16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack

Natasha sheldon - October 29, 2018

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
“Man Frightened by a Ghost” from “The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night,” 1866. Wikimedia Commons. Originally posted to Flickr by The British Library. No known copyright restrictions.

5. However, many people believed Spring Heeled Jack was of Supernatural Origin.

However, other people believed the original Spring Heeled Jack had never gone away- because he was no mere mortal. Right from the first moment, Jack had ‘sprung’ into the public eye, many of the general public believed he was a supernatural entity. The Morning Chronicle of 1838 described how the residents of Peckham believed they were being plagued not by a man but by ‘the pranks of the ghost, imp or devil”. In these accounts, Spring Heeled Jack took on the shape of a white bull or bear and would prey upon helpless women and children- or anyone who went out at night without a lantern or a stoat stick.

People credited Spring Heeled Jack with a supernatural origin because, despite advances in science and technology, many people in late Georgian and early Victorian England still had one foot in the superstitious past. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some even believed that malignant spirits roamed the streets of London. Not content with lurking in the shadows, these specters were thought to actively terrifying passers-by.

Some of the ghosts simply frightened their victims by stalking them through the fog and poorly lit streets as they walked alone by night. Others however actually attacked them. In 1826, a figure known as the Southampton ghost was reputed to have assaulted its victims. Described as being masked, wearing steel armor and able to jump over 10ft walls, the ‘ghost’ bore many of the characteristics later attributed to Spring Heeled Jack.

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
Spring Heeled Jack. Google Images.

4. Other people thought that Spring Heeled Jack was a Madman – or an Alien!

The crimes committed by Spring Heeled Jack were so bizarre that many people believed the perpetrator – or some of the imitators, at least- were insane. Many years after Jack made his final appearance on the rooftops of Liverpool, another version of this particular appearance of Spring Heeled Jack emerged. In this version, Jack was not merely leaping from roof to roof and showing off to passers-by. Instead, he was a mentally ill man fleeing the police.

The 1967 newspaper article explained that the individual in question was a man suffering from religious mania. As he leaped across the rooftops he was supposed to have been heard to cry, “My wife is the devil.” This story may have been twentieth-century society’s attempt to retrospectively lend the concept of Spring Heeled Jack a more rational explanation. How accurate it is of the multitude of ‘Jacks’ who sprang up over the years is debatable.

Another, less rational twentieth-century explanation of Spring Heeled Jack is that he was neither a human or supernatural being but a creature from another world. From the 1950’s onwards, theorists have suggested that Spring Heeled Jack could have been a humanoid alien, stranded on earth, therefore offering an explanation for his odd clothes, features, abilities- and the fact he kept appearing over a long period.

It is significant that a high proportion of those who saw him was convinced that he was not of this world, but either a spirit or a visitor from some distant planet,” said British Radio presenter Valentine Dyall in Everyman Magazine in 1954. This article prompted a response from Inman Race of Sheffield who suggested that Jack’s alien origins explained why he could jump so high. “A Being, reared on a planet where gravity was far greater than on earth would be able to leap colossal distances on THIS planet.‘ he maintained.

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
Punch cartoon, The Nemesis of Neglect, by John Tenniel, relating to the Ripper Murders. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

3. Spring Heeled Jack Gave his name to ‘Jack’ the Ripper

Although violent, Spring Heeled Jack never inflicted physical injuries upon his victims that would have killed them. However, that did not stop locals in the poorer areas of London from associating him with violent crimes. In the 1860’s, Jack became tenuously associated with the murder of Maria Davis, a prostitute from the slums of Jacob Island in Bermondsey. One of Maria’s clients reputedly killed her by pushing her over a bridge into an open Sewer called Folly’s Ditch. Although the coroner recorded a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’ and Maria’s death was quite unlike any of Spring Heeled Jack’s normal attacks, the locals maintained he was the culprit.

This association between Spring Heeled Jack and attacks on women lingered. Then the late 1880s, the Whitechapel murders began. As with the Maria Davis case, the only thing the Ripper murder’s had in common with the activities of Spring Heeled Jack was that the victims were women. For Jack may have roughed his victims up and ripped their clothes. However, the physical injuries he inflicted never went beyond a few scratches.

However, in the popular mind, Spring Heeled Jack immediately became associated with the attacks. In fact, the murderer- or someone pretending to be him even began to use his name. One of the earliest letters sent to the Metropolitan police, supposedly from the Ripper himself was signed Spring Heel Jack: The Whitechapel Murderer.” Soon, the anonymous letter writer was signing himself just ‘Jack.’ This new “Terror of London” traded on not only the name but the reputation of Spring Heeled Jack. And so, Jack the Ripper was born.

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
Ad for a Spring Heeled Jack penny dreadful – January 8th, 1886. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain


2. Spring-Heeled Jack became the New Bogeyman of Victorian Society

The Ripper Murders were just one example of how Spring Heeled Jack had become Victorian society’s new bogeyman. Parents began to use the threat of Spring Heeled Jack to scare their children into submission. However, the danger of a brush with Spring Heeled Jack was not just used against children. In the Black Country, local preachers used Spring Heeled Jack as a warning against the perils of getting drunk- or drinking at all.

It was not just the temperance movement that employed Spring Heeled Jack. For he also became a crucial player in Victorian morality tales. One such story appeared in Franklin’s Miscellany in 1838. In “The Spring Jack” written by a “Peter PiperSpring Heeled Jack visits a pub in Peckham Rye where his devilish antics force the landlord to mend his ways. After Spring Heeled Jack melts his pots and burns his provisions, the landlord begins to “punctually attend the neighboring church.” He also ensures that he stops cheating his customers by making sure he “filled his pots and given good measure.”

In short, Spring Heeled Jack’s story captured the popular imagination. Henry Mayhew in his Labour and the London Poor shows the character of the devil in Punch and Judy shows was renamed Spring Heeled Jack. Jack also became the villainous subject of several plays. The perfect embodiments of this were the popular Penny Dreadfuls, cheap magazines of sensationalist stories. Here, Spring Heeled Jack was portrayed either as an object of horror- or a kind of Victorian superhero.

16 Frightening Details in the Story of Spring Heeled Jack
Spring Heeled Jack, English Penny Dreadful, c 1890


1. Ultimately, Spring-Heeled Jack had his roots in the past and grew as a reaction to social change

The fear surrounding the phenomenon of Spring Heeled Jack was the result of a conflict between progress and tradition. On the one hand, the Victorian age was an era of technological development. The industrial revolution was in full swing and humanity was more in control of its environment than ever before. These changes were accompanied by a vast shift of the majority of the population from country to town. Many of these urban migrants still believed in the power of the supernatural. So, they brought their rural superstitions went with them.

The character and name of Spring Heeled Jack found his echo in many ancient mischief-making figures of rural British Culture. “Jack-in-the-Green,” another name for Puck or the Green Man, was one, an anti-hero or mischief maker who accompanied the May Queen in May Day processions. Another was Jack O’Kent, a figure from the Welsh borders who made a pact with the devil. Mischief-making aside, Spring Heeled Jack’s speed can be attributed to another legendary character, Jack Robinson. The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue of 1811 described this character as “a very volatile gentleman..who would call on his neighbors and be gone before his name could be announced.”

These rural traditions moved into the town from the country in much the same way as the concept of Spring Heeled Jack moved from the rural fringes into London itself. Here, as people tried to make sense of the strange new world they found themselves in, these old beliefs and fears mutated. As such, Spring-Heeled Jack can be seen as a hybrid of ancient and modern, town and country, old fears and new.


Where Do We Get this Stuff? Here are our sources:

Spring Heeled Jack, Wikipedia

Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, Una McGovern, Chambers, 2007

Spring-Heeled Jack, Chris Upton, Black Country: Legacies, Local to you (BBC), 2003

Spring-Heeled Jack, Ellen Castelow, Historic UK

Spring-Heeled Jack, The Scotsman, October 7, 2006

Spring-Heeled Jack: the Terror of London, Mackley, J. S, Aeternum: the Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies. 3(2), pp. 1­20. 2324­4895, 2016

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack: From Victorian Legend to Steampunk Hero, John Matthews, Simon, and Schuster, 2016

Bogeyman or Spaceman? The legend of Spring-heeled Jack, Dr. David Clarke, Paranormal Magazine, March 2010

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Adrian Room, Cassell, 2001