OTLEY AND DISTRICT MEN’S FORUM

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 Blind Jack of Knaresborough


Mr J.G.Symington

13th May 2010

John Metcalfe, more widely known as “Blind Jack” an 18th century road builder, was the subject of our talk. Although born in Knaresborough, as a man his build (over six feet tall and fifteen stones) seemed to indicate that he was a descendant of the Wensleydale Metcalfes. He did not start road building until he was in his forties and continued for thirty years during which he built over 180 miles of roads in the northern counties.   

Before starting to build roads he had led a fascinating life in spite of his disability and John Symington, our speaker, chose to tell us about this period from information obtained mainly from Metcalfe’s own writings.  

Born in 1717,  Jack was the eldest son of a poor family, his mother worked as a part time barmaid and took in washing to make ends meet. At the age of six he contacted Smallpox that caused him to go blind. This must have severely limited him but he seemed to do the same  things as other boys, climbing trees, birds nesting , stealing apples and learning to swim. He learnt to play the violin, rode horses, worked for the York and Ainsty Hunt and guided travellers during the hours of darkness. He even walked from London to Knaresborough in eight days to win a bet. He also found time to get married to the daughter of a local landlord, Dorothy Benson, and fathered numerous children.

 During the 1745 Rebellion he fought for the Duke of Cumberland and played the violin in Edinburgh for the Duke at a concert to celebrate the victory at Culloden. From this time he gradually drifted into bridge and road building before retiring to live with a daughter in Spofforth until he died there in April 1810 at the age of ninety three.


 Our penultimate meeting for this session takes place on Thursday 27th May at Otley Methodist Church at 10-00am when our speaker Mr Peter Linney will give a talk entitled Wainwright and Me.

 

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