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December 2017: A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December

Thomas Hardy’s celebration of Christmas in Dorset in his early novel Under the Greenwood Tree is perhaps second only to A Christmas Carol (a version ...More
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Spring-Heeled Jack, London

Not all legends need be ancient. In 1837 Spring-Heeled Jack made his first recorded (some may say imagined) appearance in Barnes, London. Thereafter, through sightings on Clapham Common, Peckham, Kensington, Ealing, Hammersmith and many other parts of the capital, until he spread his cloaked wings and found his way to Brighton, Liverpool, Northampton, Aldershot, Devon, Sheffield and as far as Scotland, last seen well into the twentieth century, the strange figure caught the public imagination and passed into legend.
Spring-Heeled Jack was a name given by the popular press to this cross between Batman and Jack the Ripper. Generally described as tall, slender, and of gentlemanly appearance – though how this could be told through his tight oilskin-like clothing, mask, and vast cloak is hard to know - he breathed blue fire during various appearances, but most famously of all could bound over high fences and other obstacles, armed it was said with powerful springs in his high boots. Some of his attacks were far from gentlemanly, however: young women had clothes ripped and faces scratched by his metallic claws, for example.
We will never know who was behind the fantastic figure: various suggestions have been made of possible perpetrators, but given over 70 years and more the figure failed to age we can only conclude that either generations of sporting gentlemen took on the mantle for a laugh, a bet, or kicks; or that the majority of the sightings were nothing to do with such a figure, or totally the product of shall we say over-sensitive minds. And there are other inexplicable aspects of the legend, among them the times when a bear-like creature appeared and it was decided by the police or press that this was another version of Spring-Heeled Jack. Unsurprisingly Jack became the stuff of popular literature. Sadly – we need strangeness and colour in our lives – Jack disappeared about 1904, last seen in Liverpool.

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Drake Starts round the world voyage - 1577, Battle of Alton - 1643, Battle of the River Plate - 1939, Jackanory First Broadcast - 1965
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