Probably the most famous of Knaresborough natives, John Metcalf lost his sight at the age of six through smallpox. Determined not to let this misfortune hamper his progress in life he became an accomplished musician, guide, and, most famously, road maker. His road building activities began when he was over fifty but he still managed to build hundreds of miles of roads in the North of England as well as bridges. Special tools helped him in his road-making activities, including a specially adapted “viameter” which measured distances and which he was able to “read” by touch. The viameter is kept in the local museum. He died in 1810 at the age of 92 in Spofforth, where an evocative stone marks his grave.
Transcript of Blind Jack's Gravestone Here lies John Metcalf one whose infant sight Felt the dark pressure of an endless night: Yet such the fervour of his dauntless mind, His limbs full strung, his spirit unconfin’d, That long ere yet life’s bolder years began, His sightless efforts mark’d th’aspiring man. Nor mark’d in vain High deeds his manhood dar’d, And commerce, travel both his ardour shar’d: Twas his a guide’s unerring aid to lend; O’er trackless wastes to bid new roads extend; And when Rebellion rear’d her giant size, Twas his to burn with patriot enterprize, For parting wife and babes one pang to feel, Then welcome danger for his country’s weal. Reader! like him exert thy utmost talent giv’n; Reader! like him adore the bounteous hand of Heav’n.
He died on the 26th of April 1810 in the 93rd year of his age. A more detailed account can be found in the book ‘The Life and Times of John Metcalf’.