Monday, 22 October 2018

Spook Sightings Of Yester Year - No.9 - Spring Heeled Jack (Part 1)

For more than 100 years, a mysterious, mischievous and sometimes brutal character preyed upon young ladies who dared to wander in the dark, first in London, and then all over Britain, tearing at them with large claws, leaping away with seemingly supernatural ability and spewing flames like he had crawled up out of the pits of hell itself!

Or perhaps, maybe, someone came up with a good yarn, and for decades people decided to copy it when trying to freak people out, either for a good old chuckle or more nefarious plans....maybe even a slightly more famous London Jack took his name from this decades old ghost when he went on his murderous rampage?

Whatever the case, I decided to look up Spring Heeled Jack in the British Newspaper Archive, and found a huge amount of much in fact, that this is a two-parter Spook Sighting, and slightly lengthier than usual!

Here then, is the first part...the next will appear later in the week. Just as soon as my eyes and fingers have recovered from all this researching, transcribing and correcting! Enjoy! ;-)


(From The Northampton Mercury, dated 13th January 1838)


-Mansion House, Monday.- The Lord Mayor said that he had received a letter upon a subject the odd nature of which had induced him to withhold it from the public for some days, in the expectation that some statement might be made through a source of indisputable authority relative to the matter of which it treated.
The following is the letter :-

"To the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor.
"My Lord, - The writer presumes that your lordship will kindly overlook the liberty in which 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 and 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 fool-hardy companion (name as yet unknown), that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in the three different disguises of 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 rang 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 never from that moment has 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 upon their families.

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

"The affair has now been going on for some time, and strange to say, the papers are 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 fingers' ends, but through interested motives are induced to remain silent. It is however, high time that such a detestable nuisance 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 pardon the liberty I have taken in writing,
"I remain your lordship's most humble servant,

The Lord mayor, on reading the account, observed that, as our friends on the other side of the Atlantic were in the habit of saying, if was "extraordinary if true." In his opinion it was not calculated for this meridian of London, but if any trick had been practised by fools, he had no doubt that the vigilance of the police might be depended upon to prevent annoyance. It appeared to him that the letter, which was written in a very beautiful hand, wasthe production of a lady who might have been terrified by some bugaboo into this mode of obtaining retribution at the hands of the Lord Mayor; but as the terrible vision had not entered the city, he could not take cognizance of its iniquities.

A gentleman stated to his lordship that the servant girls about Kensington and Hammersmith and Ealing told dreadful stories of the ghost or devil, who on one occasion was said to have beaten a blacksmith, and torn his flesh with iron claws,a nd in others to tear the clothes from the backs of females. Not one of the injured people had been known to tell the story; perhaps they did not live to tell it.

The Lord mayor believed that one of the seven ladies who had lost their seven senses was his correspondent. he hoped she would do him the favour of a call, and he would have an opportunity of getting from her such a description of the demon as would enable him to cath him, in spite of the paid press and police.


(From The Morning Advertiser, dated 30th January 1838)


Since Wednesday night last a good deal of alarm has prevailed among the more nervous portion of the inhabitants of Alfred Street, Stepney, and its vicinity, owing to the alleged appearance in that neighbourhood of the ghost, who has for some months past been playing his melodramatic and pantomimic gambols to the great terror of respectable unprotected females and gossiping servant-maids.

The report in question originated with Mary Snowden, a girl of 15 years of age, who is in the service of Mr. Armstrong, a highly respectable gentleman residing in White Cottage, Alfred Street, Stepney. She states that on Wednesday night, about eight o'clock, she was sent of a message by her master, and on her return home, and just as she reached the wall of Mr. Beaumont's cemetery, she heard the scream of a female, and on looking in the direction from whence it proceeded she saw the figure of a tall man with a white sheet folded about him, a bright brass helmet with a plume of feathers on his head, and his arms covered with some sort of skin, which terminated in large claws. Two men, whom she believed to be policemen, as they had long dark coats and white gloves on, were one on each side of this strange figure, and it was her impression at the time that they had taken him into custody, as she heard a boy, who stood a short distance off in the Ben Jonson's-field, exclaim "Oh, Long-heeled Jack, you're caught at last." She then, she said, heard the ghost, as she termed him, speak to the men on either side and tell them that they might have what they liked, or words to that effect, if they did not bring him before the public. She then, she says, ran home as soon as she could and related what she had seen to her mistress as soon as she had an opportunity. She has since been frequently questioned on the subject, and she still declares that her statement is perfectly correct, though it has not been corroborated in any particular. It is but justice, however, to say, that Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong place the utmost reliance on her veracity, and believe the whole of her statement to be perfectly true.

The girl, whose appearance is exceedingly artless, has been examined by one of the inspectors of police, as the character of the force is somewhat involved in her statement, but she was unable to give a further description of the two men on each side of the ghost,, than that they had long dark outside coats, and white gloves on. She was pressed particularly as to whether she did notice their hats, and whether they were glazed on the top or not, but her replies were, that she did not particularly notice them, and that she could not speak one way or the other. She was also questioned as to whether she had read the ghost story recently published in the newspapers, and she declared she had not, nor had she heard anything about it. she was further asked if she had been to the theatre lately, or witnessed any dramatic performance which might have led her to fancy the ghost story, and she declared that she had never been to a theatre, or seen a play in her life.


(From the Globe, dated 22nd February 1838)


Mr. Alsop, a gentleman residing in Bearbine-lane, a lonely spot between Bow and Old Ford, accompanied by his three daughters, waited upon Mr. Hardwick, gave the following particulars to an outrage committed on one of them.

Miss Jane Alsop, a young lady of 18, said that at about a quarter to nine the preceding night she heard a violent ringing at the front gate of the house, and going to the door saw a man standing outside, of whom she inquired what was the matter and requested he would not ring so loud. The person immediately replied that he was a policeman, and said, "For God's sake bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-heeled Jack down the lane." She returned, brought a candle, and handed it to the person, who appeared enveloped in a large cloak, and who she at first believed to be a policeman. The instant she had done this however, he threw off his outer garment, and applying the lighted candle to his breast, presented a most hideous and frightful appearance, vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth, and his eyes resembled red balls of fire. From the hasty glance which her fright enabled her to get at his person, she observed that he wore a large helmet, and his dress, which appeared to fit him very tight, appeared to resemble white oilskin. Without uttering a sentence, he darted at her, and caught her, partly by her dress and the back of her neck, placed her hand under one of his arms and commenced tearing her gown with his claws, which she was certain were of some metallic substance. She screamed out as loud as she could for assistance, and with considerable exertion got away and ran towards the house to get in. Her assailant, however, followed her, and caught her on the steps leading to the hall door, when he again used considerable violence, tore her neck and arms with his claws, as well as a quantity of hair from her head; but she was at length rescued by one of her sisters. Miss Alsop added that she had suffered considerably all night from the shock, and was then in such pain from the injury done her and the wounds and scratches afflicted by the miscreant about her shoulders and neck.

Miss Mary Alsop, a younger sister, said that on hearing the screams of her sister Jane she went to the door and saw a figure as above described, ill-using her sister. She was so alarmed that she was afraid to approach or render assistance.

Mrs. Harrison said that hearing the screams of both her sisters, she ran to the door, and found the person before described dragging her sister Jane down the stone steps from the door with considerable violence. She got hold of her sister, and by some means or other, which she could scarcely describe, succeeded in getting her inside the door and closing it. At this time her sister's dress was nearly torn off her; both her combs dragged out of her head, as well as a quantity of her hair torn away. The fellow, notwithstanding the outrage he had committed, knocked two or three times at the door, and it was only on their calling loudly for the police from the upper windows that he left the place.

Mr. Alsop, who appeared very feeble, said he and Mrs. Alsop had been laid up for weeks past with rheumatic affection, so as to be scarcely able to get up out of bed, but such was the alarm the night before that the both got out of bed; he managed to get down stairs, and found his daughter with her clothes torn, with all the appearance of having received most serious personal violence. Mr. Alsop said it was perfectly clear there was more than one ruffian connected with the outrage, as the fellow who committed the violence did not return for his cloak, but scampered across the fields, so that there must have been some person with him to pick it up. In conclusion, Mr. Alsop said he would most willingly give a reward of ten guineas for the apprehension of the miscreant.

Mr. Hardwick expressed his surprise at the outrage, and said no pains should be spared to bring the perpetrators to justice.


(From The Bell's Weekly Messenger, dated Sunday March 4th, 1838)


For some time past numerous complaints have been made to the police of Islington, by respectable Individuals, of a fellow of rightful appearance attacking their daughters, and taking indecent liberties with them; and in several instances some young ladies have been exceedingly terrified. A description was taken of his person, but the wretch escaped the vigilance of the police until Tuesday night last, when he followed a Miss Simmons and several other young women in a by-thoroughfare in the above neighbourhood, and acted towards them in a most disgusting manner. they ran away greatly alarmed, but the miscreant pursued them, and dogged them until their screams alarmed Wray, of N division, who pursued him, and eventually overtook him, when he made a violent resistance, but he was secured and taken to the station house, where he gave his name James Priest, a blacksmith. His countenance is forbidding and his appearance generally deformed, and calculated to excite terror in females. On Wednesday morning he was brought to Hatton-garden, when he was recognised as having been several times before in custody for similar conduct, and once committed to the house of correction and hard labour for three months. Mr. Rogers expressed his indignation at theprisoner's conduct, and regretted that the law did not empower him to send him for 12 months, or that he pillory was done away with , as he deserved severe punishment. He now committed him for three months and hard labour in the House of Correction.

The notoriety this miscreant has obtained seems to have had the effect of making many silly young men take upon themselves to enact the ruffian in a small way, considering it something clever to frighten women and children out of their wits, under the belief that "Spring-heeled Jack" was attacking them. Only a few nights since a respectable married woman, living in Carey-street, Lincoln's-inn, was passing along the south side of Lincoln's-inn-fields, when a fellow in a huge cloak suddenly appeared from behind one of the gates of the College of Surgeons, and clasping her round the waist, enveloped her in the folds of his cloak. The woman was terrified and struggled to get away, when the ruffian said, "It's of no use struggling. I am Spring-heeled Jack." She then screamed loudly, and the fellow ran away, after giving her a tremendous blow on the mouth with his clenched fist. On Thursday night a genteely dressed man went into the White Lion public-house at the corner of Vere-street, Clare Market, and called for a glass of rum. Mr. Came, the landlord, was from home at the time, and his sister, Mrs. Hiams, was within the bar, and served it; she perceived something strange in the manner of the man, who averted his face and held a pocket-handkerchief up to it. On a suddenhe said, "Young woman, you don't know ho I am, I suppose - I am Spring-heeled Jack," and drawing forth a "self-protector" from his coat pocket, aimed a desperate blow at Mrs. Hiams, who fortunately avoided it, and called loudly for assistance - the man then darted out of the house and escaped.


(From The Morning Post, dated Wednesday 7th March, 1838)


Yesterday Mr. Scales, a respectable butcher, residing in Narrow-street, Limehouse, acccompanied by his sister, a young woman, eighteen years of age, attended before Mr. Hardwick, and made the following statement relative to the further gambols of "Spring-heeled Jack."

Miss Scales stated that on the evening of Wednesday last, at about half-past eight o'clock, as she and her sister were returning from the house of their brother, and while passing along Green Dragon-alley, they observed some person standing in an angle in the passage. she was in advance of her sister at the time, and just as she came up to the person, who was enveloped in a large cloak, he spurted a quantity of blue flame right in her face, which deprived her of her sight, and so alarmed her that she instantly dropped to the ground, and was seized with violent fits, which continued for several hours.

In reply to the questionsof Mr. Hardwick, Miss Scales said that on approaching the individual she thought it was a woman, from the head-dress being apparently a bonnet, or something of that description, but she was afterwards satisfied that it was a man. He appeared to her to be tall and thin, but her sister, who was with her, could give a more accurate description of this person, as she had a better opportunity of noticing him; but she was not at home when the officer called, else she would have attended.

Mr. Scales said that on the evening in question, in a few minutes after his sisters had left his house, he heard the loud screams of one of them, and on running up Green Dragon-alley he found his sister Lucy, who had just given her statement, on the ground in a strong fit, and his other other sister endeavouring to hold and support her. She was removed home, and then he learned from his other sister what had happened. She described the person to be of tall, thin, and gentlemanly appearance, enveloped in a large cloak, and carried in front of his person a small lamp or bull's eye, similar to those in possession of the police. On her sister, who was a little before her, coming up to the person, he threw open his cloak, exhibited the lamp, and puffed a quantity of flame from his mouth into the face of her sister, who instantly dropped, and such was the effect of the light upon her eyes that she had to cover them with her hands for an instant or two, when she went to the assistance of her sister. She also stated that the individual did not utter a word, nor did he attempt to lay hands on them, but walked away in an instant. Mr. Scales remarked that it was not a little singular that one of his sisters had been reading a newspaper, a few minutes before they left his house, the account under the head of his office, of Spring-heeled Jack, when he remarked that it was not likely that this personage would come to his neighbourhood from the fact of there being so many butchers residing in it, and the account so far from alarming his sister appeared to have a different effect. Mr. Scales then handed in a certificate, of which the following is a copy:-

"This is to certify that, on Wednesday, the 28th ult., I visited Lucy Scales, of Week's-place, Limehouse, who was suffering from hysterics and great agitation, in all probability the result of fright.
"18 Cock-hill, March 6, 1838."

A respectable female, who said she was attracted to the spot by the shrieks of Miss Scales, corroborated her statement as to her being on the ground in a strong fit.

Lee, the officer, observed that no place could have been better adapted for such an act as the spot selected, as persons could be seen at a considerable distance approaching it on both sides. He (Lea) had seen some experiments tried at the London Hospital on that morning, and was satisfied that light like those described could be produced by blowing through a tube in which spirits of wine, sulphur and another ingredient were deposited and ignited.

Mr. Hardwick remarked that the description given by the parties of the individual favoured the opinion that those disgraceful outrages were committed by the same individual and not by several.


(From The London Gazette, dated 23rd November 1839)


For some considerable time past great consternation has been depicted in the countenances of the timid portion of the inhabitants of Dover from various reports in circulation that Spring Heeled Jack, or some other monster in human shape, had appeared to several females in the town, towards whom he had conducted himself in a way that does not admit of specific details. A French gentleman, just come over from Calais, hearing of the treatment the Dover ladies had received, expressed the same sentiment to our reporter- " By gar, sare, you non parles of de tails." 

So great has been the shock produced upon several persons, that they are at present under medical advice. The description given by the parties who had seen the monster was, that he was a totally black fellow, with a red jacket on; and that after appearing to them, he vanished into some dark corner or passage. On Tuesday evening, however, about twelve o'clock, the secret of this affair was brought to light. 

The demon appeared to Mr. Cole, one of the police officers, while on duty on the Pier ; who being possessed of rather stronger nerves than the ladies, took the monster into custody, and gave him a night's lodgings in the station house. Early the next morning the rumour being afloat that Spring Heeled Jack had been taken, and was confined in the station house, large numbers flocked round the doors, to ascertain who this supposed infernal spirit could be. The excitement continued to increase as the moments rolled round, till about ten o'clock ; when Jack was escorted up to Mr. Kennett's office for examination in the robes he had been taken in, amidst some hundreds of spectators ; indeed, the scene presented the appearance of a fair ; and many were the conjectures who could be the individual in custody.

The dress worn was a short red jacket and light blue frock coat, such as used by Merry Andrews at fairs ; the head was decorated by a woman's nightcap, and an old piece of black crape for a veil, which wholly hid the face ; and the legs adorned with a piece of fine muslin trousers, scolloped on the edges, with a substantial pair of leather boots.

Upon unveiling before Mr. Jennings, the individual gave her name as Kate Adams. Upon being called upon to explain her present dress and situation, she declared she was not the genuine monster, and that she had never before dressed herself up in such a ridiculous manner. She assigned as a reason for doing so now that her brother Jack had just returned from sea ; and taking a very foolish fancy into her head, she intended to have a lark with him. She would go down upon her knees and beg a thousand pardons, and ever give Mr. Jennings her best thanks, if he would forgive her this once ; she would promise faithfully and honestly never to do so again. No proof being advance that she was the person who appeared on former nights to the inhabitants, although her dress corresponded with the reports in circulation, Mr. Jennings dismissed the case, after a severe reprimand for her folly.


(From The Western Times ; Exeter, dated Saturday 27th March, 1847)


The town was greatly excited on Monday, in consequence of the "spring heeled Jack" investigation, before the magistrates. Our readers recollect that a delinquent of this genus has occupied himself during the winter,in frightening and annoying defenceless females, some of whom have been rather roughly handled. The police having been on the alert for some time, suspicion fell on a Captain Finch of Shaldon ; a man of alleged ill health, and apparently sixty years of age, about the last person that could have been suspected. He was summoned before the magistrates, on Monday last, at the Court House ; C. Kelson, Esq., and L.V. Palk, Esq., being on the Bench. 

Louisa Heard was the complainant. Mr. Tucker of ashburton, appeared for her ; and Mr. Jordan, clerk to Mr. Whidborne, attended for defendant. Mr. TUCKER in opening the case, said, it was not only difficult but most painful for him ; his client belonged to the humblest rank, and the defendant, Captain Finch, had been considered highly respectable. Should he not succeed in establishing the charge, the effect of the girl's evidence might prejudice her through life ; should he succeed, the moral character of one who had hitherto moved as a gentleman would be blasted. He had two charges of assault to prefer. his client, the servant of Miss Morgan, a lady living in Macfarlen's Row, Bitton road, had been twice assaulted in January, between nine and ten at night, by a man disguised in a skin coat having the appearance of a bullock's hide, skull cap, horns and mask ; and the alarm had produced serious fits. The magistrates would judge whether or not the party was Captain Finch : from the following evidence :-

Louisa Heard, servant to Miss Morgan, first saw defendant in Mr. Pike's shop in Fore-street ; he tried to engage her attention, calling her a "pretty little dear." She noticed his white hair and mustachios, and considered it an insult. In the evening, told Margaret Toby, her fellow servant, who said a manof the same exterior had accosted her, calling her " a pretty black-eyed girl!"  their description corresponded exactly with defendant. On the evening of Jan. 7, on her return from chapel, she saw a man on his hands and knees, who appeared like a cow ; she went to drive it away ; and he jumped up, and said he would have something to eat. She said she had nothing to give him ; and he said, "Then I'll have you," but she escaped frightened. On the 27th of Jan., returning from an errand to Dr. Walker's, witness saw him again, with the same dress ; but the mask was not over his face, but on his neck ; she saw his face, and recognised his voice ; could swear positively it was Captain Finch ; he tried to catch hold of her, but she escaped and had since had fits. Margaret Toby corroborated her evidence. Walter Palmer lived at Mr. Musgrave's, grocer, Bank-street. Went to Shaldon twice a week to take orders ; called weekly at defendant's, and knew him well ; saw him at eight o'clock on the Tuesday evening after Christmas day on the bridge, near the lamp, dressedin a skin coat, skull cap, and mask ; swore positively it was Capt. Finch.  Robert Gilpin, living with Mr. Willcox, grocer, in Wellington Row, saw him so disguised near the Adelaide Inn, on the bridge, at nine o'clock the same evening, and they had words about his frightening witness's boy, and obstructing the cart.  Dr. Walker stated he received a note from Miss Morgan on the date stated by Heard.

In defence, Captain Finch said he suffered from aneurism of the heart ; he was incapable of exertion ; never left his house after four or five o'clock ; had never seen the girls before ; was never on the bridge after dark ; was confined to bed for several days about the time. One of his servants mad a statement to that effect ; on the 30th January she knew he had been ill several days, Captain Stephenson called on that day, which she "knew by the almanac." A boy in his service made the same statement ; master did not put on his boots for a week. Mrs. Holdrine, keeper of the bridge gate, had never seen defendant pass after 4 o'clock, or after dark ; did not know her husband had. John Taverner the ferryman, never took defendant across after night. This old fellow, quite a character, "knowed his own business" he said. Robert Heard who was called, said he knew nothing of the matter, but Lieut. O' Reilly,of the coast guard, said Heard had told him his daughter did not know who had insulted her. Mr. Proctor, in whose service the girl was formerly, was called as if to damage her character ; but declined to influence the Bench by referring to anything unconnected with this case ; the audience applauded him therefore. In reply to Mr. Jordan, he said her mother wished her to leave his house, under the plea of ill health. Captain Hall was called to prove that Gilpin was "generally beastly drunk." Several other witnesses having been examined, Mr. KELSON summed up very ably, he expressed pain at finding an old soldier guilty of such an assault ; but there was no material refutation to complainant's evidence. He fined him 17s for each assault. Defendant thanked the bench for their impartiality ; the case lasted from one to half past seven in the evening. 


Thanks to The British Newspaper Archives, and The British Library Board

Please check out the other blogs taking part in the Countdown To Halloween by clicking the badge below! 

No comments:

Post a Comment