Just outside Liverpool city centre lies the Grade II listed Church of St. Francis Xavier, opened in 1848. It’s an impressive enough building, and seems to have had a pretty average history, as far as churches go, with nothing really out of the ordinary – except one thing. On the church website’s ‘Trivia’ section we find this:
“SPRING HEELED JACK was a caped phantom who appeared in various parts of the country towards the end of the 19th century. His last sighting was in September 1904, when he jumped of the roof of the church into Haigh Street and the disappeared down William Henry Street.”
This is almost true. More recent sightings have been reported, but this one in Liverpool was one of the last of the ‘original run’, if you like, of sightings across England.
So who, or what, is Spring Heeled Jack?
He reappeared several times across the country, over many years, and seemed to have a particular fondness for attacking women. He was described by some as wearing a helmet and something like a tight oilskin, and by others as looking like a gentleman. The latter description has given rise to the popular rumour that Spring Heeled Jack was a character created by Henry Beresford, Third Marquess of Waterford (and continued by a copycat after his death). It is suggested that a humiliating incident with a woman led him looking to ‘get even’ with women in some way. Beresford was certainly known for unusual and outrageous behaviour, the term “paint the town red” comes from the time when he and his friends literally did so, after finding several tins of red paint in Melton Mowbray during a drunken celebration of a successful hunting trip. However there is no real evidence to connect him to Spring Heeled Jack, and the idea that he had friends design a pair of boots with springs in to allow him to jump over 10 foot railings just seems, well, ridiculous.
The image of the demonic gentleman figure (the man of wealth and taste) is not uncommon – think of the devilish Lord Henry Wotton (“Harry”) who tempts Dorian Gray to sell his soul. What about Goethe’s Mephistopheles, who appears to Faust as an ‘aristocrat’? Whether madman-dressed-as-devil, or devil-disguised-as-man, Spring Heeled Jack seems to have had no motive other than to cause mischief.
And just when it seemed that Spring Heeled Jack had gone into retirement, he proves us wrong. Probably the most recent sighting was in surrey earlier in 2012. Travelling home in a taxi on St. Valentines night, Scott Martin and his family saw a “dark figure with no features” run across the road in front of them before scaling a 15 foot high bank in a couple of seconds.
Look out for sightings in your area.
Originally published in Issue Two of Black Magician's Almanac.
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