The Blind Roadmaker

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: John McAdam

Section 3:

The Roads


‍​The world of long-distance coach travel.








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