Sunday, December 07, 2008

What was Spring Heeled Jack?

A foggy winter’s night, vapour hisses as it alights on the gas lamp. A carriage drawn by two shabby looking horses skitters on the cobbles making you jump. They trundle away into the darkness, their driver swearing in a coarse tongue.
You turn down a side street, your fine leather boots with their metal heels clicking as you lift your skirt slightly to avoid the muddy puddle at the side walks edge.
It is cold tonight and you want to get home, back to the fire that should have been lit in the parlour, back in time for buttered cakes…when laughter, far off and faint, makes you stop. It’s a cackle, sinister in its pitch, outlandish and cruel. You notice that you are now alone, not a good night for a single lady to be out, not a good night at all. You hurry onwards, picking up the pace when you hear the laughter again, louder this time, closer.
You look up convinced it’s coming from the old church spire, high up amongst the eaves, hidden against the dark stone. You think you see movement, one of the gargoyles turns to look at you…surely not, that’s not possible?
You put your head down and begin to run, but the laughter is loud now, a shriek of ridicule and it’s above and behind you. You drop your purse, fearful of the monster that is about to attack, its baying laughter filling your senses.
You don’t want to, but you turn anyway as the creature lands close. Its legs are bent, it’s clawed hands outstretched as if ready to embrace you, but it is its face that you fear the most. Rolling eyes of boiling red fire whilst from its mouth emanates blue gasses that swirl and eddy in the breeze. It’s a daemon, a monster from hell and it’s come for you.
You slip to the floor as the nightmare bounds forward, laughing, always laughing with evil intent. A seizure takes you and as you drift into a dead faint, above the hellish cackle you can now hear the peel of a policeman’s whistle…

And so it would have been if you had been a woman in the late 1830’s in London and you had met the creature known as Spring Heeled Jack. A monster that was seen in several parts of the city, described as both a vicious bear like creature or else a man in an elaborate costume.
Between 1837 and 1870 the name of Spring Heeled Jack crops up again and again, attacking women or else seen leaping across roof tops escaping the people below giving chase. Some of the eye witness accounts match, giving him metal claws and talons, glowing eyes, spitting blue fire from his mouth, wearing a helmet of some description and the ability to leap high in the air allowing him to escape. In all the attacks he never inflicted bodily harm nor did any of his victims die – so what was he?
Most of the attacks can perhaps be put down to hoax allegations, people jumping on the band wagon and helping to fuel the penny dreadful’s that loved nothing better than ‘something scary in Shorditch’ type headlines. Others however describe Jack in detail.
Polly Adams, a pub worker and the middle class Lucy Scales gave vivid accounts of what happened to them, and coming as they did from different parts of London society the idea that they were working together is unlikely. Another intriguing fact is that in 1838 a public session was opened by the then Lord Mayor of London to consider the anonymous complaint about a group of rich young men who…

“…have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, 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 enter a gentleman's gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house…”

This was reported in The Times on the 9th January. Could the two be related? One conslusion about Jack is that he was Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, a rich trickster known as ‘The Mad Marquis’. However, Henry has an alibi for both the above cases. Other theories have Jack as a daemon, a monster or else a space alien!

The stories of Spring Heeled Jack never died down and stories about his appearance have grown with time, appearing all over the UK and right up until 1986 in South Herodforshire.

So what is he? Devil, trickster, monster or my favourite – a Batman prototype?

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