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Myths and Legends

Would Jack appear on Dudley Street, Wolverhampton, in 1900?

© Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies
Spring-Heeled Jack

The Black Country of the 19th Century was a somewhat superstitious, inward-looking place; some would say that it still is.
rooftops
Can you spot Jack?
© Courtesy of Ian Britton, freefoto.com
It was very easy for stories - true or imagined - to spread like wildfire and, as is the case in a largely oral culture, to become embellished along the way. Nor is it surprising to read of Spring-Heeled Jack being seen on the roofs of pubs or churches; his image was certainly being employed by local preachers as a warning against the perils of drink.

However, such stories were not limited to the pulpit. Very rapidly Spring-Heeled Jack was added to the arsenal of the beleaguered parent, labouring to get their child to behave. In short, Jack was recruited to the company of bogeymen.

Such characters pop up throughout European folklore, from Uomo Nero (the Black Man) in Italy to Wee Willie Winkie in Scotland and Der Kinderfresser in Germany. They punished recalcitrant children by nipping their toes or stealing their presents or (in moments of parental desperation) removing them entirely. Spring-Heeled Jack, as unleashed by harassed parent against troublesome offspring, had a particularly vindictive trick.

Jumping with Jack
© Courtesy of Ian Britton, freefoto.com
He would leap up at the bedroom window to stare at the child in its bed. I find this a terrifying prospect even as an adult!

As such Spring-Heeled Jack has still not entirely deserted the region, though his appearances are now only part of an agreed code of behaviour between mother and child. Older Black Country residents still recall being threatened with an appearance by Jack if they failed to go to bed on time. The last publicly testified sighting that reached the newspapers was in September 1904, when the newspapers reported a figure seen "jumping over a building in William Henry Street".

Words: Chris Upton

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Your comments

1 Duncan Craig from Devon - 2 February 2004
"This sounds a lot like a case that occured in Devon in 1855, when residents of a small village found mysterious footprints in the snow... also on the snow on walls, roofs, top of hedges.."




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