About Spring-heeled Jack
Spring-heeled Jack – a demonic figure boasting superhuman agility and a taste for breathing blue-and-white balls of fire into the faces of his victims – is perhaps the most terrifying character in the whole of British folklore.
From his first appearances among the outskirts of London in 1837-8, Jack inspired fear and curiosity in equal measure. With talons instead of fingers, a weird white oilskin costume and the ability to perform impossible athletic feats – some said he was capable of leaping from the street onto the roofs of nearby houses – he seemed more devil than man, and his sheer longevity (sightings continued to be reported well into the twentieth century) made it difficult to explain his appearances away as mere pranks and hoaxes.
This is a slightly–revised edition of a 1996 paper widely hailed as the definitive work on this fascinating subject. As published, the work consisted of a long introductory essay followed by a still more lengthy, well-annotated compilation of contemporary sources for Jack’s various appearances that included almost everything of value ever written on the subject. It was typical of Mike’s contributions to the now defunct and hard-to-find scholarly journal Fortean Studies.
Months spent pouring over contemporary newspapers and archives throughout Britain produced an initial total of ‘more than 45,000 words of source material drawn chiefly from newspapers’, including a host of hitherto completely unknown reports from Devon, south London, Germany, the Czech Republic and the United States. As Mike pointed out in his introduction to the first edition of the paper, ‘rather less than five percent of this material was known to previous researchers’.
Research has continued in the years since the publication of the original paper, and a fully–revised edition of the paper is currently being prepared for publication. This edition will be considerably expanded to include newly-rediscovered nineteenth and early twentieth century cases from Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and its environs, the Gower peninsula, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, Mitcham, Warrington, Wigan and a number of other UK locations, as well as more parallel cases from overseas – including Chile, Newfoundland, South Africa, Argentina, and even India and Russia. In the meantime, the ‘Calendar of Sources’ that forms a bulky appendix to the paper itself has been held back as it is still in the process of being updated.
Though still very much a work in progress, Spring–heeled Jack is without question the most important contribution to the subject yet assembled.
First published in Fortean Studies 3 (1996)