He had hands of ice, a breath of fire and bounded onto rooftops.
He came bounding out of the night, his eyes glowing like balls of fire, his hands’ icy claws and his mouth spitting flames. For more than 60 years this terrifying figure, reputedly able to leap over high walls or onto roofs with a superhuman case, held England in a grip of fear.At first, in the 1830s, tales of a frightening devil-like figure bounding through the air were treated as hysterical nonsense. But reports, mainly from people crossing Barnes Common in south-west London, continued.
In January 1838, this strange creature received official recognition. At London’s Mansion House the Lord Mayor, Sir John Cowan, read out a letter from a terrified citizen of Peckham. It described the phenomenal jumping feats of a demoniacal figure. There was an immediate uproar.Other complaints flooded in from people who until then had been too afraid of ridicule to report their encounters with the creature who had become known as Spring-heeled Jack.
Polly Adams, a pretty farmers daughter from Kent, who worked in South London pub, had been savagely attacked several months earlier while walking across Blackheath. The attacker fled, leaping great distances into the air.A servant girl, Mary Stevens, was terrorized on Barnes Common. And by
Clapham churchyard a woman on her way home from a visit to friend, confronted by the same mysterious creature Across the Thames, 18-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister, daughter’s r London butcher, were on their way home from a visit to a brother’s ho, * when they were attacked in Green Dragon Alley, Lime-house. A cloaked figure sprang from the darkness, spat flames at Lucy, temporarily blinding her, and then soared away.
The next victim was Jane Alsop, who shared a house in Bear hind Lane Bow, with her two sisters and their father. One night in February there came a loud knocking on the front door. Jane hurried to answer it and found a dark figure swathed in a long cloak standing in the shadows.He swung around and said, ‘I am a policeman. For God’s sake bring me a light. We have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane!’
Jane’s heart skipped a beat. The news stunned and excited her. So the stories of the strange bogyman were true after all, she thought. She hurried Her colorful description was to be echoed repeatedly by other terrified and presumably hysterical – victims. But it was a description that could hardly have helped the police in their search for the fantastic attacker. Alter all, where were they to start looking for such a creature?
Possess of vigilantes were organized, rewards were offered, the police strived in vain to track down the attacker. Even the Duke of Wellington, although nearly 60, armed himself and went out on horseback to hunt down the monster.During the next few years, Spring-heeled Jack roamed the country. Sightings ranged from the back streets of London to remote villages.In February 1855 mystery spread to the West Country, where the folk of five South Devon towns awoke to find that there had been a heavy snowfall and that mysterious footprints had appeared overnight.
The footsteps ran along the tops of walls, over rooftops, and across enclosed courtyards. The frightened inhabitants labeled them the Devil’s Footprints. Some attributed them to a ghostly animal (see p. 179) and others blamed Spring-heeled Jack.
Spring-heeled Jack was still bouncing around the country in 1870. The army certainly took him seriously and organized a plan to trap him. The move was forced by the authorities after sentries, many of them hardened veterans of the Crimean War, had been terrorized at their posts by a weird figure who sprang from the shadows to land on the roofs of their sentry boxes or to slap their faces with icy hands.
In Lincoln, the townsfolk, wild with fear and anger, tried to hunt him down with guns. As always, he disappeared into the night with a maniacal laugh.Jack’s fiendish face was last seen in 1904 in Liverpool. He panicked people in the Everton area by leaping up and down the streets, ‘bounding from pavement to rooftop and back again.’ When a few bold souls tried.to corner him, he melted back into the darkness.
Victorian Britain abounded in rich eccentrics, one of whom may have found it amusing to spend time and money in spreading terror through the country. Some people blamed the ‘Mad Marquis’ of Waterford. But, while he was wild and irresponsible, he was never vicious.
The mystery of Spring-heeled Jack remains unsolved. After his appearance in Liverpool, he disappeared – apparently for good.