Who was ‘Spring-heeled Jack’ who scared the women of Scotland?
Even the thought of ‘Spring-heeled Jack’ was enough to spread fear across the country.
Reports of this predatory figure first came out of London in 1838 when a man disguised as anything from a white bull to a baboon - or perhaps wearing a suit of armour complete with claws - accosted women in the street.
He would not rob his victims but simply ‘paralyse them with fear’ before suddenly disappearing, often leaping over a wall to get away. Some accounts suggest he ripped the woman’s clothes with his claw.
Although the accounts of Spring-heeled Jack were hard to verify, they were enough to make women feel afraid to go out at night - and newspapers loved the sensation of it all.
A trend began as copycats lapped up the attention and Scotland soon had many of its own Spring-heeled Jacks. Usually, they took on a ghostly appearance, according to accounts.
They included an incident at Galashiels the Borders in August 1891 when a mob gathered to attack a suspected Spring-Heeled Jack. On this occasion, it was a woman who was targeted.
A report in the Dundee Courier said: “For some time tales have been going about a ghost or “Spring-Heeled Jack” making nocturnal perambulations in Gala Park district, and performing ghostly antics; and more or less accurate descriptions of the “spirit” have been circulated.”
“On Tuesday night a large crowd was in the Market Square listening to the town band, when peculiarly-dressed female came the scene.
“It was suggested that this was “Spring-Heeled Jack,” and the poor woman was set upon by the excited crowd, and had to taken for safety the Police Office.”
Aberdeen, too, had its version of Spring-Heeled Jack with tales of the frightening figure enough to scare women and children of the city.
In 1933, one correspondent wrote in the Press and Journal: “I never saw him, nor was I acquainted with anybody who was supposed actually to have set eyes him, but we children “gad not the slightest doubt as to his existence.
“We knew that he haunted the Chanonry at night, enveloped in a white sheet, and jumped over people’s heads, and no maid would dream of walking along the Chanonry after darkness had fallen.”
In Arbroath, Angus, sightings of a suspected Spring-Heeled Jack were upsetting the townsfolk in 1912.
The local newspaper reported that a ghosts had been seen in many parts of the town, and had disturbed young lovers meeting on the Dundee Road and The Sands.
The “figure in white” was seen parading the seashore close to Mason’s Cove with several young people rushing down to the beach to accost him.
“Realising he was in danger of his life, the ghost-like Spring-Heeled Jack made a few leaps and was lost to sight in the Dark Cove.”
Newspapers form Orkney Isles to the Scottish Borders were captivated by the phenomenon.
Author Geoffrey Pimm, in his new book The Violent Abuse of Women in 17th and 18th Centuries, wrote of the antics of Spring-heeled Jack.
He said: “Throughout almost the whole of the Victorian period from 1837 onwards, several locations in
England, Scotland and Wales reported attacks by a male figure who disappeared after the assault by leaping over high walls.”
But the beginning of the 20th Century, he would disappear over entire buildings.
Pimm wrote: “He would typically accost young women in the street and by way of some innocent pretence, gain their trust, only to then tear at their hair and clothing.
“When the journalists of the day attempted to track down victims or witnesses of reported crimes, they could find no one to interview.”
Pimm wrote of the last so-called sighting being in Liverpool in 1904. In Scotland, the stories of Spring-Heeled Jack continued for far longer.