The Human Side Of Spring Heeled Jack

19/08/2010 at 9:42 pm (Art, Folklore)


The legend of Spring Heeled Jack has fascinated me since childhood.Spring Heeled Jack by Peter Shorney There’s been a massive amount written about this bizarre, demonic character, which has become part of the lexicon of British folklore.

I felt inspiration to paint Spring Heeled Jack this week. I’m not sure why I suddenly felt this compulsion, or why I began to think of him again. But having felt this rediscovery, I thought it best to research, and reinvestigate.

Spring Heeled Jack was a moniker bestowed upon a shadowy figure that was first sighted in 1837, terrifying all who witnessed him. For some 70 years, reports of this astonishing creature were recorded. He was able to make huge leaps across rooftops, and insanely laughing while vaulting over high walls.

Reputed to have glowing red eyes and the ability to spew blue flames from his mouth, this fearsome character – rather unsurprisingly – was the talk of London town. At least initially, as sightings were apparently made in Sheffield, Liverpool, as well as the Midlands and Scotland. Tales would emerge of actually attempting physical attacks on women. The creature was feared to be the devil himself.

As with many, many people before me, I have my own theories about Spring Heeled Jack. I don’t believe he was a demon, nor (disappointingly) as some have suggested, an alien. If you take away the human ability to embellish – the glowing eyes and fiery breath – you have an astounding athlete.

This kind of athleticism is recognised today. I believe that Spring Heeled Jack was not one, but several people over time, each trained in what we now know to be Parkour, or free running. While it takes a particularly impressive athlete to perform these incredible leaps and stunts, they are still very human.

Imagine these feats performed before a nation of people that were incredibly superstitious and god fearing. There would be nothing to compare this against, except perhaps circus performers. Although they were safely ensconced within the confines of the big top, not terrorising the streets of your home town.

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8 Comments

  1. Artswebshow said,

    That’s a very interesting and perhaps accurate theory.
    Parkour is amazing.
    And i really like your painting

    • peacockpete said,

      I sometimes wish that I didn’t myth-bust here, as I love the stories, but it seems feasible. Thank you very much!

  2. Elly said,

    I love the painting, particularly the sky and coat. It’s great you follow up your thoughts as I believe this is the way to stay connected and keep you happy. Good picture, I hope you are pleased with it and it was worth any stress.

    • peacockpete said,

      I wonder if it was a subconcious tying up of some loose ends in my head that led me to not only paint it, but to theorise as well. And thanks for the kind words. I am pleased with it (although there’s always room for improvement!). 🙂

  3. lankyguy said,

    It’s very interesting, never heard of this character before. I like the painting; well done!

    • peacockpete said,

      Thanks! It’s worth doing a bit of a search on it. There are some fantastic penny-dreadful etchings and sketches on the subject, which are burnt into my memory!

  4. Linda Friday said,

    Just come across your painting and comments about S.H.Jack.
    Love both.
    You have captured the essence and mystic that surrounded him.
    I think you are right in your conclusion about a number of super athletes or free runners.
    I am particularly interested in his activities in Liverpool.

    • peacockpete said,

      Thank you very much, Linda.

      There seems to be scant documented accounts in Liverpool, so it seems a little tougher to find information. That said, it looks like he was seen in and around that area on and off for nearly twenty years, with the last account in 1904. I’m sure there’s more to unearth about this bizarre, terrible, remarkable legend.

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