Spring-heeled Jack (also known as The Terror of London) is an English folklore entity of the Victorian era. The first claimed sighting of Spring-heeled Jack was in 1837. Later sightings were reported all over Great Britain and were especially prevalent in suburban London, the Midlands, and Scotland.
No one was ever caught and identified as Spring-heeled Jack; combined with the extraordinary abilities attributed to him and the very long period during which he was reportedly at large, this has led to all sorts of theories of his nature and identity.
Spring-heeled Jack was described by people who claimed to have seen him as having a terrifying and frightful appearance.
Eyes that “resembled red balls of fire”.
In one report, there was a claim that beneath a black cloak, he wore a helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an oilskin.
Many reports mention a devil-like aspect.
Others say that he is tall and thin, like a gentleman.
Several reports mention that he could breathe out blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips.
A sinister aura.
At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.
During the earliest reports he was said to present himself in three disguises - a ghost, a bear and a devil.
Reports & Sightings
In October 1837, a girl by the name of Mary Stevens was walking to Lavender Hill, where she was working as a servant, after visiting her parents in Battersea. On her way through Clapham Common, a strange figure leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, while ripping her clothes and touching her flesh with his claws, which were, according to her deposition, “cold and clammy as those of a corpse”. In panic, the girl screamed, making the attacker quickly flee from the scene. The commotion brought several residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, who could not be found.
The next day, the leaping character is said to have chosen a very different victim near Mary Stevens’ home, inaugurating a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Several witnesses claimed that he escaped by jumping over a 9 ft (2.7 m) high wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter.
An incident occurred on 13 April, where the Spring-heeled Jack appeared to a gardener “in the shape of a bear or some other four-footed animal”. Having attracted the gardener’s attention by a growl, it then climbed the garden wall and ran along it on all fours, before jumping down and chasing the gardener for some time. After terrifying the gardener, the apparition scaled the wall and made its exit.
Jane Alsop reported that on the night of 19 February 1838, she answered the door of her father’s house to a man claiming to be a police officer, who told her to bring a light, claiming “we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. She brought the person a candle, and noticed that he wore a large cloak. The moment she had handed him the candle, however, he threw off the cloak and “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance”, vomiting blue and white flame from his mouth while his eyes resembled “red balls of fire”. Miss Alsop reported that he wore a large helmet and that his clothing, which appeared to be very tight-fitting, resembled white oilskin. Without saying a word he caught hold of her and began tearing her gown with his claws which she was certain were “of some metallic substance”. She screamed for help, and managed to get away from him and ran towards the house. He caught her on the steps and tore her neck and arms with his claws. She was rescued by one of her sisters, after which her assailant fled.
A report from Northamptonshire described him as “the very image of the Devil himself, with horns and eyes of flame”, and in East Anglia reports of attacks on drivers of mail coaches became common. In July 1847 “a Spring-heeled Jack investigation” in Teighnmouth, Devon led to a Captain Finch being convicted of two charges of assault against women during which he is said to have been “disguised in a skin coat, which had the appearance of bullock’s hide, skullcap, horns and mask”. The legend was linked with the phenomenon of the “Devil’s Footprints” (a trail of hoof-like marks left in the snow overnight) which appeared in Devon in February 1855.
In the autumn of 1877, Spring Heeled Jack was reportedly seen at Newport Arch, in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, wearing a sheep skin. An angry mob supposedly chased him and cornered him, and just as in Aldershot a while before, residents fired at him to no effect. As usual, he was said to have made use of his leaping abilities to lose the crowd and disappear once again.
In the late 1970s, residents of Attercliffe, Sheffield began to complain about a “red-eyed prowler who grabbed women and punched men.” The man was said to bound between rooftops and walk down sides of walls.
In South Herefordshire, not far from the Welsh border, a travelling salesman named Marshall claimed to have had an encounter with a similar entity in 1986. The man leaped in enormous, inhuman bounds, passed Mr. Marshall on the road, and slapped his cheek. He wore what the salesman described as a black ski-suit, and Marshall noted that he had an elongated chin.
He was sighted again at an unspecified point after by schoolchildren in west Surrey, who claimed he was “all black, with red eyes and had a funny all in one white suit with badges on it.” They also said he could run as fast as a car, and would approach dark haired children and tell them, “I want you.”
In February 2012, Scott Martin and his family were travelling home by taxi from Stoneleigh at about 10:30pm, when they saw a “dark figure with no features” run across the road in front of them, before climbing over a 15 ft (4.6 m) roadside bank in “seconds”, near Nescot College on the Ewell bypass. The family later likened the figure to the legendary Spring-heeled Jack.