Bloudie Jack – Shrewsbury’s medieval serial killer

Though long dead, the ghost of medieval serial killer ‘Bloudie Jack’ is said to stalk the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle, writes Amy Boucher.

Shrewsbury is a wonderful place, rich in history and cultural importance. The Shrewsbury we know today has it’s origins in the 7th and 8th century when it was ‘Pengwern’ and at the centre of the kingdom of Powys.

By the late 8th century, Offa would claim the town for Mercia, changing the course of its history. However, there is evidence of much earlier settlement, with Neolithic occupation and religious activity being discovered in 2017 at the grounds of the medieval Church of the Holy Fathers in nearby Sutton Farm.

Similarly, an Iron Age double ring ditch has been excavated at Meloe Brace, which demonstrates this area has been in continual occupation for thousands of years.

The town itself has a largely undisturbed medieval street plan, and over 660 listed buildings, with perhaps the jewel in the crown being Shrewsbury Castle, a red sandstone fortification which was founded in 1074 by Roger De Montgomery, William the Conqueror’s most reliable vassal and the first Earl of Shrewsbury.

It is the castle we are going to be turning to today, to discuss a violent period in Shrewsbury’s very bloodstained history, the purported reign of terror of Bloudie ‘Bloody’ Jack a medieval serial killer.

Though this story has its origins in folklore, countless people have reported to still see the murderous villain wandering the grounds of the castle, perhaps suggesting there is more to the story than previously thought.

I want to just preface this article by mentioning that there is a later version of this tale, where Bloudie Jack is an Ogre. I have chosen not to focus on this, as I believe it reduces the horror of the alleged crimes and negates the fact that humans have committed crimes on such a scale throughout history.

I want to preserve the story in its original form and focus on man’s capacity for cruelty, which I believe would have been one of the original purposes of the story. So let us explore this tale in more detail and journey into Shrewsbury’s medieval past.

The story of Bloudie Jack is said to have its origins in the 12th century, a time of violent turmoil and political division in Britain known as ‘the Anarchy’. If this is the case, it means that it is one of Shropshire’s oldest continuous hauntings.  

This period saw much conflict, and many castles cementing their importance as defensive and judicial buildings. Bloudie Jack, or Jack Blondell (which is the name often attributed to him) was a solider who was stationed at the castle during this time, who often acted as its castellan.

What we know of Blondell himself is limited, but it is mentioned that he isn’t a local man, rather he was from some far-off unnamed place who came to be stationed at Shrewsbury Castle.

He was well liked, easy to get on with and trusted among the other soldiers, so much so, that he was given the role of castellan and stayed at the castle throughout the year. This meant that he was often alone, or part of a skeleton crew when other soldiers went on leave.

Rather than being a responsible influence, he used his exalted position in the castle to his twisted advantage. For Bloudie Jack would charm local girls and manipulate them with promises of love and even marriage, so they would attend his private quarters at the castle.

Unfortunately, this would be the last thing the girls would do. Bloudie Jack would assault the girls, before brutally murdering them. Not content with his horrible crimes, he would collect trophies from their bodies, often fingers or toes. He would then dispose of their remains by feeding them to the pigs, or simply casting their bodies out into the river Severn.

Prior to the girls attending the castle, the folklore states that he went to great lengths to ensure that the girls told no one about where they were going, telling them people would disapprove of their love. Thus, when the unsuspecting girls were murdered, it was as if they’d disappeared without a trace. This behaviour would go unchecked, with him murdering seven times, until he met his eighth victim, a girl known to folklore as Mary Anne.

Though she fell instantly for the handsome soldier’s charms, Mary Anne was unlike the other girls, in that she couldn’t keep her new sweetheart a secret. She was so swept up in the passions of her newfound love that she eagerly bragged to her sister, that she was going to be meeting the soldier she intended to marry.

Her sister was instantly concerned by the news but couldn’t sway Mary Anne. However, as the day went on, she decided to act, and visit the castle herself. She hoped she could find her sister or even bump into her before hand and talk her out of it, or perhaps even meet her sister’s new lover and see he wasn’t so bad.

The soldiers at the castle were a rough lot, and many women within Shrewsbury had ended up with a baby and no ring on their finger, as their ‘love’ moved on to the next post.  However, when she reached the castle, she was greeted by a sight no family member would want to see; Bloudie Jack dragging her poor sister’s bloodstained corpse across the castle grounds.

Mary’s sister fled in terror, knowing she could do little to save her sister from her fate. Instinct kicked in and she ran, down the shuts and passageways of the town, far away from the castle.

She knew that she had to survive and inform the town of the brutal killing of her sister. However, as the adrenaline faded, she realised that she would need to gather further proof, so a few days later, she returned to the castle, to try and catch the murderer out.

When she arrived at the castle, it was awash with unfamiliar faces. She explained to one of the guards that she’d met a man from the castle a few nights previously, and she’d ended up going back to his quarters and that rather embarrassingly she’d left something in his room.

She described the man, and the solider jovially said that it sounded like Jack, who was currently on leave. Perhaps this was divine provenance, or something else, but Jack’s luck was about to run out.

Mary’s sister flattered the solider, thanking him for his help, and asked if she could go quickly to retrieve her items. He was more than willing to assist and took her to Bloudie Jack’s room, even waiting outside for her to retrieve her belongings. This gave her freedom to quickly search his quarters and upon doing so, Mary’s sister made a ghastly discovery.

On a side table she found a wooden box, which she carefully opened. Inside were eight sets of fingers, and eight sets of toes, arranged in neat little rows. She screamed allowed, and the good soldier ran into the room, also witnessing the macabre collection.

They took the box to the town’s leaders and explained the whole story. Of Mary Anne and the missing girls, Bloudie Jack’s womanising reputation amongst the other soldiers and most ominously of the box of severed digits; this proved enough evidence to convict Bloudie Jack in the eyes of the justices.

Jack was hung, drawn, and quartered for his crimes, with his head being kept on display at the castle, as a warning to all those who went by, and also a warning to local woman perhaps, not to trust the wiles of soldiers.

Bloudie Jack’s body was given the same treatment as his victims, thrown into the River Severn, in which it sunk to the murky depths, condemned to lie in the mire beneath the castle for the rest of eternity.

However, this was not the end of Bloudie Jack’s reign of terror. For his ghost still haunts the castle grounds. Many have claimed to see a dark, hunched over figure pacing the gardens, as well as hearing growls and blood curdling screams. Banging noises are also heard, and there are reports of an overall heavy, oppressive feeling within the bailey surrounded by the walls Jack used to patrol.

There have also been sightings of the dark figure of a man dragging a poor woman by the hair, to her inevitable death, which must have been very traumatic to those who have witnessed such an apparition.

Interestingly, folklore states that upon returning to the castle, Jack realised his time had come and fled, seeking sanctuary at a local church. His ghost is still heard at the former St Nicholas Presbyterian church, banging on the door and demanding entry and sanctuary. Though the building itself was only built in 1870, it is on the site of a former Norman church.

Whether or not Bloudie Jack existed is up for debate, and perhaps not directly relevant here. The story is rich in symbolism and perhaps served as a reminder to young women to stay away from the castle and the potential dangers of the promises of strange men.

Perhaps the apparition is a piece of collective memory, and there really was a murderer, who prayed on the naïve. If you are ever in Shrewsbury, make a visit to its castle and bask in the history but keep an eye out for Jack, as he is never far from the place.  

Related: Shropshire teems with tales of phantom monks haunting local sites, including a notable spectral encounter at the historic Linley Hall.

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