The achievements of today's athletes go straight into the record books and make headlines all over the world, but in years gone by amazing feats were performed by men and women who went largely unsung. Blackburn had more than its fair share of such heroes: Strong Dick, William Hope Hodgson and Fat Janette, but none quite equalled Jack Higgins, champion jumper. This is his story.
Jack was born in 1871 in the King St district. His mother had a wardrobe shop in Leyland Street. Even as a boy Jack was attracting attention by leaping over crates of eggs outside Pemberton's shop in King St. Competitive jumping was much practised by young men at the time, often for small wagers. Despite his small stature, 5ft 3ins, Jack excelled them all and was soon challenging the acknowledged champions from other areas.
On July 22nd 1893 at the Moorfield Ground, Failsworth, he was pitted against Joe Darby of Dudley in a match in which £100 and the Championship of the World was at stake. The jump was to be a hop, two strides and a jump. Higgins won the first by over 2 feet. His second jump broke the world record, one which had stood for 22 years, by 17 inches, making him the undisputed Champion Jumper of the World.
Using dumb bells to gain momentum Jack extended his repertoire. An assistant wearing a tall silk hat on which is placed a lighted candle stands next to a table. Jack retreats some way from the table, carefully calculating the distance. A couple of mighty strides and he is airborne, sailing far above the table, just clearing the candle which he extinguishes with a flick of his foot, before coming gracefully back to earth again.
As a variation on the candle extinguishing theme, Jack would place two lighted candles on the seat of the last chair in a row of 6, adjusting his run-up, he capers skittishly for a moment and then launches himself. With a couple of mighty bounds he is up and away over the chairs. He seems to hover over the last chair, long enough at least to extinguish both candles, then he alights gracefully and bows to the audience.
Another jumping contest for the 'world championship' was held on September 19th 1894 at the Wellington Grounds, Bury. His opponent was an American and the prize money was £200. Higgins' winning margin was 13 inches. Higgins must have got into conversation with his opponent, who probably painted a glowing picture of the money that could be made in the USA in jumping exhibitions and contests, because Higgins left afterwards for America.
Jumping with weights was an undoubted performance enhancer, but it has been reckoned that even without them Higgins would have exceeded any jump on record by quite a margin. He was perhaps the finest natural athlete of his day, but lacked the benefits of proper training and management. It would seem financial success in the USA eluded him and he died there in straitened circumstances in the late 1940s.