When Spring Heel Jack wore Galoshes.
Flash mobs, phantoms and Men in Black in 1920s Warrington
- This is the full story of Spring Heeled Jack in Warrington in 1927 as told through the newspapers of the period:
The story begins last week when it is stated “a very evil looking man” in a black suit” was seen prowling around in a very mysterious manner. This fact is authenticated by several residents of Haydock Street.
In the early hours of Sunday morning the whole neighbourhood was thrown into excitement by the news that a “ghost” had been seen. It was stated that between the hours of one and two o’clock a “tall figure dressed all in white” was seen passing along the streets adjoining Haydock Street and completely disappearing from time to time. Two women who witnessed the apparition were so overcome that they fainted and had to be revived by the crowd which soon assembled. A diligent search was afterwards made, but no trace of a supposed visitor from another world was to be found.
After beckoning to various people, the ghost took to its heels and, instead of vanishing as all well-bred ghosts should, darted down a narrow entry in Furness-street. At the end of the entry is a high wall, but this did not stop the ghost in its flight, for its placed its hands on the top of the wall and sprang over like-to use one woman’s expression-“the famous Spring Heeled Jack”. From that point on all trace of it was lost. The search continued, however, until four o’clock in the morning , but nothing further was seen.
The occurrence had such an effect on the people however that many of them could not get any sleep, and windows were bolted, extra fastenings were put on the doors, and some men even stayed up until daylight, in readiness for any other appearance that the “ghost” might make. On Monday morning however, many girls were hysterical and could not be calmed. If they moved from one room into another they had to take their father or mother with them, even when they were getting ready for work. Many of those who go early to work had to be escorted the greater part of the way. One girl said “ I was so frightened that I kept looking behind me for fear the ghost should get me.”
Another person who had a “close up” of the figure was Mrs Ellison of Scott-street, who was walking home with her husband on Sunday night after visiting a friend. “When nearing Furness-street” said Mrs Ellison “ I saw a ghostly figure in white. I was startled and cried to my husband “Oh a ghost”. He replied there were no such things as ghosts, but when he turned and saw it he said “My God it is a ghost!”. He said he would see if it really were a ghost and grabbed my umbrella. When the ghost saw this it put its hands up in the air, just like a ghost, and then ran down the entry.”
Although another lady from Chorley-street states there are no such things as ghosts, the apparition frightened her when she came upon it suddenly on Sunday night. It was dressed all in white and was a very terrifying spectacle.
The people of the neighbourhood are doing their best to lay the “ghost” as it is causing so much annoyance in the neighbourhood and the search was continued on Monday and Tuesday nights, but the ghost kept itself to itself.
Each night through the week parties of people, mostly young, have waited until the early hours of the morning with the hope of seeing, and, as one young man said, “doing for” the apparition. One evening an “Examiner” representative spent an hour or two in the district but, until after midnight, nothing was seen or heard except for a few ghostly wails which , when investigated, were found to proceed from very human throats-those of young children who took a delight in trying to frighten the watchers. Time after time persons would shout “There it is” but their imaginations were playing them a trick, for the “ghost” did not show its face.
Last Sunday the ghost reappeared. At about 10.15 on Sunday night Miss May Evans of 26 Neston-street was sitting in the kitchen, sewing, while her brother Bernard aged nine years, was playing with a toy engine on the floor. The back gate and the door of the shed adjoining the house were unfastened.
While sewing she heard a peculiar squealing noise in the shed, and turned the key of the door leading into the shed. Thinking no more about the matter she resumed her work, and suddenly Bernard exclaimed: “Oh look at the window”.
“I looked” said Miss Evans to our representative, “and had the fright of my life. There was a face, almost covered with something white, pressed to the window, while a hand over the bottom of the window held a big electric torch. It must have been a very powerful torch for it lit up the whole of the kitchen, thought the gas [light] was full on. I was frightened and could not move. At last I ran to the front and neighbours came out to see what was the matter. They made a search but could not find anything.”
The only noise Miss Evans heard was the “squealing” before the apparition appeared at the window.
Neighbours state that on the Sunday night all the dogs in the neighbourhood barked and howled for hours. Another appearance occurred in the Birchall-street district on Tuesday evening. Mrs Bird of 23 Chorley-street was sitting in the house with her little boy when she heard a loud rapping on a piece of three-ply wood which had been inserted in place of a broken window pane.
“We went to bed” said Mrs Bird “and after a time we were awakened by a commotion at the back. We went down and found that the “ghost” had been visiting a house down the road”.
The Liverpool Express of the same date on page 5 also carried the story with even more alarming headlines:
One man went about with a truncheon up his sleeve, and another with a blank shot pistol, but nothing supernatural or otherwise has been captured.
Excitement began three weeks ago, when the people in theHaydock Streetdistrict chased a “figure in white” which jumped over a high wall. Shortly before the appearences of the ghost, residents had reported that a person described as an “evil looking man” and a “tall strange man” had been seen in the district.”
The paper then went on report the story of May and Bernard Evans in almost the same language as the Manchester Evening News, adding that the little boy had to be given restoratives and that the face at the window had moved from side to side. Likewise the story of Mrs Bird. There was also the story of Mrs Bate of 44 Birchall Street. She and her family were going to bed when “one of the family went into the kitchen. There were three loud bangs on the window, and the woman ran into the kitchen and said she had seen a large fist come to the window and bang on it three times”
The next Saturday the Manchester Evening News had more on the ghost to report (17 September)
Mrs Garner of Birchall-street was in the front room with her husband when they heard weird noises at the back. There were tappings on the window panes and a peculiar howling noise in the air.
Although not unduly troubled about the matter, Mr Garner took the precaution of nailing up the back room window.
It was just as well for the visitor came back again to the house on Tuesday evening and this time appeared to try and get in, for finger marks were found all over the window.
Two days later Mrs Garner went into the back room and saw something at the window. A white light flashed.
At the window was a man with “a very large mouth and ugly face”. The light which flashed was, according to Mrs Garner, about six times brighter than the light from the gas mantle.
Although hundreds of people were out within three minutes after the occurrence, no sign of the man could be found.
It was an ugly face and he made a smack at it with his fist. His hand however hit the top of the gate and the ghost made off.
Mr Dunn opened the gate and ran after the “thing” but it disappeared like a shadow. It did not run but seemed to glide. It had a long white coat like a mackintosh (rain coat PR), and appeared to have no feet at all.
The ghost also made an appearance in Hamilton-street, where it tapped a young man on the shoulder, and frightened him so much that he ran into a shop and fainted.
Another unusual occurrence comes from Alder-street. A woman was in bed, and she told her husband she could heard a fizzling noise downstairs.
Her husband went down to investigate and he found a plate of fried bacon in the back kitchen. He heard a sound as of someone running down the yard, but when he made a search nothing was revealed.
Here is how it was presented in the two weekly newspapers in the town on Saturday 24 September 1927. First there was the more populist paper, the Liberal Warrington Examiner. That went in for the sensational approach:
This is probably a common sense view of the whole matter, but at the same time there is no doubt that the repeated appearances of some individual posing as a “ghost” have created a big sensation in that part of Warrington, and is causing a lot of discomfort and alarm amongst the more nervous women and children.
The Examiner” learns that in many cases, parents have put their clocks on at night in order to get their children to go to bed before the time when the “ghost” is supposed to appear: and that the children themselves are becoming frightened of leaving their homes in the evening.
Suring the last week-end another probable solution to the mystery was arrived at following a message shouted to some young men by the “ghost”, which was being chased. “My time’s up on Thursday” was the message, and this would make appear that the “ghost” is carrying out his queer programme for a wager.
When the ghost was reported to be in Margaret-street on Sunday night, hundreds of men, women and even children, armed with pokers, fire tongues, bottles, truncheons, “chilalahs”, [shillelaghs] and other weapons rushed in a mob to the neighbourhood with the object of “finishing it off”.
The Warrington “ghost” however is very brave and seems to care not what manner of revenge the public have planned for him, for he walked past the crowd with only a few feet separating them from him. “There he is!” shouted the people and after him they went. Down Margaret-street, which is blocked at one end by railings separating the street from the railway, he went over the rails “like greased lightning”. The crowd uprooted the rails to get on to the embankment, and there was the “ghost” in his white robes and folded arms, staring at them.
They again took up the chase and after flashing his powerful torch on a wall of corrugated iron, which is very jagged at the top and is about 10 feet high, over he went, making the peculiar howling noise which generally announces his coming. From that point he disappeared. Later however, however, he was again heard in a backyard at the other end of the street, but before the crowd could get hold of him he had once more disappeared. One man got so close to him as to almost touch him, but his hand came into contact with a wagon or something, and the “ghost” got away.
Thus matters went on until about two o’ clock, but although the people saw the light being flashed in various places, nothing came of their searching.
Mrs Denmade and Miss Fragleton saw the “ghost” again in a wooden building on the railway.
On Monday night the people of the neighbourhood arranged a systematic search of the district around Margaret-street, but nothing unusual was seen.
The extraordinary manner in which the “ghost” moves and the way it surmounts high walls lead people to surmise that is has springs on its feet.
This was essentially the story that appeared in the Liverpool Express and Manchester Evening News of September 19th. They clearly had a common source. Similar stories also appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle but add no further details. The rival Conservative and somewhat more upmarket Warrington Guardian was much more sober in its reportage:
A SILLY SCARE
- That was that, with the police pronouncement the story left the presses. It was to linger in the memories of older people and in Ghost, Mysteries and Legends of Old Warrington by charity worker Wally Barnes (Owl Books 1990), where there is a wildly exaggerated account of his activities. Far from the back streets of the original reports Barnes has “Spring Heel Jack” bouncing up Horsemarket Street, (the portion of the main road leading up to Warrington Central Railway Station from the central roundabout) on shoes with springs on their soles. He is now seen bounding along in 15ft leaps along John Street and leaping as high as bedroom windows in Hardy Street and leaping along Cockhedge Lane in 20ft leaps.
The areas at the centre of this story were streets of terraced housing in a working class district to the north of Central Railway Station in Warrington. They can be seen on this 1910 map in comparison with a 21st century one here:
Much of the housing was demolished in the 1970s, and though street names survive, the scene is quite different. There are no images of the streets at this period in the public domain (photographers concentrated on the main shopping streets and little of the working class housing was ever generated)
Ghosts were in the news in this period; in July a man in Towcester refused accommodation proffered because a man had committed suicide there 30 years before and it was said to be haunted (e.g. Western Daily Press 21 July 1927)
The Warrington “ghost” was just one of three according to this report in the Aberdeen Journal of 23 August 1927:
According to the Derby Telegraph of 6 September 1927 a ghost at Brampton in Derbyshire led to a drunken women ending in the police courts:
The Angus Evening Telegraph of the 27th September reports a poltergeist story
The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 27 September 1927 reported “ghostly figures dressed in white” leading to women and children collapsing on the way to home in the north end of Dundee near Craigie Quarries. A 17 year old boy reported seeing two figures jump into the quarry, making strange noises. The next day the paper reported a flash mob on the site:
The mob was back the following day:
The next day however only a few hundred attended. The Western Daily Press of 27 August reported on a phantom perfume haunting a Monmouthshire farm.