Joy as Blind Jack's fiddle discovered ahead of 300th anniversary celebrations

Bernard Higgins with 'Blind Jack'
Bernard Higgins with 'Blind Jack'

Celebrations of the 300th anniversary of Blind Jack Metcalf’s birth are set to hit a high note after the discovery of this historical Knaresborough figure’s original fiddle.

Renowned for being both an adventurer and a pioneering road-builder in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, in his boyhood years John Metcalf, AKA Blind Jack, often entertained revellers with his fiddle in the bars of Knaresborough.

Discovered: The fiddle!(s)

Discovered: The fiddle!(s)

Long thought lost in the mists of time, members of the Blind Jack of Knaresborough Tri-Centenary Committee had given up hope of tracing the instrument in time for the actual 300th anniversary of Blind Jack’s birth on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

But committee chairman Bernard Higgins said they were surprised and delighted to find out that the 18th-century fiddle had been in safe hands all the time as a family heirloom.

He said: “Catherine and Mike Oades got in touch from Melbourn in Hertfordshire. Catherine is a direct descendant of John Metcalf.

“They’ve had it fully restored and they are bringing it up to Knaresborough in July. I’ve been told it looks and sounds really good.

“Catherine’s family also have an original painting of John Metcalf which needs touching up and a copper plate for printing.”

It is hoped the fiddle and other original John Metcalf artefacts will be housed in future in Knaresborough Museum.

The Blind Jack Committee is currently liaising on the matter with Nicola Baxter, assistant curator of Harrogate & District Museums.

But before that, plans are now in hand to make this historical instrument the centrepiece of a special concert at Knaresborough’s St John the Baptist Church.

Taking place on Saturday, August 12, John Metcalf - A Man of Vision is set to be a musical celebration of the life and times of Blind Jack presented by St John’s Choir and friends.

Led by the church’s director of music Mark Hunter, a percentage of all ticket sales will be donated to local charities for the visually impaired.

But the concert is not the only way this important anniversary is being celebrated.

Plans are now well in hand to have part of the Harrogate-Knaresborough road named after Blind Jack.

Harrogate Borough Council has thrown its weight behind the proposal to name the stretch of road that runs from A61 Buttersyke Bar to Wetherby Road at Kirkby Overblow ‘John Metcalf Way’.

Mr Higgins said: “I am delighted and so proud that we are having a three-mile stretch of road named after John Metcalf.

“It will be he very first road named after our Yorkshire pioneer road-builder.

“What also makes it so apt is that the first road he was the surveyor/builder on from Minskip to Ferrensby in 1752 was roughly the same length.

“We are talking with Harrogate council about possibly having the signs erected during mid-July.”

The road-naming is not the only way the legacy of John ‘Blind Jack’ Metcalf is being marked this year.

The Harrogate Bus Company is already planning to name one of its buses after him, while Knaresborough’s popular independent brewers Roosters is also bringing out a ‘Blind Jack Ale’ as a ‘quarterly special’ from July to September.

And a Blind Jack Anniversary charity football match is taking place between Knaresborough Town FC and Harrogate Town FC on Wednesday, July 19 at Manse Road in Knaresborough.

The event will also include an exhibition match between two disabled football teams invited by West Riding FA.

In order to meet the costs of organising anniversary events, the Blind Jack Committee is currently fundraising.

As part of its efforts, it has launched a John Metcalf Blind Jack of Knaresborough Tricentenary Draw, with major prizes donated by the likes of Rudding Park Hotel in Harrogate, the Dower House Hotel in Knaresborough, Taylors of Harrogate, Roosters Brewery of Knaresborough and Audio Vogue of Harrogate.

Anyone who would like to offer support to the Blind Jack Committee or offer sponsorship is asked to email bernard.higgins