Posted: 2/23/2009


     John Metcalf was a very remarkeable man. It's 1724 and John loses his sight at 7 years old due to smallpox, but refuses to feel sorry for himself  and lives life to the full in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

    I am in this delightful old market town 10 minutes from stately Harrogate for the unveiling of the statue to local hero BLIND JACK OF KNARESBOROUGH, after a fundraising effort to raise the 30,000 to put it up in the historic Market Square, where each Wednesday market has been held since the 13th Century.  I stroll around the ruins of the castle, high up on a bluff above the River Nidd. There is a bowling green surrounded by new shoots of daffodils and crocuses, with memorial benches around it. One says " In loving memory of the Elliott Brothers; Jack, Harold, Stuart and Alan, who played here". Very nice.

     From a mischievious childhood he learned to swim, hunt, and play the fiddle and dabbled in cock fighting, horse racing and more. His main claim to fame was to take an interest in road building due to the terrible state of roads in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England. He quickly left town for London in a hurry over some problem with a local girl, but returned by walking all the way. She was by then betrothed to another man but they ran away and married. He was a popular fiddler and in 1745 enlisted in the Knaresborough Volunteers to fight for General Wade up in Scotland against the Jacobites of Bonnie Prince Charlie. He led the army into battle with fight songs on his fiddle. He was at the Battle of Falkirk where he was captured but escaped, and later at the famous Battle of Culloden.

    He came home and decided to start a wagon route from Knaresborough to York to make it possible for poorer people to travel who could not afford the more expensive stage coach. He started his career in road building and was responsible for 182 miles and two bridges in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire with his unique methods.

    Prior to the unveiling I walked into the Oldest Chemists Shop in England on the Market Square where they serve afternoon teas and some fun patent remedies for such things as Fear of Spiders, Nocturnal Flatulence, and Moody, Petulant Teenagers. Across the Square next to the Blind Jack pub is an Ale Shop selling distinctive beers from around the world. At the Market Cross next to where the cermony was about to start I 'chatted' with Darcy, chewing on a large bone, a cross between a black Labrador and a Poodle. It was a Labrapoodle according to its master. I also spoke with one of the fundraisers, Jim Rogers who said that the bronze of Blind Jack had instilled great pride in local Knareboroughians.

    I also stood next to the sculptress Barbara Asquith as she made a speach. She used the ancient Lost Wax Method, dating back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. We were first entertained by the 25 member Knaresborough Silver Band, splendid in their purple blazers and black pants.who played appropriate numbers, including Eidelweis??

   After the ceremony I ajourned to the Old Royal Oak pub on the Square for sunday lunch of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and all the trimmings., followed by Rolly Polly pudding and warm custard.  Not 100 yards away is the home of retired coach and former pub owner Malcom Richardson, known to many of my readers.

 On an ancient oak beam in the pub is carved a saying, "We're sure you'll be charmed and not alarmed by all the strange folk that you'll met in the Oak. I was indeed.!!