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Blind Jack of Knaresborough

21st February 2023

St Pauls' UR Church Hall on Belford Road, central Harrogate

On 21 February we welcomed Bernard Higgins who gave a wide-ranging talk on Jack Metcalf and brought both Jack and his era vividly to life for us.

Born in 1717 in humble circumstances, Jack lost his sight due to smallpox at the age of 7. He grew up to be an imposing character. He was 6’2” in height when the average for a man at the time was 5’6” and, with the help of his friends, became an accomplished musician, huntsman and trader as well as drinker, gambler and smuggler. But what he is best known for locally is his road building. He saw the business opportunity presented by the Turnpike Trusts Act and in 1752 applied to build 3 miles of road between Ferrensby and Minskip, followed by the Starbeck to Knaresborough road and the road from Harrogate to Harewood Bridge. He used workers who he met in his career as a military adventurer which included recruiting men to the Yorkshire Blues, who fought at the battle of Culloden. He supervised the work closely and is now rightly remembered in the naming of part of the Harrogate bypass as ‘John Metcalf Way’. We can also remember him when next passing the Cedar Court Hotel. The hotel first on that site was the Queen’s Head, where before his time as a road builder, he played the fiddle for guests. Report by Angela Fahy.

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