The Blind Roadmaker

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Section 3:

The Roads

Introduction

The world of long-distance coach travel

Ancient Trackways

The first roads

Celtic Trading Routes

The Celts were trading across Europe and although nothing remains of their roads, they must have followed fixed routes

Roman Roads

The Romans built roads, famously straight. These are the first roads that we in England are familiar with

The Middle Ages

After the Romans left, our roads fell into disrepair. Find out what happened

The Tudors

After the dissolution of the monasteries, even the church’s work ended

The Stuarts

During the Stuart period the first beginnings of improvement appeared

Thomas Mace

The first proposal to improve Britain’s roads

The Blind Roadmaker

The first person to take active steps to improve the roads

Thomas Telford

As pressure for improved transport links grew, this engineer made a real difference

John McAdam

Perhaps the most famous roadmaker, His method is still essentially in use today

Turnpikes

Britain’s roads at last allow fast long-distance travel 

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 Part 1: Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Part 2: The Age of Coaching

The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them

Part 3: The Roads

Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history.  Coach travel was very difficult until they improved

Part 4: The Coaches

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed

Background

Sources and information about how I came to create this website

Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website

1740: The Stuart era came and went with little done to improve the roads, despite an increasing need for travel and the introduction of a handful of long distance coach services. But the first green shoots were showing - the first turnpike act had begun to make changes to the North Road and Thomas Mace had published his proposal to improve the all roads and keep them maintained . . . and had been ignored.

The next person to tackle the problem was an unlikely one in that he was blind! His name was John Metcalf and he became known as ‘the famous blind roadmaker’.

He was born in 1717 and lost his eyesight at six years of age.  He was a native of Knaresborough and was, at different times, a fiddler, a huckster, a soldier and a carrier.

He even became the proprietor of the first stage-waggon between York and Knaresborough.

Probably because of his work as a carrier and later stage waggon proprietor, he had an interest in the state of the roads and found himself working as a road and bridge maker.

He seemed to have a marvellous instinct which served him instead of sight. It seems scarcely credible but is well authenticated. 

He must have been a remarkable man. At one time he joined the Yorkshire volunteers and marched with them from Boroughbridge to Falkirk where he played them into action against the Scots rebels in the ’45 rebellion.

He seems to have had many adventures, one of which illustrates the state of the roads in his day.

In 1741 he travelled from London to Harrogate along the Great North Road. A certain Colonel Liddell of Harrogate offered him a seat in his carriage, but Metcalf said it would be quicker to walk.  This shows how utterly vile the roads were at the time. 

Despite being blind blind and unused to the road, Metcalf walked all the way to Harrogate and arrived too days before the colonel, who posted all the way.

Metcalf, made many roads around Knaresborough and in different parts of Yorkshire. He was particularly effective over boggy ground where he adopted fagots as foundations over mires. His work was copied by Telford, MacAdam and Stevenson, all of who are far more famous that Metcalf the blind roadmaker.

He died, aged ninety-three, in 1810, five years before Macadam and Telford began their work upon the roads. 


Next: Thomas Telford