The Reign of Terror

  • December 1837: London:  “…some scoundrel, disguised in a bear-skin, and wearing spring shoes, has been seen jumping to and fro before foot passengers in the neighbourhood of Lewisham, and has in one or two instances greatly alarmed females. This feat, it is said, is to decide a wager; he having undertaken to play off these freaks for a number of nights in nine different parishes without being apprehended…he has been named ‘Steel Jack’ by the inhabitants…many of whom are afraid to heave their houses after dark” (Morning Chronicle, 28 December 1837).
  • Winter 1837-38: Outskirts of London. Various descriptions: “in the shape of a white bull” (Barnes Common), “in the form of a white bear” (East Sheen), “dressed in polished steel armour” (Isleworth), “clad in a bear’s skin, which upon being drawn aside, exhibited a human body in a suit of mail, and with a long horn, the emblem of the king of hell himself” (Peckham), “in the form of an immense baboon six feet high with enormous eyes” (Hammersmith), “in the shape of a lamplighter walking on his hands, and carrying his ladder between his feet, on which was suspended a lantern” (Hackney).
  • January 1838: Contents of an anonymous letter addressed to the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, read at The Mansion House: “It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the higher ranks of life) have laid a wager that a mischievous and foolhardy companion (name as yet unknown), that he durst not take upon the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three 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.” (The Times, 9 January 1838).
  • February 1838: Bow, London: newspaper account of the attack upon Jane Alsop, 18, in Bearbinder Lane: “…at about a quarter to 9 o’clock…she heard a violent ringing at the gate in front of the house, and on going to the door to see what was the matter she saw a man standing outside…the person [said] that he was a policeman, and said: ‘For God’s sake, bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane.’ She returned into the house and brought a candle, and handed it to the person, who appeared enveloped in a large cloak, and who she at first really believed to be a policeman. The instant she had done so, however, he threw off his outer garment, and applying the lighted candle to his breast, presented a most hideous and frightful appearance, and vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flames from his mouth, and his eyes resembled red balls of fire. From the hasty glance which her fight enabled her to get of his person, she observed that he wore a large helmet, and his dressed, which appeared to fit him very tight, seemed to her to resemble white oil skin. Without uttering a sentence, he darted at her, and catching her partly by her dress and the back part of her neck, placed her head under one of his arms, and commenced tearing her gown with his claws, which she was certain were of some metallic substance.” (The Times, 22 February 1838).
  • January 1838: London: “In consequence of the above ridiculous stories, a reporter…adopted every means for obtaining information on the subject, and personally visited many of the places above-mentioned, where he found that, although the stories were in everybody’s mouth, no person who had actually seen the ghost could be found. He was directed to many persons who were named as having been injured by this alleged ghost, but, on his speaking to them, they immediately denied all knowledge of it, but directed him to other persons whom they had heard, had been ill-treated, but with them he met with no better success; and the police of the T division, who extend as far as Brentford End, declare that, although they have made every enquiry into the matter, they cannot find one individual hardy enough to assert a personal knowledge of the subject.” (Morning Herald, 10 January 1838).
  • 1845 Brentford: butcher Richard Adams charged with ‘having frightened a number of women…personating Spring-heeled Jack dressed in a ‘gown, shawl and other disguises(Manchester Guardian 12 February 1845)
  • 1847 Devonshire: Captain Finch convicted of sexual attacks on servant girls disguised as Spring-heeled Jack in ‘a skin coat, having the appearance of a bullock’s hide, skull cap, horns and mask(London Daily News, 29 March 1847)
  • 1853 Lewisham: William Turner – ‘well known by the name of Spring-heeled Jack’ – charged with highway robbery (Reynolds News, 16 January 1853)
  • 1869 Sunderland: George Gorman convicted of burglary: ‘entering houses in so mysterious a manner and making his exist so rapidly as to earn himself the sobriquet of ‘Spring-heeled Jack.’ (Newcastle Courant, 5 November 1869)

Extracted from Spring-heeled Jack: Sources & Interpretation, edited by Mike Dash, to be published in 2011. For more information see www.mikedash.com

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