Blind road-builder to be honoured by statue in Yorkshire birthplace

HIS memorial stretches across Yorkshire and beyond in the shape of some of Britain's earliest modern roads, but now John Metcalf, the blind engineer who designed and built them, is to be honoured in his birthplace.

A life-size bronze statue of Blind Jack of Knaresborough will be unveiled in the town's Market Place on Sunday, February 22, after 30,000 was raised in public subscriptions.

The pioneer road-builder, who was also an accomplished musician, was born in 1717 in a cottage near Knaresborough Parish Church. He lost his sight after catching smallpox at the age of six.

Blind Jack knew the poor state of the region's roads from operating a coaching business between York and Knaresborough, as well as buying fish on the East Coast which he sold in Leeds.

Following the Turnpike Act of 1752, Blind Jack won a contract to build three miles of road from Ferrensby to Minskip between Knaresborough and Boroughbridge.

It was the start of a road building career, which saw him lead a gang of 400 men in the construction of 180 miles of road across the North of England. He retired from road- building at the age of 75 and was 93 when he died in Spofforth, near Harrogate.

In the his earlier days Blind Jack had been much in demand as a musician, playing his violin and oboe in country houses and inns around Harrogate and Knaresborough.

During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 he was invited by William Thornton to join a company of volunteers in support of the Royal army.

He led them into action at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Local artist Barbara Asquith created a clay model for the life-size sculpture which has been cast at Castle Fine Arts Foundry in Wales. Blind Jack sits on a cast iron seat which will be surrounded by paved blocks.

The statue will be unveiled by the Mayor of Knaresborough, Pamela Godsell, on February 22.