Portrait of a Spring Heeled Jack Hoaxer

by MJ Wayland

Much has been written about the exploits of Spring Heeled Jack’s attacks in England. Each time an article appears regarding Jack, the author will always try to conclude with the identity of the hoaxer, but I believe there were many hoaxers inspired by the London appearances from 1838 onwards.

My investigations have delivered to me not just one hoaxer, but maybe ten or even twenty, each hoaxing their local areas. One man though has carried the stigma of the Spring Heeled Jack hoax since 1837, Henry de la Poer Beresford, 2nd Marquess of Waterford.

Throughout his days through Eton and Oxford, he was known as a notorious prankster as well as a keen boxer and oarsmen. Legend claims that Henry asked a local railway company if he could watch to locomotives crash – at his own expense!

In 1837, after a winning day at the races he literally painted a town red including windows, doors and a hapless watchman. Henry and his associates were duly find £100 for his activities. The Marquess continued his japes until the end of life even though they could be cruel and offensive.

One serious encounter occurred when Waterford visited the Blackheath Fair in 1837. A young servant girl, Polly Adams, was brutally attacked by someone she claimed had “pop eyes” and believed he was a nobleman. Waterford’s eyes were noticeably protuberant. The matter was quickly covered up and Waterford escaped prosecution. (Please note this maybe just folklore and I have yet to substantiate this item claim.)

The link between Waterford and Spring Heeled Jack lies with two pieces of evidence. The first, the family crest had been noticed on the clothes of Jack during one attack. Note: – Most websites claim “the witness claimed to see a large “W” on Jack’s Cape, the fact is that people saw his family crest which at the time DID NOT look like a “W”. The second piece of evidence is the most damning of all – Waterford whereabouts during the attacked identically matched Jack’s attacks during the 1837 to 1838 wave. This lead to many of the newspapers linking sightings of Jack directly to Waterford until his untimely death in 1859. Interestingly after Waterford married in 1842, he became a respectable person and settled back in Ireland.

If Henry really did stop the Jack hoax after his marriage, who was responsible for the second wave beginning in 1843? Sightings of Jack spread across the country from Hampshire to East Anglia and in 1845 Jack was attributed to the murder of 13 year old prostitute Maria Davis (Not Polly Adams as reported by other websites).

It seems a little known author from Derbyshire may hold the clue.

Published in 1995, Edward Garner wrote “Was you ever in Dovedale? Derbyshire From Dracula to the Derby Ram”. A collection of stories ranging from the conditions of the Cotton Mills to Union Strikes but also contained macabre stories such as the floating corpses of Hayfield and the trials of the Bakewell Witches. One chapter deals with the death of actor and creator of the Sweeney Todd play, Tod Slaughter.

Tod wasn’t your average actor, he was stuck between the “theatre acting” of the 1800’s and the “film acting” of the 1900’s, often his plays would be slated for over acting – “He was the King of Melodrama” quoted one critic.

Tod also appeared as the “Terror of Epping Forest – Spring Heeled Jack”, relating of course, to the 1843 wave of sightings. In his book Edward Garner then relates the story how he found out the true identity of the Terror of Epping Forest.

“The story of Spring Heeled Jack is based in fact, although the villain was not quite so villainous as Tod or the “penny-dreadfuls” portrayed him. Many years later I learned of Jack’s true identity. A magazine editor was sufficiently moved to accept my article of the Epping Forest menace, only to reject it at the last moment when Jack’s descendant turned up and, rightly I suppose, objected.”

And today, Edward Garner still holds that secret, I have contacted Edward and his publishers and currently waiting for a reply. The name of the Edward’s hoaxer means that somebody of high-ranking like Waterford committed terrible acts of violence, could it be that the Ripper of the same era was equally “high-status”?

Another Spring Heeled Hoaxer is detailed in “Folklore of Hertfordshire” by Doris Jones-Baker (1977). In the 1830’s a “winter scare” occurred in Bushey and other places of Hertfordshire. Already on edge due to the local bogeyman “Mile’s Boy” – a character that would catch naughty children and carry them off in his sack, Hertfordshire took the Spring Heeled Jack offensive very seriously.

Ms Jones- Baker wrote “A resident of Bushey in the 1840’s recalled “At times I have seen a noisy crowd of youths armed with sticks shouting for hours for Spring-Heeled Jack to appear…but the elusive gentleman never appeared.”

The Hertfordshire Spring Heeled Jack was a mischievous phantom with springs on his heels and would love to bound over hedges and fences to terrify people. Jack also attracted one of two impersonators; one included a local law student.

“He was never better portrayed..than at Hitchin in the winter of 1835 to 1836 by a bored law student with an addiction to pranks and a taste for theatricals who would later to rise to be Sir Henry Hawkins, High Court Judge, and Baron Brampton (1817-1907).”

In “Hitchen Worthies”, Reginald Hine told the following story: “Walking across to the window, Henry leant out and looked up the narrow lane. Was there nothing to be done in this prim and Quakerly place? These clients of his father, when they did come, how heavily they say upon his spirit!

Thanks to himself there had been just a little fun. A smile flickered over his pale and rather treacherous face as he thought of his exploits. He was thinking of those pleasant Sunday evenings the winter before, when he had played the ghost and spring-heeled jack in one along the fence of the Hitchin Priory Park. Those springs on his shoes had worked remarkably well. What glorious sport it had been jumping over the fence, first one side, then the other! And, thanks to his father’s night cap and shirt, and to his own under sheet and gloves, what a marvellous ghost he had made!”

So here ends the story of three known Spring Heeled Jack hoaxers, but what about the many across the country? If you take in to account the misidentifications, hoaxers and media hysteria then maybe the Spring Heeled Jack urban legend does not look like a paranormal phenomenon at all.

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