Spring-Heeled Jack: The Enigmatic Figure Who Haunted Victorian England

What can jump to incredible heights, breathe blue flames, and wreak havoc on Victorian England? While this may sound like something from your favorite fantasy novel, it may just be an average cloak-wearing gentleman casually roaming the streets.



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Cryptids can be fascinating to ponder. Creatures spanning the gap from the seemingly plausible to the outlandish and even otherworldly. Sometimes these beasts are not far from our current understanding of reality, like the jackalope, for instance. We have rabbits, and we have deer. So a horned rabbit isn’t that bizarre, really. Then there are those that have actually once called this earth their home. Cryptids like Nessie and the Mapinguari are modern takes on ancient beasts. 

But when it comes to cryptids, nothing captivates us and potentially terrifies us more than humanoids. Chalk it up to the Uncanny Valley effect, if you will, that guttural response of fear and hostility we get when we see something that looks like us but isn’t quite human. The running theory is that this reaction stemmed from generations of fearing…something that looked a little too human. Maybe this was neanderthals, or maybe it was a Sasquatch or skinwalker. Or, maybe this theory holds no water after all. 

But all that to say, sometimes we encounter a cryptid that spans across the gamut. A creature so mysterious and unexplainable that no single category could even hope to define it. Maybe it’s a ghost or a ghoul, or maybe it’s a mutated man. Or maybe it’s a prankster or possibly the devil himself. Or, maybe, terrifyingly enough, it’s all of that and much, much more. 


She was passing through Clapham common late one evening after spending the day with her parents when something leapt into her path. As Mary Stephens passed by that dark ally, someone-or-rather thing seized the opportunity. After all, she was young, beautiful, and, most importantly, she was alone. 

He looked human, but no man could jump the way he jumped. As Mary stumbled back, shocked at this figure that descended from above, she soon realized that whatever this was wanted more than just to startle her. The man-like figure sprung forward, wrapping his tight arms around Mary, immobilizing her on the spot. He then bent down and began to kiss her face. Mary pushed back, trying to pry her attacker off, but the more she pulled, the more he dug in his cold, corpse-like claws. And when I say claws, I am not speaking in metaphor. His metallic, clammy talons began to tear at Mary’s clothes and brushed across her gentle skin, drawing crimson streaks as they glided. 

Terrified, Mary managed to wiggle herself loose enough to let out a guttural scream for help, causing her attacker to let her loose and bound off into the night. With all this commotion, several local residents found their way to Mary, and after hearing her story and seeing her tattered clothes, multiple people took to the streets and allies to try and capture this monster. But despite their best efforts, the aggressor was nowhere to be found. 

As the next day carried on, folks began to put the evening’s events behind them, but the following night would create a stir that would become hard to forget. Just a few blocks from Mary’s home, a carriage was traveling along the road when a man quite literally leapt in front of them. The driver yanked the reigns in an effort to avoid the jumping man, but in an attempt to spare the man’s life, the carriage lost control and crashed, severely injuring the driver. 

Then, after watching the damage his reckless behavior had caused, the jumping man began cackling in a high-pitched, otherworldly tone. He then ran and effortlessly hopped over the neighboring 2.7 meters or 9-foot-tall building and faded from sight, his hysterical laughter still echoing as it faded away. 


Things continued to progress into madness across London. Conflicted reports detailed claims that he looked as if to be a handsome gentleman, both tall and skinny. Others claimed he was of a diabolical physiognomy, with clawed hands and eyes that “resembled red balls of fire,” not unlike our more modern Mothman sightings. Some accounts even claim that under his winged cloak, he wore a tight-fitting, oilskin suit, which is a suit designed for sailors to repel water, and that his head was covered by a helmet. And then we have the claims that Whatever this thing resembled more a bear, or maybe it was a ghost, or quite possibly the devil himself. But no matter the appearance, every encounter detailed one similar thing: The ability to traverse the city in single, leaping strides. 

A few months after these initial sightings, on January 9th, 1838, a public hearing was had where Sir John Cowan, the Lord Mayor of London at the time, detailed even more bizarre encounters with this bounding character. Cowan reported how this “unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover but to become burdens to their families.” Fear of Spring Heeled Jack had begun to spread. Cowen went on to recount how “At one house the man rang the bell, and when the servant came to open the door, this worse than brute stood in a no less dreadful figure than a specter clad most perfectly. The consequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned and has never from that moment been in her senses.”

After the public announcement and consecutive reports in the papers, letters began to quite literally pile up on the Lord Mayor’s desk. Each one had a handwritten account mailed in of an experience they, too, had with Spring Heeled Jack. The monstrous man had been sighted in Stockwell, Brixton, Lewisham, Blackheath, Camberwell, and Vauxhall. There had even been a handful of accounts where people, I’m sure a bit shaken from all the attention this had begun receiving, quite literally died of fright when they, too, had an encounter with Jack. 

As sightings continued, Lord Mayor Cowan grew more and more frustrated. On one hand, he was convinced that this was the result of dark involvement, that whoever this was had given himself over the devil and, as a result, was sent out to do Lucifer’s bidding across the earth. But on the other, more rational hand, Cowan had a trusted source report an encounter with a man adorned in bear skin terrorizing a young girl and began to attribute this madness to nothing more than the work of a rebellious prankster, a “Pantomime Display” to be exact. 

But on February 19th, just over a month since his public service announcement, Lord Mayor Cowan would receive word of two more encounters with Spring-Heeled Jack. And these encounters would leave him abandoning the notion that this was just an acrobatic trickster. No, after hearing these encounters, Cowan’s belief that the Devil was loosed in London would be quenched in the fires of certainty. 


When the authorities began beating on her door, she rushed to answer. Jane Alsop heard the nocking that evening on the door of her father’s home. When she answered, a tall man dressed in a long, dark cloak introduced himself as a police officer and then hastily asked for a light as he had believed he’d just captured the illusive Spring Heeled Jack just a few paces away on the street. But when Jane turned and grabbed a lit candle and then stepped outside to hand it to the man, he hastily threw off his cloak and began to laugh in a high-pitched, maniacal tone. 

She later recounted how he, and I quote, “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance.” His body was covered in what appeared to be an oilskin jumpsuit, and his head was covered by a helmet, but under that lay the flesh of a hideous monster. His eyes were piercing red and glowing, and his hands were adorned with claws where his fingers should have been. But that wasn’t the most frighting part of this encounter. Because as he began to laugh menially, Jane recounted how blue and white flames began to pour from his mouth, freezing her where she stood. 

Spring Heeled Jack then began to tear at the woman’s clothes, drawing her deeper into his flaming breath, but Jane managed to momentarily break free. She bolted back towards the steps leading into her father’s house, but Jack reached out and grabbed her by her arm and neck, claws tearing into her skin. But just before he could drag Jane away, her sisters rushed to her aid after hearing all the commotion. 

Just nine days later, on February 28th, 18-year-old Lucy Scales, accompanied by her sister, was returning home after visiting their father’s butcher shop in Limehouse. As they passed Green Dragon Alley, they noticed a shaded figure standing at an angle in the passage. But when they approached the figure, it twisted around in its dark cloak, breathing “a quantity of blue flame” in her face. Blinded, she instantly fell to the ground and began experiencing violent seizures that consumed her for hours. 

The young girl’s brother had heard their distant screams and rushed out into the alley, where he saw Lucy, cradled by her sister on the ground. They both later recounted how a tall, thin gentleman adorned in a dark cloak and carrying a bullseye lantern had covered Lucy in some kind of fiery, blue breath before retreating away down the alley. 


Despite the more widely believed devilish roots, not everyone was so quick to label Spring-Heeled Jack as a servant of darkness. On March 2nd, after reporting on Jane Alsop’s encounter, police arrested and put on trial Thomas Millbank after boasting in a local shop about how he was, in fact, Spring Heeled Jack in the flesh. And to be honest, the evidence did seem to back his claim up. 

Witness accounts stated that Thomas Millbank had been wearing white overalls that did resemble an oilskin jumpsuit the night of Jane’s attack. He had also been seen sporting a long, dark greatcoat that just so happened to be found near Jane’s father’s home. Heck, even the candle he requested was recovered at the scene of the crime. 

Evidence was so insurmountable that Thomas was all but convicted at his trial held in Lambeth Street court. Things for sure didn’t look great for him. After all, the officer that arrested him, James Lea, was well respected after successfully hunting down the Red Barn Murderer back in 1827. He thought for sure this was the guy. Couple that with the cloak and candle found at the scene as well as Thomas’ blatant confession, and well, it looks like we found our Jack. 

But Thomas would end up not being found guilty. How, you might ask? Well, it was a bit of a technicality, really. You see, Jane Alsop swore on oath that whoever attacked her had, in fact, breathed fire, and well, not surprisingly, Thomas openly admitted that fire breathing was not a skill he possessed. 

Spring-Heeled Jack seemed to go quiet for a bit after that. Sure, there were the occasional sightings but nothing quite as on pace as what had previously occurred.  Skeptics, by and large, chalked up this character to that of a lone loon, if you will. With subsequent sightings being nothing more than copycats and mass hysteria. One rumor attributes the character to the workings of a noble Irishman, Henry de La Poer Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford. Henry had a rap sheet with his negative encounters with both police and young women alike. Henry had been known to “amuse himself by springing on travelers unawares, to frighten them.” His macabre sense of humor even went on to earn him the nickname the Mad Marquess. 

Others attributed Spring Heeled Jack to the works of imagination and folklore. Older tales of fairies and rogue monsters, as well as devils and bogymen, could have had people placing supernatural views on more terrestrial occurrences. After all, London has historically had its fair share of cereal killers and troublemakers. 

But some people abandon the supernatural and terrestrial in favor of a more paranormal and even celestial view. Many have claimed that Spring Heeled Jack is the workings of a cult ritual gone wrong, locking a demon into our ethereal plane to torment humans. Or rather that he is a phantom attacker, a spiritual embodiment that threatens those he encounters. While others claim Spring Heeled Jack comes from another planet altogether. That the reason he can leap with such ease is due to his extra-human strength provided to him from his time in a higher gravity atmosphere. Or maybe it’s all exaggeration fueled by his appearance in London’s Penny Dreadfuls. 

Either way, it’s easy to see how these encounters have gone on to help us understand and possibly even influence our own cryptid tales. Big glowing red eyes, Cloaked and tall stature, devilish features? Sounds a lot like the Mothman, the Jersey Devil, and even Indrid Cold. Or, maybe these more modern cryptid sightings are one and the same. Maybe they are all a lot more alike than we realize.

Cryptid culture obviously has a huge influence on the way we view the world. It’s almost comforting to take odd occurrences like men terrorizing young women and twist them into tales that seem outside of our control. No one likes killers or vandals roaming the streets, but when it’s beyond our conceived reality, well, we might be in danger, but at least we can’t feel guilty about not having stopped it. 

And on the other hand, sometimes, these things that we can’t explain inspire us to push our narrative further. Dark shadows in dank alleyways become inspirations for social reform, justice, and safety. I mean, I can’t help but draw similarities between this helmet-clad, cloaked, jumping, caped men to that of our modern batman. 

Cryptids, whether true or not, are like thinner to our paints. They help blur together that which we know and that which is beyond our comprehension. And for better or worse, they give us an answer, an item to hold a place of certainty and to keep our minds from collapsing in on themselves.

Spring Heeled Jack was probably just another group of pranksters, not unlike our modern Redditors who just love to make up a good story. (No shade if that’s you, by the way, I love a good Reddit story) Or maybe, it was all too real. And if you stick around, I have one more encounter of good ole Spring Heeled Jack that took place almost 40 years later that might just be a bit more convincing, in an official military report kind of way.


As the 1870s rolled around, numerous sightings of specters and ghosts began to propagate headlines once again. And on more than one occasion, people began drawing comparisons from these ghouls to those Spring Heeled Jack encounters decades prior. But in August of 1877, those comparisons would get a bit more substantial. 

A sentry on duty at the North camp of Aldershot Garrison had noticed something off in the distant night. One of the Soldiers noticed the figure begin to approach from the shadows. When he verbally ordered the shadow man to stop, it began to approach even faster. Within moments, the figure leapt from the darkness directly to the troop’s side, where it then pulled out its clawed hand and began to slap the man across the face numerous times in a joking and prankster sort of way. I think the sound effects in the background give you a good idea of what I mean. 

One of the other guards hastily opened fire on the creature, but the bullets just hit and dropped straight to the ground. The creature then turned and leapt away, bouncing off into the darkness and laughing in a high-pitched, hysterical tone as it disappeared into the night. 

If you love cryptids and want to learn even more about the creatures we just talked about, find us on Tiktok or Instagram. By the way, the episode you just witnessed is both a podcast and YouTube video, so whichever format you prefer, we have you covered. Also, check out our interactive cryptid map to browse the globe and learn about cryptids from your favorite areas. Every episode we make adds another pin to our map! You can find our social channels, the map, and more at thecryptidatlas.com. And when you find us, be sure to tap that follow button and get in on the action by dropping a comment on our recent videos. 

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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road. 

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