centuries and across differing countries and cultures.

Other researchers believe that some individual(s) may have been behind its origins, being followed by imitators later on. Spring-heeled Jack was widely considered not to be a supernatural creature but rather one or more persons with a macabre sense of humour. A group of young aristocrats were indicted as the culprits at the time, after an irresponsible wager. A popular rumour circulating as early as 1840 pointed to an Irish nobleman, the Marquess of Waterford, as the main suspect.

The vast urban legend built around Spring-heeled Jack influenced many aspects of Victorian life, especially in contemporary popular culture. For decades, especially in London, his name was equated with the bogeyman, as a means of scaring children into behaving by telling them that if they were not good, Spring-heeled Jack would leap up and peer in at them through their bedroom windows, by night.






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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

4 thoughts on “Spring-heeled Jack

  1. becandben@gmail.com'
    April 6, 2013 at 08:31

    I remember reading about this in Look and Learn, back in the good old days, when tales of psycho-sexual hysteria possibly sparked by a serial sex offender with a costume fetish were deemed suitable for the nation’s young minds.

    • Frank Key
      April 6, 2013 at 08:49

      Ah! “Look And Learn”! That brings back memories.

    • Worm
      April 6, 2013 at 09:18

      There does seem to be something very psycho-sexual about it you’re right Ben. Very interesting to note that similar apparitions have appeared all over the world

  2. Brit
    April 7, 2013 at 21:10

    Excellent Victoriana this week.

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