Hyde Historical Group

Who was John Metcalfe and How is he associated with Hyde?

John Metcalfe, 'Blind John of Knaresborough', built the old Stockport to Mottram turnpike road in 1765 and was paid the princely sum of £3,200, when he had completed the job.

John Metcalfe was born in Knaresborough on August 15, 1717 and, when he was six years old he caught Smallpox; this left him blind for life. To some people the loss would have been a disaster, but John had no intention of letting his affection spoil his life. Relying on his young and sharp ear he soon learned to play games with other children, being guided by their voices and he soon learned to swim.

There is a story that one day as he was walking along the bank of the river Nidd, he came near to a cowman who was having some trouble with a cow he was trying to lead. Unfortunately, the cowman was tossed into the river. John heard the man's cry for help and dived in to save him, he did manage to get the man out of the water and on to the bank but it was too late, the man was dead.

Old Photograph of Mottram Old Road, Hyde

Metcalfe had many occupations in his early years, one of the first being a guide through Knaresborough Forest; later he became resident fiddler at the Royal Oak and then the Queen's Head at Harrogate. About this time it was reported that he said he would like to see London, and off he set. How he got there is not known, but after a short time he got to thinking of Dolly Benson, the daughter of the landlord of the Royal Oak, his first and only love and so it was about turn. Knaresborough was 280 miles away, but undeterred Jack walked all the way home.

What a shock awaited him on his arrival; while he had been away Dolly's parents had forced her into an engagement with a shoemaker and the wedding was to be the following day. John had no intention of Dolly marrying anyone but him and so with the help of a friend he put a ladder up to Dolly's bedroom window, climbed up and asked Dolly to elope. She was more than willing; so off they went to be married and in time they had four children.

For his next feat he joined the army and was at the battle of Falkirk and Culloden. After the rebellion of Forty Five John returned home to his family in Harrogate and it was just at this time that Parliament passed an Act authorising the building and repairing of turnpike roads around the town. John gained a contract; it was to build a three mile road between Harrogate and Boroughbridge. It was a huge success and his fame as a road builder soon spread and from here on he became known everywhere as Blind Jack.

In 1759 he was given a contract to build a road from Wakefield to Marsden, part of this road was over a marsh; this gave Blind Jack a few problems. Up to this time no one had successfully built a road over a marsh. Jack overcome all his problems and, as one would expect, his road was a success.

Blind Jack built over 180 miles of roads and bridges, then decided that he was getting a little too old for this hard out door life and so he retired. Finding having nothing to do was more than he could stand, he took to dealing in timber and hay. He died at the age of 93 and is buried in Spofforth Churchyard.

by Harry Lever