106. The Spooker of Hammersmith
Many phantom assailants have been mentioned in my weekly column over the last year or so, and so we come to another obscure London legend - that of the Hammersmith 'monster'. A few decades previous to Spring-Heeled Jack leaping his way through the foggy backstreets, there was a bizarre hoaxer in 1804.
A white-cloaked figure was said to haunt the alleyways, frightening the life out of hapless victims. On one occasion the 'ghost' literally frightened the life out of a heavily pregnant woman, who was so startled she died within two days of the incident. The spectre even attacked a wagon rumbling through the streets, pulled by eight horses. And so began this mysterious set of night-time attacks on those ill-lit streets.
Indeed, London folklore seems to be littered with such phantoms and individuals eager to create scares. Old records state that 'ghost' was simply a local man, possibly a shoemaker, who carried out the attacks. When in custody the man claimed he did it out of revenge as his own children had been scared by his own apprentices' and their ghost stories.
However, twenty years later a far more vicious set of assaults would take place in Hammersmith, pre-dating the malicious Spring-Heeled attacks by over a decade - or was it the same individual ? Several women had been accosted by a figure who scratched them and caused several victims to have fits. Some of the women claimed that they'd been scratched by a hook-like object, and the vile prowler was certainly keen to make a name for himself, for many doors and gates across town were daubed with strange writings in chalk. "Be ye ready", one piece of graffiti spoke, another, "Prepare to die!", a third, "Your end is near". Here was a lunatic at large keen to cause panic in the community.
Many men were asked to guard some of the areas that had experienced high levels of hideous activity, and then, after eight-weeks, the predator was caught. They said he was simply a respectable young man named John Benjamin, a farmer from Harrow. And yet, eight years later, on the fringe of the Spring-Heeled Jack attacks, another Hammersmith psychopath began a reign of terror. This time the figure was adorned in a white cloak or dress, had long claws and was able to scale high walls with ease. Other reports, which would bear a striking resemblance to Spring-Heled Jack, suggested an armoured spectre, and much confusion arose.
However, I'd like to leave you with one very eerie fact, that the Hammersmith 'ghost' was said to, by the local press, appear every fifty years, and indeed older cases of the London 'monster', the later Spring-Heeled Jack, and then Jack The Ripper, all suggest a fifty-year cycle. And of course, none of these assailants were ever caught...
... when will the next spectre stalk the streets of the fog-enshrouded capital?
Photo by *hoodrat* on flickr