During my researches for Year One project I uncovered a story that suggested St Michael’s Cathedral, often known as Coventry Cathedral, was the scene of an mysterious hoaxer or possible Spring Heeled Jack entity. On August 11th, 1896, the Midland Daily Telegraph reported of a disturbance on the previous night that like similar Victorian “ghost scares” attracted huge crowds of people.
“About eight o’clock a rumour circulated that a figure of a man was to be seen clambering about the exterior of St Michael’s spire. A large crowd rapidly collected in the vicinity of the church and Little Park Street to watch what some supposed to be a lunatic.” Reported the Telegraph.
Several crowd members became convinced that they could see a figure of a man moving about the battlements before standing besides the gargoyles. At this point the crowd began to believe that they were witnessing a ghost.
“The mysterious visitant, it was declared was seen to mount the higher battlements surrounding the spire, and was then lost sight of in the gathering dusk. In half-an-hour an assembly of many hundreds had gathered, and the most extraordinary statements were circulated as to the personality of the supposed apparition.”
Two members of the crowd were two police constables who climbed the tower with lanterns and searched the battlements. No ghost or hoaxer was found, but this inspired the cathedral’s verger Mr Owen and a Henry Maycock to ascend the spire as well.
“But again nothing was to be seen and after thorough examination of the whole of the roof the party descended, and the crowd slowly dispersed. The perpetrator of the hoax, if hoax it was, still remains unknown, but the confidence with which many persons assert that the figure was easily discernible, render the whole affair extraordinary.”
Was this mass hysteria? A local hoaxer or something far more mysterious? Whatever it was, surely it belongs as a further reference to copycat Spring Heeled Jack phenomena similar to that experienced in Liverpool just eight years later when he “was seen clinging to the steeple of St Francis Xaviers in Salisbury Street”?