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The Legend of Spring-Heeled Jack


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WINNER of the 2013 Katharine Briggs Award

This book uses the nineteenth-century legend of Spring-Heeled Jack to analyse and challenge current notions of Victorian popular cultures. Starting as oral rumours, this supposedly supernatural entity moved from rural folklore to metropolitan press sensation, co-existing in literary and theatrical forms before finally degenerating into a nursery lore bogeyman to frighten children. A mercurial and unfixed cultural phenomenon, Spring-Heeled Jack found purchase in both older folkloric traditions and emerging forms of entertainment.
Through this intriguing study of a unique and unsettling figure, Karl Bell complicates our appreciation of the differences, interactions and similarities between various types of popular culture between 1837 and 1904. The book draws upon a rich variety of primary source material including folklorist accounts, street ballads, several series of "penny dreadful" stories (and illustrations), journals, magazines, newspapers, comics, court accounts, autobiographies and published reminiscences. The Legend of Spring-Heeled Jack is impressively researched social history and provides a fascinating insight into Victorian cultures. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century English social and cultural history, folklore or literature.

Karl Bell is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth.


A good example of the ways in which cultural history still has the potential to unlock meaning when applied to a particular sort of problem. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

Embraces the sheer messiness and multivocal nature of popular culture and thus radically advances our understanding of the Victorians and their world. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

A careful and thoughtful look at a moral panic become myth that well deserved its 2013 Katherine Brigg's award. ... All future writing will owe a debt to this book. ... In bottling this whirlwind of differing sources of a protean devil, Karl Bell has succeeded, through the narrative, of apprehending the fractions of Spring-heeled Jack. GRAMARYE

A significant attempt to tackle an important aspect of Victorian popular culture. HISTORY TODAY

A model of the way in which accounts of such phenomena should be studied. [...] A brilliant account of a fascinating subject. MAGONIA


First Published: 18 Oct 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843837879
Pages: 272
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press

Details updated on 19 Apr 2016


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack
  • 3  The Cultural Anatomy of a Legend
  • 4  Spring-heeled Jack, Crime and the Reform of Customary Culture
  • 5  Spring-heeled Jack and Victorian Society
  • 6  Spring-heeled Jack and London
  • 7  Cultural Nodes: Localities
  • 8  Cultural Modes: Oral, Literary and Visual
  • 9  The Decline and Demise of Spring-heeled Jack
  • 10  Conclusion: Spring-heeled Jack and Victorian Popular Cultures
  • 11  Bibliography