Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/Blind Jack of Knaresborough
BLIND JACK OF KNARESBOROUGH.
Blind Jack Metcalf is certainly one of the most remarkable characters that Yorkshire has produced. Afflicted with loss of sight, the indomitable energy of his true north-country character enabled him to carry on a successful business where many a south countryman would have failed.
He was born at Knaresborough on the 15th August, 1717, and was the son of a labourer. At the age of six he was seized with small-pox, and on his recovery it was found that he had become totally blind. Children speedily accommodate themselves to circumstances. Jack in six months was able to find his way from his father's cottage along the street of Knaresborough and back home without a guide, and in the course of three years could go to any part of the little town alone, could find the shops, and execute errands for his father or mother. He began also to associate with other boys in bird-nesting expeditions, and would climb the trees and throw down the nests to his companions. By accompanying the boys in their rambles he learned his way about the neighbourhood, and was in a short time perfectly acquainted with all the lanes, woods, and fields within a radius of two or three miles. As his father kept horses, he learned to ride, and in time became an able horseman. He was taught the fiddle, as it was thought that the only means open to him for obtaining a subsistence was that of strolling musician. But Jack Metcalf had more natural taste for the cry of a hound or a harrier than for the squeak of his fiddle.
A gentleman at Knaresborough, of the name of Woodburn, was owner of a pack of hounds. This gentleman encouraged young Metcalf by taking him to hunt with him, and Blind Jack kept five hounds of his own. Mr. Woodburn's hounds being seldom kennelled, Metcalf used to take several of them out secretly along with his own at night when the hares were out feeding in the fields; but one of them having destroyed a couple of lambs, he got into trouble, and was obliged to discontinue his midnight excursions.
When about fourteen years old, his activity of limb led him to imagine that he could undertake anything without danger, and with certainty of success. The following adventure, however, somewhat modified his opinion:—
A large plum-tree in the neighbourhood of Knaresborough having attracted the attention of Metcalf's companions, they with one consent repaired to the place on a Sunday morning. In these cases Metcalf was always appointed to ascend for the purpose of shaking the trees. Accordingly, he was sent to his post; but his comrades being suddenly alarmed by the appearance of the owner of the tree, ran away, leaving Blind Jack up the tree. He, taking the alarm, dropped, and fell headlong into a gravel-pit belonging to Sir Henry Slingsby, cut his face, and lay for some time stunned in the pit.
Shortly after this, he and some other boys, one night between eleven and twelve o'clock, assembled in the church porch at Knaresborough—that being the usual place of meeting. They determined to rob an orchard. Having accomplished this feat with success, they returned to the church-porch to divide their booty. Now it happened that the door of Knaresborough church was opened by means of a ring, which turned the latch. One of the party took hold of it, and by way of bravado gave a loud rap, calling out, "A tankard of ale here!" A voice from within answered aloud, "You are at the wrong house!" The boys were so scared that for a moment or two none spoke or moved. At length Metcalf said, "Did not you hear something speak in the church?" Upon this, without answering, they all ran until they got out of the churchyard. They then held a consultation, all equally wondering at the voice, and equally unable to account satisfactorily for it.
Like true Yorkshire boys, they were not, however, to be scared away without knowing what had frightened them; and they stealthily returned to the porch. But no sooner had they reached it, than the ring turned, and the door began to open. This was to much even for their nerves, and they fled in all directions like wind. Only on reaching the outside of the churchyard wall did they venture to breathe freely and look back, and then, lo! the whole of the interior of the church was alight—
"… Glimmering thro' the groaning trees,
Kirk Alloway seem'd in a bleeze."
Uninspired, like Tam o' Shanter, with draughts of John Barleycorn, they did not venture nearer, but dispersed to their homes. The cause of this panic was as follows:—The remains of an old lady in the neighbourhood had been kept from interment until the arrival of her relations, who lived at a great distance. Immediately on their arrival the sexton was called up to dig the grave in the church, and had lighted a great number of candles.
About the year 1731, when Metcalf was fourteen years old, he began to learn swimming in the river Nidd, and soon became so expert, that he surpassed all his companions. About this time two men were drowned in the eddies of the Nidd. Metcalf was sent to dive for the bodies, and after four attempts succeeded in bringing up one of the corpses. The other body could not be found.
There are frequent floods in the river Nidd, and in the deep places there are eddies, which draw to the bottom any substance, however light, that comes within their sphere of action. Large pieces of timber were often carried down by the floods; these on coming over the deep places spun round, and then sank. Upon these occasions Metcalf would dive for them, and with the greatest ease fix ropes to the wood, which was then drawn up by persons stationed on the banks.
In the year 1732, one John Barker kept an inn at the west end of the High Bridge, Knaresborough. This man was a manufacturer of linen cloth, and used to bleach his own yarn. At one time, having brought two packs of yarn to the river to wash, a sudden flood, occasioned by a heavy rain in the neighbourhood, swept them away, and carried them through the arches of the bridge, which stands on a rock. A little below was a sheet of still water, supposed to be twenty-one feet in depth; as soon as the yarn got to this it sank, except a little which caught the edge of the rock in going down. Metcalf being intimate with Barker, and calling at his house a few days after the accident, found him lamenting his loss. Metcalf told him that he hoped to recover the yarn, but Barker smiled at the supposed absurdity of the proposal; finding, however, that his friend was resolved on trial, he consented. Metcalf then ordered some long cart-ropes to be procured, and fixing a hook at one end, the other being held by some persons on the High Bridge, he descended, and hooking as much of the yarn as he could at one time, gave orders for drawing up. In this way the whole was recovered with little damage.
At Bilton, two miles from Knaresborough, was a rookery, where boys had made many attempts to take the young birds; but the owner wishing to preserve them, they were prevented. Metcalf determined to make a trial, sent one of his comrades in the day-time to reconnoitre the position of the nests, and having received his information, they set out in the dead of night and brought away seven dozen and a half, excepting the heads, which they left under the trees. The owner of the rooks finding the heads, offered a reward of two guineas for the discovery of the offenders; but the secret was kept until long afterwards.
A person at Knaresborough having occasion to go to Borough Bridge, which is about seven miles distant, and having left something behind, sent his son for it. Metcalf being about the same age as this boy, chose to accompany him. When they got to the place the boy missed the key, which he had lost from his pocket by the way, and being afraid to return, he consulted Metcalf how they should proceed. Metcalf was for entering the house at all events, and not being able to procure a ladder, got a pole, which reached to the thatch, and having borrowed a rope and a stick, he climbed up the pole, and then ascending by the roof to the chimney, he placed the stick across, and fastening the rope to it,to descend, but finding the flue too narrow, he threw off his clothes, and laying them on the ridge of the house, made a second attempt, and got down by the assistance of the rope; he then opened the door for his companion. While they were in the house there was a heavy thunder-shower, to which Metcalf's clothes were exposed. He attempted to get up again to fetch them, but the pole by which he had ascended was now so wet that he could not climb by it; he was therefore obliged to wait till it dried, when he succeeded in recovering his clothes.
In the year 1732, Metcalf was invited to Harrogate to succeed as fiddler an old man of the name of Morrison, who had played there for seventy years. The old man died in the 102nd year of his age, and played in the year he died. Metcalf was well received by the nobility and gentry, who employed no other fiddler, except a boy, whom he hired as an assistant.
Metcalf now bought a horse, and often ran him for small plates. He kept game-cocks, as he was devotedly fond of cock-fighting. He often hunted, and sometimes went coursing. In the evenings he played at the assemblies.
About this time there was a long room built at the Green Dragon at Harrogate. More music being then wanted, he engaged one Midgeley (one of the Leeds waits) and his son as assistants. Midgeley, senior, being a good performer, was taken into partnership gratis, but the son and Metcalf's former assistant paid five pounds each as premium.
In the year 1735, Francis Barlow, Esq., of Middlethorpe, near York, who kept a pack of hounds, was at Harrogate, and, liking Metcalf, invited him to spend the winter at Middlethorpe, and bring his horse with him. The invitation was gladly accepted, and he went out with Mr. Barlow's hounds twice a week. Having completed a visit of six months at Middlethorpe, he had learnt to walk and ride very readily through most of the streets of York, and as he was riding past the George Inn, in Coney Street, Standish, the landlord, stopped him, calling out, "What haste?" Metcalf told him he was for Knareshorough that night; the landlord replied that there was a gentleman in the house who wanted a guide to Harrogate; adding, "I know you can do that as well as anyone."—"So I can," said he, "but you must not let him know that I am blind, for perhaps he will be afraid to trust me."—"I shall manage that," replied Standish. So going in, he informed the gentleman that he had procured a safe guide. Pleased at this, the gentleman requested Metcalf to come in and take a glass. This, for an obvious reason, the landlord objected to, on the part of Metcalf, but recommended some wine at the door. Metcalf started as soon as the wine was drunk, taking the lead, naturally enough. As they were turning Ousegate corner, a voice shouted out, "Squire Barlow's Blind Huntsman!" But the gentleman had no suspicion that the cry had any reference to his guide. They rode briskly up Micklegate, through the Bar, turned the corner at Holgate, and through Poppleton Field, on to Hessay Moor, and so proceeded forward, going over Skip Bridge. At this time the turnpike was not made between York and Harrogate.
On the north-west of Kirk-Hammerton Moor the road to Knaresborough joined the main road which leads to Borough Bridge by a sudden turn to the left; but Metcalf cleared that without any difficulty. When they came to Allerton-Mauleverer, the stranger asked whose large house that was on the right, and was immediately informed by Metcalf. A little farther on, the road is crossed by the one from Wetherby to Borough Bridge, and proceeds along by the high brick wall of Allerton Park. There was a road leading out of the park opposite to the gate upon the Knaresborough road, which Metcalf was afraid of missing, but the wind being from the east, and he perceiving a blast coming through the park gate, readily turned his horse to the opposite gate, which leads to Knaresborough. Reaching out his hand to open it, and feeling the heel, as it is called, he believed the gate had been changed in the hanging part, as he had not been there for seven months; and backing his horse, exclaimed, "Confound thee! thou always goes to the gate's heel, instead of the head!" The gentleman observed to him that his horse seemed awkward, and that his own mare was good at coming up to a gate; whereupon Metcalf permitted him to perform this office. Darkness, which had now come on, being no obstruction to him, he briskly led the way, resolved that his companion should not again see his face till they got to Harrogate. As they were going through Knaresborough the gentleman proposed a glass of wine, which Metcalf refused, alleging that the horses were hot, and that as they were near their journey's end, it was not worth their while to stop.
Forward they went, and presently some one cried out, "That's Blind Jack!" This, however, was contradicted by another person, who could not clearly distinguish him; and by this means the stranger was kept in the dark as effectually as his guide. They then proceeded over the High Bridge and up Forest Lane, and entered the forest about a mile from Knaresborough. They had now to pass along a narrow causeway which reached about one-third of the way to Harrogate, the forest at that time not being inclosed, and no turnpike being made. Metcalf still kept the lead.
When they had gone a little way upon the forest the gentleman saw a light. He asked what place it was. There were some rocks called Hookston Crags, and near to these the ground was low and swampy in some places, close by which runs the Leeds road. About this part will-o'-the-wisp used to be commonly seen. Metcalf took it for granted that his companion had seen one of these lights, but for good reasons declined asking him whereabouts the light was; and to divert his attention, asked him, "Do you not see two lights—one to the right, the other to the left?"—"No," replied the gentleman, "I see but one—to the right."—"Well, then, sir," said Metcalf, "that is Harrogate." There were then many tracks, but Metcalf made choice of that nearest the fence. By the side of this path, which is very near Harrogate, some larches were planted, and stepping-stones laid for the convenience of foot-passengers. Metcalf got upon this stony path, and the gentleman's horse following, got one of his hind feet jammed between two of the stones. When his horse was freed, he asked, "Is there no other road?"—"Yes," replied Metcalf, "there is another, but it's a mile about"; knowing there was a dirty cart-way, but thinking the stony road preferable to the deep slough of the other, he preferred this rugged path.
On reaching their journey's end, they stopped at the house called the Marquis of Granby, but found that the hostler was gone to bed. Metcalf being very well acquainted with the place, led both the horses into the stable and the hostler soon after appearing, he delivered them into his care, and went into the house to inquire after his fellow-traveller, whom he found comfortably seated over a tankard of negus, in which he pledged his guide. Metcalf took the tankard the first time very nicely, but when attempting to take it the second time, he reached out his hand wide of the mark; however, he soon found it, and drank, and going out again, left the landlord with his companion. "I think, landlord," said the gentleman, "my guide must have drunk a great deal of spirits since we came here."—"Why, my good sir, what makes you think so?"—"Well, I judge so from the was rewarded by a present of two guineas, besides a plentiful entertainment the next day at the cost of this gentleman.of his eyes."—"Eyes! bless you, sir," rejoined the landlord, "do you not know that he is blind?"—"What do you mean?"—"I mean, sir, that he cannot see!"—"Blind! Are you in earnest?"—"Yes, sir; as blind as a stone!"—"Come, come, landlord," said the gentleman, "this is too much. Call him in." Metcalf entered. "My friend, are you really blind?"—"Yes, sir; I lost my sight when six years old."—"Had I known that, I would not have ventured with you for a hundred pounds."—"And I, sir," said Metcalf "would not have lost my way for a thousand." Metcalf
In 1736, when the Harrogate season commenced, Metcalf resumed his musical occupation, and was well received at all the inns, where he was always given free quarters for himself and horse.
The Green Dragon at that place was kept by a Mr. Body, who had two nephews with him; and when the hunting season drew near its close, these, with some other young men, expressed a desire for a day's sport; and knowing that Mr. Woodburn, the master of the Knaresborough pack of hounds, had often lent them to Metcalf, they asked Blind Jack to procure for them the pleasure of a run. Metcalf had no doubt but that Mr. Woodburn would grant him this favour, and went, flushed with hope, to Mr. Woodburn, requesting him to lend the pack the next day. This, however, was a favour out of his power to grant, as Mr. Woodburn politely informed him, as he had engaged to meet Mr. Trappes with the hounds next morning upon Scotton Moor, for the purpose of entering some young fox-hounds. Chagrined at this, Metcalf debated with himself whether the disappointment should fall to the lot of Mr. Woodburn's friends or his own, and resolved that it should not be to the latter. He arose the next morning before daybreak, and crossed the High Bridge. He took with him an excellent hound of his own, and nipping him by the ears, made him give mouth loudly, himself hallooing at the same time. This device had so good an effect that in a few minutes he had nine couples about him, as the hounds were kept by various people about the shambles, &c., and were suffered to lie unkennelled. Mounting his horse, away he rode with the dogs to Harrogate, where he met his friends ready mounted and in high spirits. Some of them proposed going to Bilton wood, near Knaresborough, but this was opposed by Metcalf, who preferred the moor; in fact, he was apprehensive of being followed by Mr. Woodburn, and wished accordingly to be at some distance from Knaresborough.
Following his advice, they drew the moor at the distance of five miles, where they started a hare, killed her after a fine chase, and immediately put up another. Just at this moment up came Mr. Woodburn, foaming with anger, swearing terribly, and threatening to send Metcalf to the House of Correction.
He swung his whip round his head, intending to horse-whip the rogue, but Metcalf heard the whistle of the lash in the air, and escaped the stroke by making his horse start aside.
Mr. Woodburn then endeavoured to call off his hounds, but Metcalf, knowing the fleetness of his own horse, ventured within speaking, but not within whipping distance of him, and begged that he would permit the dogs to finish the chase, alleging that it would spoil them to take them off, and that he was sure they would (as they actually did) kill in a very short time. Metcalf soon found that Mr. Woodburn's anger had begun to abate; and going nearer to him, he pleaded in excuse, a misunderstanding. The apology was accepted, for Mr. Woodburn, though hot of temper, was very good-natured; and so the affair ended.
Blind Jack became also very skilful at bowls, but he always bargained that he should count three to his adversary's one; and he bribed the jacks to give him hints as to the direction he was to throw, by the inflexion of their voices, lowering their tones in speaking to one another if he flung too much to the right, raising them if he threw too wide on the left.
But what is far more singular is, that he was able to distinguish cards by their feel, and that by simply passing his fingers over their surface. By this means he was able to play whist and other games, and beat those opposed to him; by this means realising a little money.
These achievements were far from exhausting his ambition. He aspired to the acquaintance of jockeys, and frequented the York races, where he betted, and was able to make books with men of rank and position, who took an interest in Jack on account of his affliction and the energy of his character.
He commonly rode to the race-ground amongst the crowd, and kept in memory both the winning and losing horses.
Being much in the habit of visiting York in the winter time, a whim would often take him to call for his horse at bed-time, and set out for Knaresborough, regardless of the badness of the roads and weather, and of all remonstrance from his friends.
About the year 1738, Metcalf having increased his stud, and being aware of the docility of that noble animal the horse, he so tutored his own that whenever he called them by their respective names they would immediately answer him by neighing. This was chiefly accomplished by some discipline at the time of feeding. He could, however, without the help of those responses, select his own horse out of any number.
Having matched one of his horses to run three miles for a wager of some note, and the parties agreeing to ride each his own, they set up posts at certain distances in the forest, marking a course of one mile; having, of course, three miles to go. Great odds were laid against Metcalf, upon the supposition of his inability to keep the course. But Blind Jack was quite equal to the occasion. He procured four dinner-bells, and placed a bell-man at each post. Each man rang in turn, and Metcalf was thus able to run from one post to the next, and know where to turn his horse. By this means he was able to win the race.
A gentleman who was present, named Skelton, then came up, and proposed to Metcalf a small wager, that he could not gallop a horse of his 50 yards, and stop him within 200. This horse was notorious as a runaway, and had baffled the efforts of the best and strongest riders to hold him. Metcalf agreed to the wager on condition that he might choose his ground; but Skelton bargained that there should be neither hedge nor wall on the course, lest his horse should be injured. Metcalf agreed; the stakes were deposited; and knowing that there was a large bog near the old Spa at Harrowgate, he mounted at about a distance of 150 yards from it. Having observed the wind, and placed a person who was to sing a song to guide him by the sound, he set off at a full gallop towards the bog, and soon fixed the horse saddle-deep in the mire. He then floundered through the dirt as well as he was able, till he gained a firm footing, when he demanded his wager, which was allotted him by general suffrage. It was with the greatest difficulty, however, that the horse could be extricated. That Metcalf was so well acquainted with the spot was owing to his having about three weeks before relieved a stranger who had got fast in it in the night, and whose cries attracted him.
It was now no unusual thing with him to buy horses with a view to selling them. Happening to meet with a man who had been huntsman to Sir John Kaye, and who had a horse to sell, Metcalf inquired the price of the horse, and asked to try it. Having trotted the horse a mile or two, he returned, and told the owner that the eyes of his nag would soon fail. The man, however, stood firm to his demand of 25 guineas for the horse, alleging that he was beautifully moulded, only six years old, and his action good. Metcalf then followed the man into the stable, and desired him to lay his hand upon the eyes of the horse, and feel their unusual heat; asking, at the same time, how he could, in conscience, demand so great a price for a horse that was going blind. The treaty ended with Metcalf purchasing the horse, bridle, and saddle for £14.
A few days after, as he was riding on his new purchase, he ran against a sign-post upon the common, near a toy-shop, and nearly threw it down. Not discouraged by this, he set off for Ripon to play at an assembly; and passing by a place at Harrogate called the World's-End, he overtook a man going the Ripon road: with him Metcalf laid a wager of sixpenny-worth of liquor that he would get first to an ale-house at some distance. The ground being rough, Metcalf's horse soon fell, and lay for a while on the thigh of his master, when, making an effort to rise, he cut Metcalf's face with one of his fore-shoes. The Rev. Mr. Richardson, coming up at this moment and expressing his concern for the accident, Metcalf told him that nothing had hurt him but the cowardice of his horse, who had "struck him whilst he was down." His instrument, however, suffered so materially, that he was obliged to borrow one to perform on for the night at Ripon, to which place he got without further accident. The assembly over, he set off to return to Harrowgate, and arrived there about three in the morning.
He now thought it was time to dispose of his fine horse, whose eyes began to discharge much. After applying the usual remedies of alum blown into the eyes, rowelling in different parts, &c., he found the beast in marketable condition; and knowing that there would soon be a great show of horses without Micklegate Bar at York, he resolved to take the chance of that mart; and setting out the night before put up at the Swan, in Micklegate. The next morning, when the show began, Metcalf's nag attracted the notice of one Carter, a very extensive dealer, who, asking the price, was told twenty-two guineas. Carter then inquired if he was sound, and received for answer, "I have never known him lame; but I will trot him on this pavement, and if there be any ailment of that sort it will soon appear with my weight." The dealer bade him sixteen guineas, and a little after seventeen; which Metcalf, for well-known reasons, was glad to receive.
In the year 1738 Metcalf attained the age of twenty-one years and the height of six feet one inch and a half, and wasrobust withal.
About this time Dr. Chambers of Ripon had a well-made horse with which he used to hunt, but finding that he had become a great stumbler, he exchanged him with a dealer, who took him to Harrowgate, and meeting with Metcalf told him he had an excellent hunter to sell at a low price. Metcalf desired to try how the horse leaped, and the owner agreeing, he mounted him, and found that he could, when saddled, leap over any wall or fence the height of himself. The bargain was soon struck, and this happening at the Queen's Head Hotel, several gentlemen who were witnesses of the horse's performance invited Metcalf to accompany them two days after to Belmond Wood, where a pack of hounds were to throw off. These hounds were the joint property of Francis Trappes, Esq., and his brother, of Nidd, near Ripley. A pack superior to this was not to be found in the kingdom.
The wished-for day arriving, Metcalf attended the gentlemen, and the hounds were not long in finding. The fox took away to Plumpton Rocks, but finding all secure there, he made for Stockeld Wood, and found matters in the same state as at Plumpton—he had then run about six miles: he came back and crossed the river Nidd near the old abbey, and went on the east side of Knaresborough to a place called Coney-Garths (where there were earths), near Scriven. Metcalf's horse carried him nobly, pulling hard, and he required proportionate resistance. The wind being high, Metcalf lost his hat, but would not stop to recover it; and coming to Thistle Hill, near Knaresborough, he resolved to cross the river at the Abbey Mill, having often before gone on foot over the dam-stones. When he got to the dam he attended to the noise of the fall as a guide, and ranging his horse in a line with the stones dashed forward for some part of the way; but the stones being slippery with a kind of moss, the horse stumbled, but recovered this and a second blunder; the third time, however, floundering completely, away went horse and rider into the dam. Metcalf had presence of mind to disengage his feet from the stirrups during the descent, but both the horse and himself were immersed over head in water. He then quitted his seat and made for the opposite side, the horse following him. Having secured his nag, he laid himself down on his back and held up his heels to let the water run out of his boots, which done, he quickly remounted and went up a narrow lane which leads to the road betwixt Knaresborough and Wetherby; then through some lanes on the north-east side of Knaresborough, and crossing the Borough Bridge Road, he got to the Coney-Garths, where he found that the whipper-in only had arrived before him.
Here the fox had earthed, as was expected; and the other horsemen (who had gone over the Low Bridge and through the town) after some time came up. They were much surprised at finding Metcalf there, and attributed the soaked condition of himself and horse to profuse sweating; nor were they undeceived till they reached Scriven.
Soon after this, Blind Jack was at Scarborough. As he was walking one day on the sands with a friend, he resolved to take a swim in the sea, his companion agreeing to shout out when he should think he had gone far enough outward; but the other not making a sufficient allowance for the noise of the sea, suffered him to go out of hearing before he shouted, and Metcalf continued swimming until he got out of sight of his friend, who now expected to see him no more. At length Metcalf began to think he must have got out of hearing of his friend, and becoming rather tired he turned on his back to rest himself, his ears being covered with water; but after he had sufficiently rested he turned himself again, and removing the hair of his head from his ears, began to listen, when he thought he heard the breakers beating against the pier which defends the Spa; finding by the noise that he was at a great distance, he increased his efforts, and providentially taking a right direction, he landed in safety, to the immense relief of his friend.
Having an aunt at Whitby, near the Alum Works, he went there; left his horse, and got on board an alum ship bound for London. He arrived at the metropolis, stayed there only a few weeks, played on the violin, and did very well; but meeting so many acquaintances, did not think himself safe. After some time, meeting with a vessel, he returned back again to Whitby; and having a numerous acquaintance at Newcastle, formed at Harrogate, he went thither, and was kindly received by many persons. Amongst the rest was one Councillor Grey, who invited Metcalf to dine with him every day during the time he should stay, which was about a month. One day he said to Metcalf, "You and I are near a size," and brought down a suit of clothes, saying, "I think these will fit you, and are at your service if you please to accept them; they have scarcely been worn; go into the next room and try them on." Metcalf then left Newcastle and went to Sunderland, where he stayed a short time among the sailors; then proceeded to Whitby to his aunt's, with whom he had left his horse, as she was in tolerable circumstances; after that he determined to go to Knaresborough, and set off in the fore-noon, intending to call at Mr. Varley's, as he had been there for six months shortly before. He had company over the moor to Pickering, as he had never been that road. At Pickering his company left him.
He then went to Malton, which was six miles, though he had never been that road before, but had been at Malton; he got safe there, and continued along the York road. A little from Malton his horse began to tire at a place called Crombeck, where there is a ford dangerous in times of flood. It happened to be a very rainy time, and his horse being weak, he took hold of the bridle-rein to lead him through, not being afraid of the water himself, but fearful of drowning his horse. Having got safe through, he pursued his journey, but his horse being weak, he was under the necessity of leading him part of the road, and walking sometimes up to the boot-tops in dirt.
He soon came to a common called Stockton Moor, about four or five miles from York, where was neither turnpike nor paved causeway at that time, and he had got out of the track and was in great difficulty; but fortunately he heard a cock crow in Stockton, and by turning in the direction whence he heard the call of chanticleer, he got into Stockton. From this place there was a paved causeway all the way to York, upon which he went, now feeling himself safe. He then came down Goodram Gate, crossed Peter Gate, down the Shambles, and through Pavement, over Ouse Bridge, turned into Skelder Gate, and through the Postern, it being in the dead of night, but he wanted no guide, as he knew the places so well; then coming to Middlethorpe, the gates were fast: they were made of wood, with iron spikes at the top, which made it difficult to climb over; but necessity being the mother of invention, he called forth her aid. Metcalf took the bridle from off his horse's head, doubled the rein, and throwing it over one of the spikes of the gate, by that means and the help of a corner of the wall that joined the gate, he got up and climbed over; but when he was at the top his situation was perilous, for if his foot had slipped he would have fallen on the spikes and been impaled. He then opened the gates, and led his horse through, and greatly surprised some women by his , who happened to be up washing. When day-light appeared, the family received him very kindly. He stayed about three weeks, and then returned to Knaresborough, where he met with a north countryman who played on the bagpipes and frequented the houses of many gentlemen in town. He had been in London several times, and he advised Metcalf to take a trip with him, which he did.
By this man Metcalf found out several gentlefolks who were in the habit of visiting Harrogate during the season, and amongst others Colonel Liddell, who resided in King Street, Covent Garden, and who gave him a general invitation to his house. The colonel was member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and lived at Ravensworth Castle, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and on his return from London to the North, which generally tookin the month of May, he was accustomed to spend three weeks at Harrogate.
When the winter was over, Metcalf thought he must take a walk out of London. Accordingly he set out through Kensington, Hammersmith, Colnbrook, Maidenhead, and Reading, in Berkshire; and returned by Windsor and Hampton Court to London in the beginning of May. In his absence, Colonel Liddell had sent to his lodgings to let him know that he was going to Harrogate, and that if agreeable to him he might go down either behind his coach or on the top. Metcalf on his return waited upon the colonel and thanked him, but declined his kind offer, observing that he could with great ease walk as far in a day as he would choose to travel in his coach. The next day at noon the colonel and his suite, consisting of sixteen servants on horse-back, set off, Metcalf starting about an hour before them. They were to go by the way of Bugden, and he proceeded as far as Barnet. A little way from Barnet the Bugden and St. Alban's roads part, and he had taken the latter; however, he arrived at Welling, the place where they were to sleep, a little before the colonel, who was surprised at his performance. Metcalf set off again next morning before his friends, and coming to Biggleswade, found the road was crossed with water, there being no bridge at that time. He made a circuitous cast, but found no other way except a footpath, which he was doubtful whether to trust. A person coming up, asked, "What road are you for?" He answered, "For Bugden." "You have had some liquor this morning, I suppose?" said the stranger. "Yes," replied Metcalf, although he had tasted none that day. The stranger then bid him follow, and he would direct him into the highway. Soon after, they came to some sluices with planks laid across, and Metcalf followed by the sound of his guide's feet; then to a gate on one side of the turnpike, which being locked he was told to climb over. Metcalf was struck with the kind attention of his conductor, and taking twopence from his pocket, said, "Here, good fellow, take that, and get thee a pint of beer;" but the other declined it, saying he was welcome. Metcalf, however, pressing the reward upon him, was asked, "Can you see very well?" "Not remarkably well," he replied. "My friend," said the stranger, "I do not mean to tithe thee—I am rector of this parish; and so God bless you, and I wish you a good journey." Metcalf set forward with the parson's benediction, and stopped every night with the colonel. On coming to Wetherby, he arrived at the inn before him, as usual, and told the landlord of his approach, who asked him by what means he had become acquainted with that, and was informed by him how he had preceded the colonel the whole week, this being Saturday, and they had left town on Monday noon. The colonel arriving, ordered Metcalf into his room, and proposed halting till Monday, but Metcalf replied, "With your leave, sir, I shall go to Harrogate to-night, and meet you there on Monday." So he set off for Knaresborough that night, and met the colonel at Harrogate on Monday, as he had said.
Metcalf became now in great request as a performer at Ripon assembly, which was resorted to by many families of distinction, such as Sir Walter Blacket of Newby; Sir John Wray, Sir R. Graham, Squire Rhodes, Squire Aislaby of Studley, and many others. When he played alone, it was usual with him after the assembly to set off for Harrogate or Knaresborough; but when he had an assistant he remained all night at Ripon to keep him company, his partner being afraid to ride in the dark.
Finding himself worth £15 (a larger sum than he ever had before), and a main of cocks having been made in the neighbourhood, he became a party, and lost two-thirds of his whole fortune. The remaining £5 he laid out on a horse which was to run at York a few days later; and had the good fortune to win the last wager.
Metcalf still followed cock-fighting, cards, and racing, but continued to play at the assemblies; but his profession interfered with his sports, and he cast about in his mind how to obtain an independence. Now it fell out that about this time a Miss Benson, daughter of the host of the Royal Oak, was about to be married to a young man whom Metcalf was convinced she did not like. It was a match made up by the parents, and there was no affection in it—at least on her side. Blind Jack had some reason to think that the fair lady was not insensible to him, and he hastened to Harrogate, and hung about the Royal Oak till he had an opportunity of speaking to the damsel, who was to be married the very next day. Metcalf used his most urgent persuasion with the girl to elope with him that night, and obtained from her a tardy consent. It was arranged that she should put a lighted candle in the window when ready to run away, and Metcalf engaged a friend to look out for the candle for him.
This having been settled, the lady went into the house, and in a short time was followed by Metcalf, who was warmly received by the supposed bridegroom and company.
The tankard went briskly round with "Success to the intended couple!" in which toast, it may be readily believed, Metcalf joined most cordially.
Having stayed till it was near dark, he thought it time for putting business into proper train. Going then to the public-house known by the name of the World's End, he inquired for the hostler, whom he knew to be a steady fellow; and after obtaining from this man a promise either to serve him in an affair of moment in which he was engaged, or keep the secret, he related the particulars of his assignation and the intended elopement, to forward which he desired him to let him have his master's mare, which he knew would carry two. This agreed on, he requested the appeared. They then approached the house, and left the horses at a little distance, not choosing to venture into the court-yard, which was paved. On the door being opened by the lady, he asked her if she was ready, and she replied in the affirmative. He advised her, however, to pack up a dress or two, as she probably might not see her mother again for some time. She had about twenty gowns at that time, and a new pillion and cloth. Metcalf asked her for it. "Oh, dear," said she, "it is in the other house; but we must have it." She then went to the window and called up her sister, who let her in. The pillion and cloth were in the room where the intended bridegroom slept, and on his seeing her enter, she said, "I will take this and brush it, that it may be ready in the morning."—"That's well thought on, my dear," said he. She then went down, and all three hastened to the horses. Metcalf mounted her behind his friend, then got upon his own horse, and away they went. At that time it was not a matter of so much difficulty to get married as it is at present, and they had only the trouble of riding twelve miles, and a fee to pay, without any calling of banns requiring a delay of three weeks.service of meeting him at Ross's Library at ten o'clock. A whistle was to be given by the first who got there, as a signal. They met pretty punctually, and Metcalf asked if he saw a star, meaning the lighted candle. After half-an-hour's delay the signal-light
Metcalf left his bride at a friend's house within five miles of Harrogate, and came to the Queen's Head to perform the usual service of playing his violin during the breakfast half-hour. In the meantime Mrs. Benson and her other daughter began to prepare for breakfast, and observing that Dolly lay very long in bed, her mother desired that she might be called; but her usual bed-fellow declaring that she had not slept with her, she was ordered to seek her in some of the other rooms. This was done, but in vain. They then took it for granted that she had gone out early to take a morning ride with Mr. Dickenson (the intended bridegroom), but be could give no account of her. All her friends now began to be seriously alarmed, and a person from the Oak came and informed Metcalf of all that had happened there that morning.
Metcalf listened seriously to the news, and then composedly said, "You need not be alarmed. I married her since you saw me last night!"
He then sent a message through the brother of his Dolly to the father and mother, to the effect that he asked their pardon. He acknowledged that he was far below them in circumstances, but his affection for their daughter was sincere, and he promised that he would make them the best amends in his power by affectionate treatment of his wife.
It is hardly to be supposed that they were mollified by this assurance.
Metcalf took a small house at Knaresborough. It was a matter of wonder that Miss Benson should have preferred a blind man to Dickenson, she being as handsome a woman as any in the country. A lady having asked her why she had refused so many good offers for Blind Jack, she answered, "Because I could not be happy without him." And being more particularly questioned, she replied, "His actions are so singular, and his spirit so manly and enterprising, that I could not help liking him."
Metcalf continued going to Harrogate as usual, and one day determined to pay a visit to his mother-in-law. He mounted his horse, and riding up to the kitchen-door called for a pint of wine. There were then only women in the house, who were afraid to serve him, and they all ran upstairs in a fright. He then rode into the kitchen, through the house, and out at the hall-door, no one molesting him.
He afterwards went to demand his wife's clothes, but was refused; on a second application, however, he succeeded. His wife having brought him a boy, and some respectable people being the sponsors, they employed their good offices to heal the breach between the families, and were fortunately successful. On the birth of a daughter (the second child) Mrs. Benson herself was godmother, and presented Metcalf with twenty guineas.
He continued to play at Harrogate in the season; and set up a four-wheel chaise and a one-horse chair for public accommodation, there having been nothing of the kind there before. He kept these vehicles two summers, when the innkeepers, beginning to run their own, he gave them up, as he also did racing and hunting; but still wanting employment, he bought horses, and went to the coast for fish, which he took to Leeds and Manchester; and so indefatigable was he that he would frequently walk for two nights and a day with little or no rest; for as a family was coming on he was as eager for business as he had been for diversion, keeping up his spirits, and blessed with good health.
Going from Knaresborough to Leeds in a snowstorm, and crossing a brook, the ice gave way under one of his horses, and he was under the necessity of unloading to get him out; but the horse as soon as free ran back to Knaresborough, leaving him with two panniers of fish and three other loaded horses in the midst of a snowstorm at night. After much difficulty, however, he divided the weight amongst the others, and pursuing his journey, arrived at Leeds by break of day.
Once passing through Halifax, he stopped at an inn called the Broad Stone. The landlord's son, and some others who frequented Harrogate, seeing Metcalf come in, and having often heard of his exploits, signified a wish to play at cards with him; he agreed, and accordingly they sent for a pack, but before playing he asked to feel them over. The man of the house being his friend, he could depend upon his honour in preventing deception. They began to play, and Metcalf beat four of them in turn, playing only for liquor. Not satisfied with this, some of the company proposed playing for money, and when engaged at shilling whist, Metcalf won 15s. The losing party then proposed to play double or quit, but Metcalf declined playing for more than half-a-guinea points; till at last, yielding to much importunity, he got engaged for guineas, and, favoured by fortune, won ten, and a shilling for liquor each game, which completely cleared the loser of his cash, who took up the cards and went out, but shortly returned with eight guineas more. Metcalf's friend examined the cards to see if they were not marked, and finding all fair, they went on again, until those eight pieces followed the other ten. They then drank freely at Metcalf's cost, he being now in circumstances to treat. About ten o'clock at night he took his leave, saying he must be at Knaresborough in the morning, having sent his horses before. On his way he crossed the river Wharfe, about a mile below Poole; the water being high, his horse swam, and he got safe home. Thus ended his pursuits as a fishmonger, the profit being small and his fatigue very considerable.
From the period of his discontinuing the business of fishmonger Metcalf continued to attend Harrogate as a player on the violin, in the long room, until the commencement of the rebellion in 1745.
The alarm which took place was great; and loyalty to the House of Hanover, and preparations against the Jacobites, were general in the county of York.
Amongst the many instances which mark this, none were more striking than the conduct of William Thornton of Thornville, near Knaresborough, for he determined to raise a company of soldiers at his own expense, and went to Knaresborough about the 1st of October, 1745, where he sent for our blind hero to his inn, and asked him if he knew of any brave fellows who were likely to make spirited soldiers. Jack having satisfied his patron on this head, he was appointed assistant to a sergeant already procured, with orders to begin recruiting the next day.
Such was their success that in two days only they enlisted 140 men at 5s. each, their allowance being 1s. per day; out of whom the captain drafted sixty-four, the number of privates he wanted. Soon after, he brought them to Thornville, where he ordered every other day a fat ox to be killed for their entertainment, and gave them beer seven years old, expressing great pleasure at its being reserved for so good a purpose.
He now began to sound the company as to their attachment to the cause and to himself. "My lads!" said he, "you are going to form a part of a ring-fence to the finest estate in the world! The king's army is on its march northward, and I have confidence that all of you are willing to join them." They replied, enthusiastic for the whole ox a day and the seven-year-old beer, "We will follow you to the world's end!"
All matters being adjusted, the company was drawn up, and amongst them Blind Jack cut no small figure, being near six feet two inches high, and, like his companions, dressed in blue and buff, with a large gold-laced hat. Jack played a march, and off the company moved for Boroughbridge to join General Wade's army, which was there.
On reaching Newcastle, by order of General Wade they were united with Pulteney's regiment, which having suffered much in some late actions, was thought unduly weak. Captain Thornton gave orders for tents for his men and a marquee for himself. He pitched them on Newcastle Moor, and served out a pair of blankets to each tent. On the first night of their encampment the snow fell six inches.
After stopping there for about a week, the General received intelligence of the motions of the Jacobite army, and gave orders to march by break of day for Hexham in three columns, wishing to intercept it upon the west road, as their route seemed to be for England that way. The tents were instantly struck, but the Swiss troops in the van not being willing to move at so early an hour, it was half-past ten before they left the ground, and the snow by that time was extremely deep. The troops were often three or four hours in marching a mile, the pioneers having to cut through some of the drifts, level some of the obstructions, and fill up several ditches, to make a passage for the artillery and baggage.
About ten at night they arrived at Ovington, the place marked out for them, with straw to rest on; but the ground was frozen so hard that but few of the tent-pins would enter in, and in those few tents which were pitched the men lay upon one another, greatly fatigued with their march, it having been fifteen hours from the time of their striking their tents till their arrival at this place, although the distance was only seven miles.
The next day they reached Hexham, where they halted. On Monday night about ten o'clock the army was put in motion by a false alarm. After stopping there about three days, General Wade returned to Newcastle to catch the post-road leading to Yorkshire, and immediately began his march for Yorkshire by way of Pierse Bridge, Catterick, and Boroughbridge; and continuing his route southward, encamped his men on Clifford Moor, where they halted a few days, and then moved to ground between Ferrybridge and Knottingley. The Scottish army had now penetrated southward as far as Derby; but the General having heard that they had received a check from the Duke of Cumberland, sent General Oglethorpe with 1000 horse towards Manchester, either to harass the enemy in their retreat, or to join the Duke's forces; and retired himself with the remainder, by Wakefield-Outwood and Leeds, to Newcastle.
In the meantime the Duke came up with the army of Prince Charles Edward at Clifton, on the borders of Westmoreland. Lord George Murray occupied the town, and the Highlanders were fortified behind hedges and a ditch.
The Duke coming upon the open moor after sunset, gave orders for 300 dragoons to dismount and advance to the brink of the ditch; the rebels then fired upon them from behind the hedges; they returned the fire, and fell a few paces back. The Highlanders mistaking this for flight, rushed over the ditch, but meeting a warmer reception than they expected, were glad to retreat, and continued their route to Penrith, and from thence to Carlisle, where they left part of their army.
His Royal Highness thought it advisable to reduce this place; and on its surrender he returned to London. General Wade continued his march for the North, dismissing all the foreigners from his army; and General Hawley, on coming from London to take the command, was joined by some regiments which had been withdrawn from Flanders. They marched to Edinburgh, and from thence to Falkirk, and pitched their tents on the north-east side of the town on the 16th of January; the Highland army being at Torwood, about midway between Falkirk and Stirling, and about three miles from the English camp, they could easily see each other's camp light. The English army lay all night on their arms in expectation of being attacked, but the van and picket-guards came in on the morning of the 17th, having observed no motions in the hostile camp which showed any signs of an attack, although they were as near as safety would permit. Soon after, the enemy were observed to move some of their flags from Torwood towards Stirling, which made the English suppose that they were retreating; but this motion was a feint to deceive them. However, upon this the soldiers were ordered to pile their arms and take some refreshment; and although Lord Kilmarnock was in the army of Prince Charles Edward, General Hawley went to breakfast with Lady Kilmarnock at Callander House. The enemy in the meantime stole a march down a valley northward, unperceived; but just before the army discovered them, they were seen by a person, who ran into the camp exclaiming, "Gentlemen! what are you about? The Highlanders will be upon you!" On which some of the officers said, "Seize that rascal; he is spreading a false alarm!"—"Will you believe your own eyes?" said the man; and at that moment the line of Highlanders was seen fringing the high ground on Falkirk Moor.
It is unnecessary here to relate the details of the engagement of Falkirk, so graphically described by Sir Walter Scott in "Waverley," resulting in a momentary gleam of hope to the adherents of Prince Charles Edward, and in as brief a discouragement to the English. Captain Thornton lost twenty of his men, together with his lieutenant and ensign, who were taken prisoners. The captain was in a house when the English were surprised, and hearing the bagpipes at the door, he ran up-stairs and hid in a room behind the door. One of the Highlanders ran in, looked round, but not seeing him, called out, "None of the rascals are here."
The woman of the house having seen the captain go up-stairs, went to him soon after, and opening a closet door, entreated him to enter, which he did; she then brought a dresser and placed dishes, &c., upon it, which prevented all appearance of a door in that place; and fortunately there was no bed in the room. About ten minutes after he had been fixed in his new quarters a great number of people, consisting chiefly of Highland officers, amongst whom was Secretary Murray, took possession of the apartment, which being large, they proposed making use of for business during their stay.
In the meantime Metcalf had escaped the Highlanders. Knowing that two of his master's horses had been left at a widow's house a short distance from the town, he made his way to the place with intent to secure them. This woman had in the morning expressed great seeming loyalty to King George; but when Metcalf returned in the evening, the wind had changed: she now extolled Prince Charles, and said, "The defeat of George's folk was a just judgment."
Metcalf went into the stable and found the horses, saddled them, and was leading out the first, when he was surrounded by a few stragglers of the Highland army. "We must have that beast," said they; but Metcalf refusing to give him up, they said one to another, "Shoot him!" On hearing two of them cock their pieces, he asked, "What do you want with him?"—They answered that they wanted him for the Prince.—"If so, you must have him," replied he. They took him, and immediately went off. Metcalf then brought out the other, but as he was about to mount, the captain's coachman (whose name was Snowden), joined him, and Metcalf inquiring of him the fate of his master, was answered that he had not seen him for some time. This induced Metcalf to think that the worst had befallen him. They then thought it advisable to attempt falling in with the rear of the army, but before they had proceeded many yards their horse sank up to the saddle-girths in a bog; however, being strong, and plunging out, they mounted again, and soon joined the army as they had wished; when, on making diligent inquiry after their captain, they were told that he was left behind. Snowden thereupon returned as far as he could with safety, but without gaining any intelligence, and Metcalf walked on with the army.
They arrived at Linlithgow, where they halted, and the next day marched to Edinburgh. There the mob and the lower orders of people were very free in their expressions, and some of the higher also spoke out warmly in favour of Prince Charles, making no secret of their wishes and hopes that "the King should have his own again."
The next morning as many of Captain Thornton's men as had escaped being taken prisoners (about forty-eight in number) assembled; and none of them knowing what had become of the Captain, they supposed him to have shared the fate of many other brave men who had fallen in the action. There was therefore no more ox and beer to sustain their loyalty. The disappearance also of two other officers and twenty of their men greatly dispirited them, and to this was added the suspension of their regular pay. This induced some of them to apply to Metcalf for a supply in order to carry them home; but this he refused, in part, no doubt, because he had not the means of paying them.
The headquarters of the army were now at Edinburgh, the staff being located in Holyrood Palace. The superior officers sent for Metcalf, thinking it singular that a person deprived of sight should have entered the army. One of the officers belonging to the dragoons who retreated from Falkirk, speaking ironically of Thornton's men, asked Jack how he got off the field of battle. Metcalf answered, "I found it very easy to follow by the sound of the dragoon horses, they made such a clatter over the stones." This reply turned the laugh against the officer, who coloured with anger and shame. Colonel Cockayne then asked how he durst venture into the service, blind as he was. To which he replied "that had he possessed a pair of good eyes, he would never have come there to have risked the loss of them by gunpowder." Then making his obeisance, he withdrew.
He now determined upon a journey to Falkirk in search of his captain; but this being attended with difficulty, he applied to a Knaresborough man who lived at Edinburgh, and was of the party of Prince Charles Edward, telling him that he wished to be a musician to the gallant young Prince, as he found it was all over with the English. The man informed him that they had a spy, an Irishman, going to the Prince, and that he might travel with him. This he agreed to do, and they started together; but on coming up to the English out-sentries they were stopped. Metcalf inquired for the captain, and informed him of the real cause of his journey. By him he was kindly advised to lay aside his dangerous project; but as he still persisted, he was allowed to proceed with the spy, and arrived at Linlithgow, where they stayed all night. They met with several women who had been plundering, and were then on their return to Edinburgh; and the spy instructed them how to avoid the English sentries. Metcalf was very careful to examine the clothes they had got, making it appear he wanted to purchase some, thinking that by chance he might meet with some of his captain's, and so ascertain if he were dead. One of the women sent a token by Metcalf to her husband, who was Lord George Murray's cook. This woman's guide was a horse-dealer, who soon became acquainted with Metcalf, having frequented the fairs in Yorkshire, and at this time by some means had got introduced to the heads of both armies, and obtained a pass and orders from each to press horses. This man's fate was remarkable; for going into Stirling, where the English army lay, he found that orders were given to let no strangers pass without an examination. He said that he had a protection from General Huske. Being ordered to produce it, he had the misfortune to take that out of his pocket which he had got from the Pretender; and when informed of his mistake instantly produced the other. But too late! for he was tied up by the neck to a lamp-post and hung.
A short time before Metcalf and the spy had got clear away from Linlithgow, some of the vanguard of the rebels came in and called for whiskey; and it was supposed that they dropped there a silver-mounted pistol, which on their setting out the spy picked up and offered to Metcalf. He refused it, saying he thought it not advisable to have fire-arms about him, as he expected to be searched. So they pursued their journey, and presently fell in with the rebel out-guard, several of whom accosted Metcalf, and as all seemed well, they were allowed to pass, and arrived at Falkirk, where Metcalf inquired for Lord George Murray's cook to deliver his present, and was afterwards introduced to and conversed with Lord George Murray, Secretary Murray, and other gentlemen. Lord George Murray gave him part of a glass of wine, an article at that time of great rarity, for, as the rebels had been there three times, and the English twice, they had almost swept the cupboard clean of crumbs.
Whilst conversing with them he was very cautious, knowing that his life was in danger if the real purpose of his journey became known.
He then made his way towards the market-place, where a number of Highlanders were assembled. This was on Wednesday, the 22nd; but it happened that his master had left the place that morning about four hours before his arrival.
We must now return to Captain Thornton, whom we left on Friday in the closet, in close neighbourhood to the Highland chiefs, who every day transacted business in the room. The quartermasters of the Jacobite army having taken the house, and given the woman to whom it belonged a small apartment at the back, it made Captain Thornton's position very critical; but every night she took care to carry him such provisions as she could convey through a crevice at the bottom of the door, and this she did for fear of alarming those who slept in the adjoining rooms. The closet was only a yard and a half square, and the captain's clothes being wet when he entered, made his situation the more uncomfortable, as he had got a severe cold, and sometimes could not forbear coughing even when the rebels were in the room. Once in particular, hearing a cough, they said one to another, "What is that?" But one of them answered that it was somebody in another room, not in the least suspecting that one of their enemies lay hid so near.
On Monday night the woman of the house went to the door to carry provisions as usual, when the captain said to her, "I am determined to come out, let the consequence be what it may; for I will not die like a dog in this hole." But she begged that he would bear this confinement until the next night, and she would adopt some plan to effect his escape. She accordingly consulted an old carpenter who was true to the Hanoverian cause, and he came the following night when the room was vacant, removed the dresser, and liberated the captain. They proceeded downstairs in the dark to the woman's apartment, where she made tea whilst the carpenter and captain concerted their plan of operation. They dressed him in a plaid and brogues, and put on him a black wig. The captain had only ten guineas about him (having left his cash with his lieutenant, Mr. Crofts), eight of which he gave to the woman who had so faithfully preserved him, and two to the carpenter; who, to secrete them, put them into his mouth along with his tobacco, fearful of a search by the Highlanders, who would have suspected him had they found more than a shilling.
Everything being ready, they set out, the captain, with a bag of tools, following his supposed master. On coming into the crowd, the old carpenter looked about and was rather dismayed, for although in disguise, the captain did not look like a common workman. This made the old man dread discovery, so he called out to him: "Come alang, ye filthy loon; ye have had half a bannock and a mutchkin of drink in your wame: we shall be o'er late for our day's wark." Whether this artifice served him or not is uncertain; but they got safe through the throng, and leaving the high road, pursued their journey across the country. Having come to a rising ground, the captain took a view of Falkirk Moor, and said, "Yonder's the place where such a sad piece of work was made last Friday." The old man at the same time looking the other way saw about 300 Highlanders, who had been on plunder, coming down a lane which led from Callander House (Lord Kilmarnock's seat) into the main road; and being desirous of passing the end of this lane before they came up, in order to avoid them, said, "We shall have a worse piece of wark of it than we had on Friday if ye do not hasten your pace," and begged the captain to come forward, which he did; but walking briskly up a hill, he suddenly stopped, and said, "I am very sick." However they gained their point, and passed the Highlanders; for had they come up with them, the captain's speech or appearance might have led to suspicion, and he would have been shot or led back to Falkirk as a prisoner. On going two miles farther, they arrived at a house belonging to a friend of the carpenter's, and which had been plundered. There the old man got an egg, but not being able to find a pan to boil it in, he roasted it in peat ashes, and gave it to the captain to put in his wame or stomach. Proceeding a few miles farther, they arrived at another house, where they procured a horse for the captain. He arrived at the English outposts, and making himself known, was permitted to pass, and reached Edinburgh in safety.
To return to Metcalf, whom we left at Falkirk, and whose dress was a plaid waistcoat laced with gold, which he had borrowed of a friend at Edinburgh, together with a blue regimental coat faced with buff. Jack told the Highlanders, in answer to their inquiries, that he had been fiddling for the English officers, and that they had given him that coat, which had belonged to a man who was killed; and also that his intention was to serve in the same capacity with Prince Charles. But a person coming up who had seen Jack at Harrogate, said, "That fellow ought to be taken up, for there is something more than common in his proceedings;" on which Metcalf was taken to the guard-room and searched for letters, but none were found, he having only a pack of cards in his pocket, which they split, to see if they contained any writing in the folds. Finding nothing, he was put into a loft in the roof of the building, along with a dragoon and some other prisoners, and there for three days they were suffered to remain in confinement, exposed to severe cold.
Metcalf and his fellow-prisoners were brought out at the end of this time, and tried by a court-martial. Metcalf was acquitted, and had permission given to go to the Prince; but as he asked to borrow a clean shirt they inquired where his own was. He said at Linlithgow, but that he durst not go there on account of George's fellows. They then informed him he might safely go there along with the Irish spy. He knew that his companion had letters for the Highlanders' friends at Edinburgh, but had no intention to pass the English sentries. Metcalf therefore amused him with assurances that he had £10 at Edinburgh, for which he should have no occasion if he joined the Prince, and that he would give his friend a share of it. The spy on hearing this became very desirous of his company to Edinburgh, wishing to finger the money, and proposed going across the country; but Metcalf said he could pass the English sentries by saying he was going to Captain Thornton. They then proceeded, and after going two miles they met an officer who was reconnoitring, and he knowing Metcalf, told him that his master was arrived safely at Edinburgh. On leaving the officer the spy accosted him with, "So, then, you are going to him." "No!" said Jack, "nor to any such fellows." They then passed the sentry, as Metcalf proposed, and arrived at Edinburgh, where they parted, but promised to meet the next evening at nine o'clock. Jack went directly to his captain, who rejoiced at so unexpected a meeting. Metcalf told him that he had given him a great deal of trouble, adding that he thought people might come home from market without being fetched. The captain smiled and said, "What is to be done, for I have neither money nor clothes, having left all behind at Falkirk; but I have bills upon the road to the amount of £300?" This proved fortunate; for had they been a few days sooner, these also might have been lost. The reason of the delay was that all letters directed to Scotland were at this time sent to London to be examined at the General Post-Office. Metcalf told the captain that he could get him some money, but this the other thought impossible. However, he went to a friend and obtained £30. Tailors were immediately set to work, and next morning the captain was enabled to visit his brother officers at Holyrood.
The army remained quartered at Edinburgh, while part of the rebels were in Falkirk, and another part at Stirling, where they raised several batteries, and besieged Stirling Castle.
The Duke of Cumberland arrived at Edinburgh on the 30th of January, 1746; and two days afterwards marched at the head of the army towards Falkirk, Prince Charles' army leaving it a little time before. Captain Thornton visited the Duke often, and his Royal Highness took particular notice of Metcalf, speaking to him several times on the march. On the arrival of the army at Linlithgow, intelligence was received that the rebels were marching towards them to give them battle; upon which the army was drawn up in order, and the Duke rode through the lines, and addressed the men as follows:—"If there be any who think themselves in a bad cause, or are afraid to engage the enemy, thinking they may fight against any of their relations, let them now turn out, receive pardon, and go about their business without any further question." On the conclusion of this speech, the whole army gave three hearty cheers. But the intelligence proving false, they proceeded to Falkirk, and continued their journey to Stirling, Perth, Montrose, Brechin, and Aberdeen, where they halted. The army of the Prince was encamped at Strathbogie.
At Aberdeen the Duke gave a ball to the ladies, and personally solicited Captain Thornton for his fiddler, there being at that time no music in the army except Colonel Howard's (the Old Buffs), which was wind music, and the performers, who were Germans, were unaccustomed to country dances. As the Prince's army was only twenty miles distant, no invitations were sent until five o'clock, though the ball was to begin at six. Twenty-five couples danced for eight hours, and his Royal Highness made one of the party, and several times as he passed Metcalf, who stood on a chair to play, shouted, "Thornton, play up!" But Jack needed no exhortation, for he was well practised and better inclined.
Next morning the Duke sent him two guineas; but as he was not permitted to take money, he informed his captain, who said, as it was the Duke's money, he might take it, but observed that he should give his Royal Highness's servants a treat (he had only three servants with him—viz., his gentleman, cook, and groom). So the next night two of them paid Metcalf a visit, and a merry party they made, the captain ordering them plenty of refreshments.
In a little time they proceeded on their march, and engaged the gallant army of the Prince on Culloden Moor. The battle ended in the total rout of the army of the young "Pretender," and the somewhat severe treatment of his soldiers by the "Butcher" Duke.
The English prisoners were all liberated. Three of Captain Thornton's men had died in prison; the rest returned home.
The rebellion having been completely suppressed and peace restored, Captain Thornton returned home, accompanied by Metcalf, who had the happiness to find his faithful partner and children in good health.
Blind Jack being now at liberty to choose his occupation, attended Harrogate as usual; but having in the course of his Scotch expedition kept his eyes open (if we may use such an expression of a blind man), he had become acquainted with various articles manufactured in that country, and judging that some of them might find a market in England, he repaired in the spring to Scotland, and supplied himself with various articles in cotton and worsted, especially Aberdeen stockings. For all these articles he found a ready sale at the houses of gentlemen in the county of York; and being personally known to most of the families, was everywhere kindly received. He was never at a loss to know among one thousand articles what each had cost him, as he had a method of marking them which enabled him to distinguish them by the feel. It was also customary with him to buy horses for sale in Scotland, bringing back galloways in return. He was an admirable judge of horses by running his hands over them.
He also engaged pretty deeply in contraband trade, the profits of which at that time were so considerable as to make it worth while running the risk. Once, having received a pressing letter from Newcastle-upon-Tyne requiring his speedy attendance, he set out on horseback from Knaresborough at three in the morning, and got into Newcastle the same evening about six o'clock, a distance of nearly seventy-four miles, and did not feel fatigued.
Having received some packages, he employed a few soldiers to convey them to a carrier, judging that men of their description were least liable to suspicion. After sending off his goods, he stayed two nights with some relations, and then set out for home. He had with him about a hundred-weight of tea, cased over with tow, and tightly corded up; this he put into a wallet, which he laid across the saddle.
Coming to Chester-le-Street (about half-way between Newcastle and Durham), he met at the inn an exciseman, who knew him as soon as he had dismounted, and asked him what he had got there. Metcalf answered, "It is some tow and line for my aunt, who lives a few miles distant. I wish she was far enough, for giving me the trouble to fetch it." The officer said to him, "Bring it in"; he replied, "I am only here for a few minutes; it may as well remain on the horsing-stone." By this seeming indifference about his packet he removed suspicion from the mind of the exciseman, who assisted in replacing it across the saddle.
Once having disposed of a string of horses, he bought with the produce a quantity of rum, brandy, and tea, to the amount of £200, put them on board a vessel for Leith, and travelled overland on foot to meet the vessel at that port. He had about thirty miles to walk, and carried near five stone weight of goods, which he did not choose to put on shipboard. At Leith he had the mortification to wait six weeks without receiving any tidings of the vessel, which many supposed to have been lost, there having been a storm in the interval. The distress of mind resulting from this induced him to say, "If she is lost I wish I had been in her, for she had all my property on board." Soon after, however, the ship got into Leith harbour. He then went on board, and set sail for Newcastle; but another storm arising, the mate was washed overboard, the main-sail carried away, and the ship driven near the coast of Norway. Despair now became general, the prospect of going to the bottom seemed almost certain. Metcalf had now no wish to go to the bottom with his property, and vowed he would give all his fortune to touch dry earth again. But the wind changing, hope began to return, and the captain put about for the Scotch coast, intending to make Aberbrothock. A signal of distress was put up, but the sea ran so high that no boat could venture out with a pilot. He then stood in for the harbour, but struck against the pier end, owing to the unmanageable state of the vessel from the loss of her main-sail; she narrowly escaped being bulged, but having got to the back of the pier, was towed round into the harbour with nearly five feet of water in her hold.
As the vessel stood in need of repairs, Metcalf put his goods on board another, and went in her to Newcastle. There he met with an acquaintance, and thinking the fellow trustworthy, over his cups informed him that he had got 400 gallons of gin and brandy for which he had a permit, and about thirty gallons for which he had none, and which he wanted to land. In a quarter of an hour he found that the man whom he had taken for a friend had gone down the quayside and given information of what he knew, and all the goods were seized and brought on shore. Metcalf imagined that none were seizable but the small part for which he had not obtained a permit; but was soon undeceived, the whole being liable to seizure as not agreeing with the specified quantity.
He then repaired to the Custom-house and applied to Mr. Sunderland, the collector. This gentleman knew Metcalf, whom he had seen at Harrogate; he received him very kindly, but informed him that it was not in his power to serve him, the captors being the Excise people, and not of his department. He, however, suggested that some good might result from an application to Alderman Pelreth, with whom Metcalf was acquainted, and who was intimate with the collector of the Excise. The alderman gave him a letter to the collector, representing that the bearer had bought 400 gallons of spirits at the Custom-house at Aberdeen, and that the extra quantity was for the purpose of treating the sailors and other friends, as well as for sea-stock for himself. At first the collector told him that nothing could be done for him until he should write up to the Board, and receive an answer; but Metcalf remonstrating on the inconvenience of the delay, and the other reconsidering the letter, he agreed to come down to the quay at four o'clock in the afternoon, which he accordingly did, and released everything without any expense.
A short time after, the regiment called "The Queen's Bays" were raised; they were quartered at Knaresborough and the adjacent towns; but after a short stay they were ordered to the North. The country people seemed unwilling to supply carriages for the baggage, the King's allowance being but ninepence a mile per ton: that of the county, one shilling in the West Riding, and fifteenpence in the North Riding. Metcalf having two waggons, was desirous to try this new business; and to make sure of the job, got the soldiers to press his two carriages, which were accordingly loaded, and he attended them to Durham himself. Previous to loading, however, the country people, who knew the advantage of carrying for the army, and who had kept back in hopes of an advance in the price, came forward with their waggons in opposition to Metcalf; but they were now too late—Metcalf had secured the job.
On arriving at Durham, he met Bland's dragoons on their march from the North to York; they loaded his waggons again for Northallerton, and would willingly have engaged them to York; but this he was obliged to decline, having promised to bring twenty-three wool-packs to Knaresborough. He was just six days in performing this journey; and cleared, with eight horses and the one he rode, as much as £20.
Some horses belonging to the Queen's Bays, stationed at Durham, were to be sold, and Metcalf, hearing of the sale, set off from Knaresborough only the day before, and arrived there in time. Amongst the horses to be sold was a grey one, belonging to one of the drums. The man who had the charge of him not having been sufficiently careful in trimming him, had burnt him severely, which caused a swelling. Had his careless conduct been known to his superiors he would have been punished for it; upon that account the matter was hushed up. Metcalf, however, having been apprised of the circumstances from a farrier whom he had got to know, determined to purchase him, judging that the horse would be sold cheap. He was not mistaken. He bought him for very little, and realised a good profit out of him shortly afterwards.
In the year 1754 Metcalf commenced a new business. He set up a stage-coach between York and Knaresborough, and conducted it himself, twice a week in the summer season, and once in the winter; and this business, together with the occasional conveyance of army baggage, employed him until his first contract for making roads, which suiting him better, he disposed of his draught and interest in the road.
An Act of Parliament having been obtained to make a turnpike from Harrogate to Boroughbridge, a person of the name of Ostler, of Farnham, two miles from Knaresborough, was appointed surveyor. Metcalf being in company with him, agreed to make about three miles of it, between Minskip and Ferrensby. The materials were to be procured from one gravel-pit for the whole length. He therefore provided deal boards and erected a temporary house at the pit, took twelve horses to the place, fixed racks and mangers, and hired a house for his men at Minskip, distant about three-quarters of a mile. He often walked from Knaresborough in the morning, with four or five stone-weight of meat on his shoulders, and joined his men by six o'clock. By his attention and diligence he completed the work much sooner than was expected, to the entire satisfaction of the surveyor and trustees.
During his leisure hours he studied measurement in a way of his own, and when certain of the girth and length of any piece of timber, he was able to reduce its true contents to feet and inches, and would bring the dimensions of any building into yards and feet.
About the time that this road was finished the building of a bridge was advertised to be contracted for at Boroughbridge, and a number of gentlemen met there for that purpose at the Crown Inn. Metcalf, amongst others, went also. The masons varied considerably in their estimates. Ostler, the surveyor of the roads, was appointed to survey the bridge, and Metcalf told him that he wished to undertake it, though he had never done anything of the kind before.
On this the surveyor acquainted the gentlemen with what Metcalf proposed; when he was sent for and asked what he knew about a bridge. He told them that he could readily describe it, if they would take the trouble of writing down his plan, which was as follows:—"The span of the arch 18 feet, being a semicircle, makes 27; the arch-stones must be a foot deep, which, if multiplied by 27, will be 486; and the basis will be 72 feet more. For the arch, it will require good backing; for which purpose there are proper stones in the old Roman wall at Aldborough, which may be brought, if you please to give directions to that effect." The gentlemen were surprised at his readiness, and agreed with him for building the bridge. The persons who had given in their estimates were much offended; and as the stone was to be procured from Renton, a sale quarry belonging to one of the masons who was there, he was unwilling to sell any to Metcalf; upon which he went to Farnham, and found good stones which the lime-burners had left (being too strong for their purpose), got them dressed at the place for a trifle, conveyed them to Boroughbridge, and having men to take them off the carts, set them, and completed the arch in one day.
Soon after, there was a mile and a half of turnpike road to be made between Knaresborough Bridge and Harrogate, for which Metcalf also agreed. Going one day over a place covered with grass, he told his men that he thought it different from the ground adjoining, and would have them try for stone or gravel, which they immediately did, and found an old causeway, supposed to have been made in the time of the Romans, which afforded many materials for the new road. Between the forest lane-head and Knaresborough Bridge there was a bog in a low piece of ground. The surveyor thought it impossible to make a road over it, but Metcalf assured him he could accomplish it. The other then told him that if so he should be paid as if he had carried the road round the bog. Jack set about it, cast the road up, and covered it with whin and ling, and made it as good as any part he had undertaken. He received for his contract about £400. He afterwards contracted for making five miles of road between Harrogate and Harewood Bridge, and received for it £1200. For a mile and a half through part of Chapeltown to Leeds, and for lengthening the arch of Sheepscar Bridge, he received £400.
The following are some of his other contracts:—Four miles of the road between Skipton and Colne, and two miles on the Burnley Road. Two miles of the road through Broughton to Marton, and two miles more through Addingham and over part of Romalds Moor, for all which he received £1350. Four miles between Mill Bridge and Halifax, and five miles between Wakefield and Chickingley Beck, near Dewsbury; and received for the same £1200. Three miles and a half between Hag Bridge and Pontefract, and one mile and a half on the Doncaster Road, from Crafton, through Foldby. For the road from Wakefield to Pontefract, Doncaster, and Halifax, he received £6400. From Blackmoor foot to Marsden, and from thence to Standish foot; also from Lupset Gate through Horbury; and also three miles from Standish to Thurton Clough; from Sir John Kaye's seat to Huddersfield; and thence to Longroyd Bridge toll-bar, in the course of which were several bridges, the whole distance about twenty-one miles, for which he received £4500.
In the building of bridges, where the foundations were bad, he laid on a sufficient thickness of ling (where it could be got), otherwise straw; he next laid planks five inches thick, with square mortices cut through, and driving in a number of piles, made the foundations secure. He then laid springs for the arches upon the planks, which caused all to settle regularly. And though he built many arches of different sizes, none ever fell. He also undertook to build houses, amongst which was one belonging to Mr. Marmaduke Hebden, near Huddersfield, nine yards wide, twenty-three long, and twenty-one feet from the foundation to the square of the building, with twenty chimneys.
Metcalf having now made up his mind to follow building and road-making, finding it remunerative, contracted for and executed at various times a great many roads.
About the year 1781 Metcalf, hearing how beneficial the cotton business was to all that were engaged in it, resolved to have a share in that also; he accordingly purchased the necessary machinery, but the scheme failed, as a time came when no yarn could be sold without loss; therefore he gave up that business. In 1789 he contracted for making several pieces of road in Lancashire, between Bury and Heslington, and another part from Heslington to Accrington; and also a branch from that to Blackburn, the work of two summers, for which he received £3500. In 1791 he returned into Yorkshire, and began to speculate in buying and selling hay, measuring the stacks with his arms, and having learnt the height, he could soon tell the number of square yards contained in the whole.
Having gone to York in the first days of 1795, he set out on January 9th to walk to Green-Hammerton, on his way to Thornville Royal, and accomplished the distance, which was ten miles, in three hours and a half. He slept that night at Thornville Royal, and next day walked to Knaresborough, January 10th, the birthday of Sir Thomas Slingsby's eldest son, which was kept with great rejoicings.
Thence he went to Spofforth, where he resided with his daughter, after the death of his wife in 1778. There he died on the 27th April, 1810, in the full possession of his faculties, aged ninety-three. He was buried in Spofforth churchyard.
At the time of his death his descendants were four children, twenty grandchildren, and ninety great and great-great grandchildren.
- Chiefly from a Chapbook Life, written apparently shortly after his death. Published by Johnson, of Leeds.