1838, January 8: Letter to the Lord Mayor of London

Early in January, 1838, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, received an unusual letter... unusual enough that the Lord Mayor took a few days to make inquiries about both the letter and its topic before responding to the letter in public on January 8. The details of this letter, and of the responses of the Lord Mayor's audience, were printed in the Times on January 9. It was only after this letter was made public that 'Spring-Heeled jack' was given a name, and that earlier disturbances that were previously ignored were newly considered to have been caused by this troublemaker. The following is the letter:


        "My Lord, -- The writer presumes that your Lordship will kindly overlook the liberty he has taken in addressing a few lines on a subject which within the last few weeks has caused much alarming sensation in the neighbouring villages within three or four miles of London.

        "It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the higher ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion (name as yet unknown), that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises -- a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and, moreover, that he will not dare to enter gentlemen's gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses. At one house he rung the bell, and on the servant coming to open the door, this worse than brute stood in a no less dreadful figure than a spectre clad most perfectly. The consequence was that, the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses, but, on seeing any man, screams out most violently, 'Take him away!' There are two ladies (which your Lordship will regret to hear), who have husbands and children, and who are not expected to recover, but likely to become burdens to their families.

        "For fear that your Lordship might imagine that the writer exaggerate, he will refrain from mentioning other cases, if anything, more melancholy than those he has already related.

        "This affair has now gone on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer is very unwilling to be unjust towards any man, but he has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger ends, but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent. It is, however, high time that such a detestable nusance should be put a stop to, and the writer feels assured that your Lordship, as the chief magistrate of London, will take great pleasure in exerting your power to bring the villain to justice.

        "Hoping your Lordship will parden the liberty I have taken in writing,

        "I will remain your Lordship's most humble servant,

                "A RESIDENT OF PECKHAM."

        The newspaper article that presented this letter then went on to state that the Lord Mayor was of the theory that his anonymous correspondent was actually one of the seven ladies who had lost their senses -- an assumption he nevere explains his reasons for -- and the Mayor then encouraged her to come visit him so he could hear more details on the matter. The Mayor stated that he was sure that if the culprit attempted such actions in London proper that the police would certainly detain him, whether or not the press were ignoring the attacks.

        After the Lord Mayor's announcement, a man in the crowd offered that the villain referred to in the letter had been terrorizing servant girls in Kensington, Hammersmith, and Ealing, and had in fact attacked a blacksmith and "torn his flesh with iron claws." These same claws, the man continued, were used to tear the clothing off the backs of females. None of these frightened and/or injured people had reported these attacks, and it was supposed that they simply didn't like to speak of it.

       I want to point out that the Lord Mayor's assertion that this odd culprit would most certainly be detained by the London police if he tried his tricks in that town can also be read as the Lord Mayor telling every neighboring village that he was not going to send London police out to help them... he was merely warning the culprit to stay out of London. All the villages around London were on their own.

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