Spring heeled Jack – The demon attacker of London

Spring heeled Jack – The demon attacker of London

A few decades before Jack the Ripper became a household name, there was another Jack terrorizing Great Britain, Spring heeled Jack! The first reported sighting of this villain was in 1837. Described as a devil-like figure with a black cloak and helmet, he also had the look of a tall and thin gentleman. His nickname comes from his ability to jump to very high heights. Some reports had Jack as jumping as high as 10ft, others say he could leap houses.

It wasn’t just the sight of him that was a worry. Spring Heeled Jack was known for attacking women.

Spring-heeled Jack Comic

The first sighting of Spring-heeled Jack

The first report of a spring-heeled Jack was from a businessman on his way home after a late night at work. He told of being suddenly aghast as a strange and mysterious figure sprang spryly over the high railings of a cemetery wall, landing right in front of him on the path.

There was no attack on this occasion. He was described as a man, very muscular with features like a devil, with large and pointed ears and nose, and protrusive eyes that glowed.

Spring-heeled Jack’s first attack – Mary Stevens

In October 1837, Mary Stevens, a young woman was on her way from her parent’s house in Battersea to Lavender Hill, where she was working as a servant. When she was crossing through Clapham Common, a strange figure leaped out at her from a dark alley.

He grabbed her tight with his arms, so her own arms were immobilized and she was unable to move. He then proceeded to kiss her face and rip off her clothes. Mary said that he seemed to have sharp claws, which were, according to her statement to the police were, “cold and clammy as those of a corpse”

In a panic, Mary screeched and screamed until it drew attention from the nearby residents who rushed to see what the commotion was. Jack ran away and a search was hastily conducted but no there was no sign of the attacker.

artists impression of Spring-heeled Jack

Spring heeled Jack Eye-witness reports

After Mary’s attack, several other young women reported similar sightings around the suburbs of London. The attacker was described, by the young ladies, as a figure that changed shapes, ghost-like and possessing gloves with claws.

For about a year, rumors ran rampant throughout all London. The pressed started calling the assailant spring-heeled Jack. The authorities thought this was nothing more than just rampant gossip. That all changed the following year.

The Mayor of London speaks out

The stories in the newspapers continued to engross the public and began to embarrass the police and mayor.

13th of March 1838 – The Morning Post London

Just a few months after these first sightings, on 9 January 1838, Sir John Cowan, the Lord Mayor of London gave an address. It is rumored that the Mayor was compelled to make the speech because of a letter received:

The letter’s text

“TO THE RIGHT HON. THE LORD MAYOR.

        “My Lord, — The writer presumes that your Lordship will kindly overlook the liberty he has taken in addressing a few lines on a subject which within the last few weeks has caused much alarming sensation in the neighbouring villages within three or four miles of London.

        “It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the higher ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion (name as yet unknown), that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises — a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and, moreover, that he will not dare to enter gentlemen’s gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses.

At one house he rung the bell, and on the servant coming to open the door, this worse than brute stood in a no less dreadful figure than a spectre clad most perfectly. The consequence was that, the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses, but, on seeing any man, screams out most violently, ‘Take him away!’ There are two ladies (which your Lordship will regret to hear), who have husbands and children, and who are not expected to recover, but likely to become burdens to their families.

        “For fear that your Lordship might imagine that the writer exaggerate, he will refrain from mentioning other cases, if anything, more melancholy than those he has already related.

        “This affair has now gone on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer is very unwilling to be unjust towards any man, but he has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger ends, but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent. It is, however, high time that such a detestable nusance should be put a stop to, and the writer feels assured that your Lordship, as the chief magistrate of London, will take great pleasure in exerting your power to bring the villain to justice.

        “Hoping your Lordship will parden the liberty I have taken in writing,

        “I will remain your Lordship’s most humble servant,

                “A RESIDENT OF PECKHAM.”

After the speech was over, a man in the crowd spoke up. He offered that the villain had been terrorizing servant girls in Kensington, Hammersmith, and Ealing. He had, in fact, attacked a blacksmith and “torn his flesh with iron claws.”. The man went on to claim Spring Heeled Jack was doing the same to young ladies of the area.

Spring heeled Jack’s attack on Jane Alsop

on the night of 19 February 1838, Jane Alsop was at home at her father’s house. A knock came on the door. She answered it to a man who claimed to be a police officer. The man told her to bring a light, claiming “we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. She brought the man a candle.

The moment she had handed the so-called police officer the candle, the man threw off the cloak he was wearing. In Jane’s own words the figure “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance”. Jane also claimed he was breathing blue fire from his mouth. Without a word, he grabbed hold of Jane and began to tear at her gown with his claw gloves. Jane later said the claws were “of some metallic substance”.

Screaming she managed to get away as far as the front door steps where he caught her again. Fortunately for Miss Alsop, her sister came out of the house to assist her, and the attacker fled.

The attack on  Lucy Scales

Just nine days following the assault on Jane Alsop, an 18-year-old woman named Lucy Scales and her sister were coming home following a visit to their brother’s house in Limehouse. Only a short distance from his house was a small back street known as Green Dragon Alley. Passing the alley, they noticed a man standing in the shadows just at the entrance to the small alley. Lucy was walking slightly in front of her sister at the time. Just as she was passing the cloaked figure, he blew “a quantity of blue flame” in her face. The light of the flame caused Jane to be unable to see. So shocked was she that she dropped to the ground in a violent fit.

The brother, hearing the screams of his sisters, ran out to find Lucy still shaking on the ground with her sister trying to support her. By this time Jack had fled.

From the official Magazine Britain

The arrest of Thomas Millbank

A few days after the newspapers reported the attack on Jane Alsop, a man named Thomas Millbank was drinking in a pub called the Morgan’s Arms. Thomas, probably having too much to drink, started to boast that he was indeed Spring-heeled Jack. He was arrested. Thomas was tried at the Lambeth Street court. The arresting officer was James Lea, who was famous for arresting “The red barn murder”. A notable crime of the time.

Millbank had been wearing overalls and a great-coat which he dropped and was found near the house. Nearby on the ground was also the candle that Jane had given the attacker. He only escaped conviction because Jane Alsop insisted her assailant could breathe fire. Thomas said he could do no such thing, and on that evidence, he was acquitted.

The arrest of Captain Finch

Police leading a Spring-heeled Jack investigation in Teignmouth, Devon in July of 1847 arrested a one Captain Finch. He was convicted of assaulting two women. He made these assaults while wearing a skin coat which looked like a bullock’s hide, a skullcap, horns, and a mask. It is unknown if he were behind any other Spring heeled Jack attacks or not. No mention was made of Captian Finch breathing fire or being able to jump to any great height.

The Aldershot’s barracks sighting

At the beginning of the 1870s, there were several Spring-heeled Jack sightings in places quite far away from each other. In 1872 he was seen in Peckham and in 1873 there were many sightings in Sheffield.

One of the most remarkable accounts of Spring-heeled Jack came in August 1877 from a group of soldiers. This was in the Aldershot’s barracks, a major army garrison in South East England,

A sentry was standing guard at the North Camp when he noticed a figure coming out of the dark towards him. The soldier challenged the person to stop and identify himself. This order was ignored. The figure walked up to the soldier and started to repeatedly slap his face.

The soldier and another guard shot at him, apparently with no effect. The figure ran off into the darkness never to be seen again

The Last Sightings

In the autumn of 1877, Spring-heeled Jack was reported to be seen at Newport Arch, in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. A crowd attacked him. He was shot at, but again to no effect. As usual, he used his leaping abilities to make his getaway.

Around 1888, in Everton, north Liverpool he was seen on the top of a church rooftop.

In 1904 he was said to be seen in William Henry Street in Liverpool. That was the last reported sighting of Spring-heeled Jack, and the world never has found out who or what he was.

What do you think? Was he a common assailant with some tricks up his sleeves or something more supernatural?

The Mystery of Flannan Isles Lighthouse

The Mystery of Flannan Isles Lighthouse

The Lighthouse at Flannan Isles

Flannan Isles Lighthouse is a 75-foot lighthouse between 1895 and 1899, near the highest point on Eilean Mòr, one of the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The purpose of this construction was to warn ships of the treacherous rocks. There was a landing for ships and a small railway line built to bring heavy supplies to the lighthouse. Around Christmas of 1900, 3 of the keepers mysteriously disappeared!

The Mystery!

The first hint of anything strange came on 15 December 1900.

On December 15, 1900, The steamer Archtor was on its way from Philadelphia to Leith. The weather was rough as it passed the islands. The crew of the ship noted that the light was not operational.

Steamer from the 1900’s

The ship, some time after passing the lighthouse ran aground on Carpie Rock in the Firth of Forth. After the ship was rescued, it continued on its way to Oban. Due to the troubles the captain had with his ship, it was not some time until it was reported that the lighthouse was not working.

The island lighthouse was manned by 3 men out of a team of 4. 1 man would spend time on the mainland and the shift was rotated. Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur were on duty at the time.

The lighthouse crew

The lighthouse tender Hesperus, that supplied the light was unable to set out on a routine visit from Lewis planned for 20 December due to the weather and did not arrive until noon on the day after Christmas.
On arrival, the crew and relief keeper found that the flag was missing from the flagpole, and strangely, none of the lighthouse keepers were there to greet them. Jim Harvie, the captain of Hesperus, gave a loud blast on the ship’s whistle and set off a distress flare, but no one answered.

Hesperus

The Search

A boat was launched and Joseph Moore, the 4th man of the team, was put ashore alone. He found the entrance gate to the compound and main door both closed, the beds unmade, and the clock stopped, due to not being wound.

The lighthouse in 1900

Returning to the docks with his news, he then went back up to the lighthouse with some of the crew from the ship. They found that the lamps were cleaned and refilled. A set of oilskins(rain weather gear) was found, suggesting that one of the keepers had left the lighthouse without them, which was unusual considering the severity of the weather mentioned in the last entry in the lighthouse log. The only sign of anything amiss in the lighthouse was an overturned chair by the kitchen table. There was no sign of the keepers anywhere on the Island.

The Investigation

Moore and three volunteer seamen were left to attend the light and Hesperus returned to the shore station at Breasclete. Captain Harvie sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board dated 26 December 1900, stating:

A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island… The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows, they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane.

No bodies were ever found and the loneliness of the rocky islets may have lent itself to feverish imaginings.

Plenty of Theories!

Some of the theories suggested

  • One keeper washed over the cliffs and the other 2 drowned tried to save him
  • One keeper murdered the other two and then threw himself into the sea in a fit of remorse
  • that a sea serpent (or giant sea bird) had carried the men away
  • Abducted by foreign spies
  • they had met their fate through the presence of a boat filled with ghosts

A more simple explanation came from Robert Muirhead, a Northern Lighthouse Board superintendent:

On 29 December 1900, he arrived to conduct the official investigation into the incident. He found severe damage to the western landing. He concludes:

From evidence which I was able to procure I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up till dinner time on Saturday the 15th of December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 ft (34 m) above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.

We will probably never know for sure what happened. The lighthouse today is automated and no keepers live there.

The lighthouse today
The old rail line

Photo credits
Marc Calhoun
Chris Downer
JJM