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.
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.
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.
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.
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?