Before Jack the Ripper terrorising Blackheath, there was Spring Heeled Jack. Part bogeyman used to scare small children, part mysterious criminal. He was popularised in Penny Dreadfuls – cheap serialised booklets, where he was depicted almost as a comic book anti-hero. Wonderful name, Penny Dreadfuls… I wonder what the modern online equivalent is?
Picture the scene in 1837 – poor Polly Adams, slightly the worse for wear staggering around Blackheath Fair, when a terrifying figure leaps out of the darkness, like the devil himself, with glowing eyes, and vomiting blue flame…
But was he real? Or just the product of an early mass hysteria? From the Black Cat Press:
He was also the first of his kind. While legends of strange phantoms have existed since the beginning of history, Spring Heeled Jack was the first to enter the official record as a real phenomenon, or at least as one whose witnesses could be found and would testify to the veracity of their experience. Part of this may have been due to the changing culture of the early nineteenth century, and the rise of mass printing technology, the first newspapers were largely responsible for the general publics awareness of the events, but there was also something unique about him. There were other similar changes at the time too, for instance the first identifiable witnesses to the infamous ‘phantom horse and carriage’ and the classic ‘haunted mansion’ also date to the early nineteenth century, perhaps for similar reasons, and even the aforementioned Bigfoot was first spotted in Canada in the mid 1830’s according to some researchers, but none captured the public imagination as Jack did. He can in many ways be regarded as Britain’s patron saint of weirdness.
Now, my much more appealing alternate theory. In the 1830s, the Marquis of Waterford developed a top secret version of what is now known as Power-Bocking. Rather than selling them to the public, and making his fortune, he decided to terrorise young maidens by leaping out at them instead. Just look at the video below, and imagine one of these heading straight for you as you wandered over the Heath in the dark… Eeek!
Really detailed page about Spring Heeled Jack
South East London Folklore Society
The legend of Spring Heeled Jack