The present day usage of roads created by Blind Jack of Knaresborough
On the 15 August 2006, East of the M60 was born, and this year sees our blog celebrating its seventh birthday. Unbeknown to me at the time, I found that (appropriately for a transport biased blog) East of the M60 shares its birthday with a road builder. Not Thomas Telford, thankfully not Ernest Marples. A fellow who was born 296 years ago this year.
John Metcalf. Otherwise known as ‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough’. However, there also seems to be another twist.
The creator of East of the M60 (yes, Stuart Vallantine himself), can also trace his ancestry to this fellow.
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In brief, John Metcalf was born in 1717 to a poor family in his home town of Knaresborough. After a smallpox infection, he lost his sight at the age of six and given fiddle lessons as a livelihood. At 15 he became a fiddler at the Queens’ Head public house in Harrogate. He gained greater interest in horse trading and enjoyed swimming, playing cards and hunting.
He walked from Knaresborough to London to see Colonel Liddell, a patron he met from his fiddle playing. It was his connections which got him the job as royal recruiting sergeant in the Second Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. Shortly afterwards he bought a stone wagon which operated from Knaresborough to York. That expanded into a stagecoach service.
His biggest turning point came after the consolidation of turnpike trusts. Though John had built roads since 1752, his schemes after 1760 grew in stature. In 1760, this included part of today’s route from Huddersfield to Oldham, and part of today’s A59 in Skipton. A great many of his routes form part of today’s bus services.
With canals cutting into his profits, he retired in 1792, after building 180 miles of road within Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire. He died on the 26 April 1810 at his home in Spofforth, aged 93. Apart from his roads, he is immortalised in his home town in the form of a public house famed for its cask conditioned ales (known as Blind Jacks). On the market square, there is a statue of John Metcalf sat down with a surveyors’ wheel.
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The Roads of John Metcalf
Minskip – Ferrensby: his first road. A three mile section on the road between Boroughbridge and Knaresborough. Now today’s A6055 between the same two points.
By Bus: Eddie Brown’s 57 service from Harrogate to Boroughbridge and Rocliffe Church operates every two hours on Monday – Saturday daytimes. There is no Sunday and Bank Holiday service.
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Knaresborough – Starbeck: his third project. The one mile link between the two places forms part of the A59. This is not the only one of John Metcalf’s routes which would form part of the A59.
By Bus: Transdev Harrogate and District’s high frequency 1, 1A, 1B and 1C routes from Harrogate operate every 7/8 minutes during Monday to Saturday daytimes between the said points. The evening service is every 20 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays, though every 30 minutes on Sunday and Bank Holiday evenings. Daytime Sunday and Bank Holiday services are every 15 minutes.
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Harrogate – Harewood Bridge: the six mile stretch forms part of today’s A61. It is a most scenic route taking in Harewood Hall and one I’m familiar with thanks to Stalybridge Celtic’s away trips to Harrogate Town (via the infamous Sainsburys traffic jam after leaving John’s road).
By Bus: Transdev Harrogate and District again. This time their sleek leather-seated 36 City Connect route from Ripon to Leeds via Harrogate. It has a rather nifty 15 minute daytime frequency (Monday – Saturday) with evening journeys being every 20 minutes then half hourly and hourly. The Sunday and Bank Holiday service is half hourly with evening journeys once hourly.
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Chapeltown – Leeds: a continuation of the road from Leeds to Harrogate. Today’s Chapeltown Road had since been declassified from being the A61, following the construction of a dual carriageway which is today’s A61.
By Bus: Transdev’s 36 takes the new road, but First Leeds’ 2 route from Chapel Allerton hospital takes the old route.
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Skipton – Colne – Burnley: there is no mistaking the fact that the people of Skipton and Burnley would be cut off from Lancashire or vice versa had it not been for John Metcalf’s two projects. The Skipton to Colne section forms part of the A59 up to Much Hoole before reaching Colne via Earby along the A56.
From Colne, we continue to Burnley via Brierfield and Nelson. Part of the A56 and A682, it is a well used road, even if the M65 is right in its shadow.
By Bus: from Skipton to Burnley (if you don’t mind a diversion into Barnoldswick), Pennine Motor Services’ 215 route runs the full length of his two roads. The core service is once hourly with extra weekday buses from Barnoldswick to Burnley. Transdev Burnley and Pendle’s 28 also traverses the full length of his two roads (every half hourly on daytimes)
Alternatively, Transdev Burnley and Pendle’s Mainline services (21, 25, 28, 29) combine to offer a daytime service every 7/8 minutes. Sunday, Bank Holiday and Evening journeys on the 21, 24 and 28 run every 15 minutes. Between Nelson and Burnley, there is also the X43 Witch Way service from Manchester (half hourly daytimes, hourly Sundays and Bank Holidays with more journeys terminating at Burnley).
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East Marton – Broughton: the section up to Skipton forms part of the A59 whereas the section to Broughton takes us into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This section is today’s B6265.
By Bus: the seasonal 872 to Grassington operates along the B6265 after Skipton. The 872 is a Summer Sunday extension of the X43 Witch Way bus from Manchester (DalesBus season tickets accepted). Pride of the Dales’ 72 service operates every two hours on weekdays and Saturdays (daytime only) between Skipton and Buckden.
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Skipton – Addingham: John’s previous roads to Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales would join up with a short section of road to Addingham. It forms part of today’s A65 into Leeds.
By Bus: First Leeds’ X84 service from Leeds to Ilkley has an hourly extension to Skipton which calls at Addingham. There is no evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday service over this section. The sparse 883 and 884 services (operated by Transdev Keighley and York Pullman) provide scant compensation unlike the superior rail service.
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Halifax – Wakefield: the main road to Halifax from Wakefield takes in Dewsbury and forms part of the A58, A649 and A638 arterial roads. A section from Wakefield to Chickenley and a section from Halifax town centre to Shibden Hall were among John Metcalf’s handiwork and formed part of a longer term plan for the Austerlands and Wakefield turnpike road. A short section of the route up to Shibden Hall’s the A58 before becoming the A649 up to Heckmondwike via Liversedge. Along the rest of its route, most of it forms part of the A638.
By Bus: John Metcalf’s Halifax to Wakefield route is well represented by local bus services, mainly these operated by Arriva Yorkshire, but trying to do the same journey is more fragmented if you stick as closely to John’s route as possible. The 253 and 268 traverse on part of the route from Halifax to Wakefield up to Bradford.
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Hagg Bridge – Pontefract: this short section forms part of today’s A639 and is probably part of a wider scheme for a turnpike road to Doncaster.
By Bus: Stagecoach Yorkshire’s X28/28 routes. Along the short distance, buses are every half hour throughout Monday – Saturday daytimes. There is no Sunday, Evening and Bank Holiday service.
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Crofton – Foulby: this short section, possibly from the above scheme forms part of the A638.
By Bus: BL Travel’s 223 and Arriva Yorkshire’s 496 routes to South Elmsall. The former offers a half hourly daytime service (Sundays, evenings and Bank Holidays excepted). The latter is a full time service operating hourly to Doncaster with buses every half hour to South Elmsall in daytime. On evenings, Sundays and Bank Holidays, they operate once hourly to Upton with journeys continuing to Doncaster in the daytime.
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Pontefract – Doncaster: the longest section of John Metcalf’s roads around Pontefract continues to Doncaster and traverses part of the Great North Road.
By Bus: Arriva Yorkshire’s 408 and 409 routes combine to form a hourly daytime service between the two points. This is also supported by the 420 which operates every 125/115 minutes. The Sunday, Bank Holiday and evening service is every two hours from Norton to Doncaster and operated by the 409.
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Marsden – Huddersfield: John Metcalf’s most famed and revered roads is the one which forms part of today. To have built a road in the conditions faced by people along the Colne Valley would have been an amazing achievement in 2013, let alone 1759 owing to the wild conditions. Along with the route from Colne to Skipton, that too is a most scenic route. Modernisation has seen the route realigned with one of its original structures, Thieves Bridge forming part of a footpath.
By Bus: without question, First Greater Manchester’s 184 service which offers a hourly daytime frequency to Huddersfield (every two hours Sundays and Bank Holidays). Up to Marsden, the 183 (to Hard End) and 185 (to Dirker) are equally viable alternatives being once hourly and twice hourly. Both the 183 and 185 operate hourly evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday services.
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Doctor Lane Head – Stockport (via Ashton-under-Lyne and Gee Cross): I was wondering where the likely route of John’s road from Austerlands would have gone, on account of the route via Ashton-under-Lyne. I would safely say that the first section is Doctor Lane, then Platting Road before traversing the A669 and becoming the A6050 to Haddens. From there, it becomes the A670 via Top Mossley and reaches Ashton-under-Lyne via Mossley Road. After that, probably today’s King Street along the A627 up to Dukinfield Road and Market Street in Hyde. From there it continues to Gee Cross and continues to Stockport via Bredbury.
By Bus: to do the whole of this route verbatim on public transport is a logistical nightmare. You would have to walk from Doctor Lane Head to Stockport Road via Quick Road. Then, continuing to Top Mossley, board a 350 (First Pioneer) to Ashton-under-Lyne. From Ashton-under-Lyne, a 330 to Hyde (Stagecoach Manchester), alighting at the Town Hall for a 206 to Gee Cross (again, Stagecoach Manchester). Then, rejoin your 330 bus for Stockport.
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Gee Cross – Mottram-in-Longdendale: whilst living at Gee Cross, John built another spur of the Stockport turnpike to Mottram-in-Longdendale from his home town. This is part of today’s A560 and finishes at a busy roundabout near Hattersley.
By Bus: a short walk from the centre of Gee Cross then a 341 (Stott’s Tours) from Werneth Avenue up to Hattersley’s TESCO Extra store. The 341 operates once hourly on Monday to Saturday daytimes and strays a little from Mottram Old Road after passing The Chapman Arms.
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Macclesfield – Chapel-en-le-Frith (via Rainow): after a foray into house building and the death of his wife Dolly, John Metcalf returned to road building in 1770. His first road after a ten year hiatus forms part of a scenic route to Chapel-en-le-Frith it is where the Dark Peak meets up with the White Peak. As well as Rainow it passes Combs Reservoir and the village of Kettleshulme. It forms part of today’s B5470.
In more recent times, Blind Jack’s Bridge, in the village of Rainow has been strengthened to allow for the passage of 40 tonne lorries. It was also awarded Grade 2 Listed Building status on the 09 December 1983.
By Bus: High Peak’s 60 route offers a hourly service daytime from early morning to mid-afternoon with less frequent weekday journeys after 1400 hours. There is also an extended version of the 60 route, the 64, which starts at Glossop (0837 and 1735) and Macclesfield (0725 and 1620). These are positioning journeys which allow drivers to operate other routes thereafter.
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Congleton – Red Bull: today, the short route between the Red Bull Hotel and Congleton forms part of the A34. Its sole purpose of linking Cheshire with Staffordshire remains so today. It also passes Little Moreton Hall.
By Bus: D&G’s 315 service from Congleton to Alsager and Rode Heath has three weekday journeys, departing from Congleton at 1030, 1305 and 1505. In the opposite direction from Rode Heath, 0930, 1130 and 1405.
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Poynton Park: a short section was built by John along Poynton Park, a short distance from the Cheshire village. It is part of today’s A523 road.
By Bus: GHA Coaches’ 392 and 393 services from Macclesfield to Stockport pass Poynton Park on Monday to Saturday daytimes (once hourly). Sadly, there is no Sunday, evening and Bank Holiday service.
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Whaley Bridge – Buxton: the undulating nature of John Metcalf’s route into Buxton has excellent views of the Errwood Reservoirs. Before the opening of the A6 bypass in 1987 (which later saw part of the A6 reaching Buxton via Dove Holes), his route was the A6 to Buxton. It is now today’s A5004 road.
By Bus: High Peak’s hourly 61 service (daytime including Bank Holidays) traverses the full length of the A5004 to Buxton or Glossop via New Mills.
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High Flatts – Penistone: this short road saw John return to Yorkshire with a road which is now a cross-boundary route. Today, it forms part of the A629.
By Bus: Impossible! At High Flatts, the 83 goes to Denby Dale thus meaning the journey to Penistone has to be made by rail.
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Halifax – Huddersfield: John’s route from Halifax to Huddersfield is also part of today’s A629. It is a well used route between the two towns on public and private transport. Today’s A629 strays from John Metcalf’s road at Ainley Top where it forms part of the Calderdale Way, bypassing Elland. The original route passes the centre of Elland.
By Bus: Following his original route as close as possible is First Halifax’s frequent 503 service. This operates every 10 minutes in the daytime. At evenings, the 503 combines with the 501 to create a half hourly service. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, the 501 operates every 20 minutes.
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Knaresborough – Wetherby: by 1781, John was back in his home town. This route via Kirk Deighton and Little Ribston included a toll house at the former village which he also built. This forms part of the B6164.
By Bus: ConnexionsBuses operate the 780 along the full length of the B6164. It runs every hour on Monday to Saturday daytimes (no Sunday, evening and Bank Holiday service).
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Congleton – Wilmslow: returning to Congleton, we see John’s final Cheshire project, linking up with the earlier scheme to the Red Bull Hotel. It forms part of today’s A34 and offers a convenient way of reaching Congleton without passing Macclesfield.
By Bus: at one time, there was a 34 bus route from Congleton to Wilmslow which operated on peak periods. Today, you need to board the Arriva North West/GHA Coaches hourly 130 service to Macclesfield and change there for Arriva North West/Bakerbus/D&G Coaches 38 service to Congleton.
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Marsden (Coach Road and Ottiwells Bridge): John’s penultimate foray into Yorkshire was a spur of his road from Marsden. Known locally as the Coach Road, it is now today’s Carrs Road.
By Bus: First Huddersfield’s hourly 183 to Hard End runs most of the length on Carrs Road.
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Bury – Blackburn (via Accrington): his final road project was constructed in 1789, and one which ended ingloriously with a substantial loss. By then, the canals were starting to eat into his profits and the work was dogged by bad weather. Even so, it would form an important arterial road between Bury and Accrington, augmented with a spur to Blackburn.
There are four different roads along the route. Up to Blackburn from Accrington it is the A679. Then the A680 to Haslingden, B6527 to Edenfield and the A56 all the way to Bury.
By Bus: to follow the route as closely as possible (thank you very much, Mr 1960s road planner in Rawtenstall!), you will need Transdev Lancashire United’s X41 service to Rawtenstall. This operates every half hour (hourly on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and a 65/55 minute frequency on weekday evenings).
After changing at Rawtenstall, catch Rosso’s 482/483 services to Bury (combined to operate every 15 minutes on Monday – Saturday daytimes). On Sundays and Bank Holiday daytimes, the 483 operates once hourly.
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As you’ve noticed, John Metcalf made an exceptional contribution to our roads in Northern England, which we would be lost without. A great number of which are easily accessible on foot and on public transport. Most of them see regular use as arterial routes to our main centres, in spite of the motorways’ greater popularity. His roads were surveyed using a viameter with each of the proposed routes ventured on foot.
Corrections, Clarifications and Commentary
If any of the routes or bus services I’ve looked at may be wrong, feel free to correct me. If like myself you happen to be a descendent of Blind Jack of Knaresborough, feel free to comment away.
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- Blind Jack of Knaresborough: entry by Gay Oliver, another descendent of John Metcalf;
- Wikipedia: article on John Metcalf;
- Blind Jack of Knaresborough, Arnold Kellett (© 2009, The History Press, Stroud);
- Hyde Historical Group: article on his links with Hyde and Gee Cross.
S.V., 15 August 2013.