I’ve always found learning to be a chain reaction. I’ll come across something that sounds interesting, look it up…learn something new…look it up…read something that sounds interesting…look it up…the chain continues. Knaresborough, Yorkshire has become a link in the chain. A few months ago one of my members (Hello Fiona!) e-mailed me after reading my post about visiting with King John and wanted to know what kind of lipstick I was wearing and mentioned she lived in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. After writing back and telling her that I was wearing Mary Kay, Copper Mine number 2347 (for anyone else interested) I looked up Knaresborough and was amazed that I’d never heard of it before.
Knaresborough, on the river Nid, has the remains of a castle first built in 1100. If you look up images on line you’ll see the village is utterly charming, like something out of a romance novel. It’s now high on the must visit list. There are lots of castles in England, but this one (during the middle ages) was in the middle of an extensive forest owned by the crown and was reputed to be one of King John’s favorite hunting grounds. He kept careful notes of all his expenses so we know he thought it was important because he spent a fortune upgrading it. We also know John was staying there on the 15th of April 1210 because he was the first to record the giving of Maundy Money (a practice still performed once a year by the present Queen).
In 1210, 13 paupers in Knaresborough were somehow selected to receive the King’s benevolence. Maundy Money was probably already a long held tradition; John didn’t suffer fools or sycophants. It’s unlikely he would have given money to the destitute to hear his praises sung. He was one of the few King’s of England who had no favorite (a person unduly loved and indulged by a King). Unkind souls might say that, that was because he was such a jerk no one wanted to expend the energy licking his boots, but all the evidence suggests he simply loathed it. Probably because he was so untrusting that obvious flatterers would have lit up like neon signs that read, ‘I’m a lying hypocrite who’ll use you and stab you in the back the first chance I get.’ So each of King John’s 13 Maundy paupers as noted in John’s personal account of his expenses, the Rotulus Misae received; 13 pence, one belt, one knife, clothing and a pair of shoes. That was another world; I can’t imagine the Queen giving a “pauper” a knife today. Her Majesty’s police force is more likely to be confiscating knives though I’d love to know what they do with those knives…something to learn.
So I have to visit Knaresborough because King John lived there (Yes I am obsessive, but at least he’s dead so he can’t have me arrested for stalking). The King John connection would have made it an interesting place, but then Wikipedia page on Knaresborough mentioned someone called Blind Jack so I looked him up out of curiosity. Born in 1717, John Metcalf was one of those people I can’t believe I’ve never heard of before because he was SO amazing. He lost his sight when he was six from Scarlet fever so his parents, being sensible loving poor people, decided to have him trained in playing the fiddle so he’d have means of making a living when he grew up. The following is taken from Wikipedia:
He became an accomplished fiddler and made this his livlihood in the early adult years. He had an affinity for horses so he added to his living with some horse trading. Though blind, he took up swimming and diving, fighting cocks, playing cards, riding, and even hunting. He knew his local area so well he got paid to work as a guide to visitors.
In 1739 Jack befriended Dorothy Benson, the landlord’s daughter of the Granby inn in Harrogate. When, at the age of 21 he made another woman pregnant, Dorothy begged him not to marry the woman and Jack fled. He then spent some time living along the North Sea coast between Newcastle and London, also loddging with his aunt at Whitby. He continued to work as a fiddler. When he heard Dorothy was to be married to a shoemaker, Jack returned and eloped with her. They married and went on to have four children…
His fiddle playing gave him social connections and a patron, Colonel Liddell. In one much repeated story, the colonel decided to take his young protege to London, 190 miles away to the South. John found the Colonell’s leisurely progress too slow and went ahead on foot. He reached London first and then returned to Yorkshire before the Colonell. He managed this though on foot and blind…
During the Second Jacobite rebellion of 1745 Jack’s connections got him the job of assistant to the recruiting sergeant who was raising a company for the King in the Knaresborough area. Jack went with the army to Scotland. He did not experience action, but was emplyed moving guns over boggy ground.
Before his army service Jack had tried his hand as a carrier using a four wheeled chaise and a one-horse chair on local trips. When competition cut into this business he switched to carrying fish from the coast to leeds and Manchester. After 1745 he bought a stone wagon and worked it between York and Knaresborough. By 1754 his business had grown to a stagecoach line. He drove a coach himself, making two trips a week during the summer and one a week in the winter months.
In 1765 Parliament passed an act authorising the creation of turnpike trusts to build new toll funded roads in the Knaresborough area. There were few people around with road building experience and John seized the opportunity, building on his practical experience as a carrier. He won a contract to build a three-mile section…of a new road… He explored this section of countryside alone and worked out the most practical path. Metcalf went on to build roads throughout the then counties of Lancashire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Yorkshire… Metcalf believed that a good road should have good foundations, be well drained and have a smooth convex (rounded) surface to allow rainwater to drain quickly into ditches either side of the road. He understood the importance of good drainage, knowing it was rain which caused most of the problems on the roads.
(as if that wasn’t enough)
He worked out a way to build a road across a bog using a series of rafts made from ling (a variety of rush or marsh grass) and furze (heather) tied in bundles as foundations. (Building across the bog), established his reputation as a road builder as other engineers had believed it could not be done. He acquired an unequalled mastery of his trade with his own accurate method of calculating costs and materials, which he could never successfully explain to others. Competition from canals eventually cut into his profits and he retired in 1792 to live with a daughter and her husband… Throughout his career he built 180 miles of road. Blind Jack of Knaresborough died in his 93rd year on April 26, 1810.
Coincidentally, as I’ve been typing out the above I’ve been listening to Stevie Wonder (who is a blind muscian). Given the era Metcalf was born and into a poor family without connections, what Metcalf accomplished would have been amazing if he’d never lost his sight, but he was blind! I love how he kept building on what he could do and just kept leaping, walking, riding, driving literally into the dark.
And my Regency connection; at the begining of the 19th century Knaresborough became famous for its linen. Because of its location it couldn’t compete on cost so the linen mills concentrated on producing highquality, fine linen. This would have been the very expensive linen use to make the wealthy men’s shirts and lady’s underdress (chemise). English ladies didn’t actually start wearing what we call underwear/panties in the US or pants in the UK until the Victorian era. So all those Regency ladies wearing lovely dresses never had to worry about panty lines…because they wore none!
I learned about Georgian road building, a blind Georgian, linen manufacturing and more about King John because Fiona wrote to ask me what kind of lipstick I was wearing. I only got to take that picture of me and King John wearing the lipstick because the Goblin decided to buy a car in Coventry and I convinced him to take a detour home via Worcestor Cathedral. I only had the lipstick because my sister Becky sent it to me for Christmas. She only sent me Mary Kay because she was a Mary Kay rep for a year or so and found that though she wasn’t very good at selling their products she did enjoy using them and giving them away. To all three of them, thank you for expanding my horizon!
A Jen Too Many says
Wow! Such a pretty, pretty place. And Blind Jack sounds like a fascinating guy.
England never ceases to amaze me…it’s like a magic book that you can flip open to find it filled with stories you’d never seen in the book before; only the stories are real and magical.