The Life of Thomas Telford by Smiles
Samuel Smiles

Part 2 out of 6

Mrs. Bray says the crooks are called by the country people
"Devil's tooth-picks." A correspondent informs us that the queer
old crook-packs represented in our illustration are still in use in
North Devon. He adds: "The pack-horses were so accustomed to their
position when travelling in line (going in double file) and so
jealous of their respective places, that if one got wrong and took
another's place, the animal interfered with would strike at the
offender with his crooks."

Footnotes for Chapter III.

*[1] 'Three Years' Travels in England, Scotland, and Wales.'
By James Brome, M.A., Rector of Cheriton, Kent. London, 1726.

*[2] The treatment the stranger received was often very rude.
When William Hutton, of Birmingham, accompanied by another gentleman,
went to view the field of Bosworth, in 1770, "the inhabitants,"
he says, "set their dogs at us in the street, merely because we were
strangers. Human figures not their own are seldom seen in these
inhospitable regions. Surrounded with impassable roads, no
intercourse with man to humanise the mind. nor commerce to smooth
their rugged manners, they continue the boors of Nature."
In certain villages in Lancashire and Yorkshire, not very remote from
large towns, the appearance of a stranger, down to a comparatively
recent period, excited a similar commotion amongst the villagers,
and the word would pass from door to door, "Dost knaw'im?" "Naya."
"Is 'e straunger?" "Ey, for sewer." "Then paus' 'im-- 'Eave a duck
[stone] at 'im-- Fettle 'im!" And the "straunger" would straightway
find the "ducks" flying about his head, and be glad to make his
escape from the village with his life.

*[3] Scatcherd, 'History of Morley.'

*[4] Murray's ' Handbook of Surrey, Hants, and Isle of Wight,' 168.

*[5] Whitaker's 'History of Craven.'

*[6] Scatcherd's 'History of Morley,' 226.

*[7] Vixen Tor is the name of this singular-looking rock. But it
is proper to add, that its appearance is probably accidental, the
head of the Sphynx being produced by the three angular blocks of
rock seen in profile. Mr. Borlase, however, in his ' Antiquities
of Cornwall,' expresses the opinion that the rock-basins on the
summit of the rock were used by the Druids for purposes connected
with their religious ceremonies.

*[8] The provisioning of London, now grown so populous, would be
almost impossible but for the perfect system of roads now
converging on it from all parts. In early times, London, like
country places, had to lay in its stock of salt-provisions against
winter, drawing its supplies of vegetables from the country within
easy reach of the capital. Hence the London market-gardeners
petitioned against the extension of tumpike-roads about a century
ago, as they afterwards petitioned against the extension of
railways, fearing lest their trade should be destroyed by the
competition of country-grown cabbages. But the extension of the
roads had become a matter of absolute necessity, in order to feed
the huge and ever-increasing mouth of the Great Metropolis, the
population of which has grown in about two centuries from four
hundred thousand to three millions. This enormous population has,
perhaps, never at any time more than a fortnight's supply of food
in stock, and most families not more than a few days; yet no one
ever entertains the slightest apprehension of a failure in the
supply, or even of a variation in the price from day to day in
consequence of any possible shortcoming. That this should be so,
would be one of the most surprising things in the history of modern
London, but that it is sufficiently accounted for by the
magnificent system of roads, canals, and railways, which connect it
with the remotest corners of the kingdom. Modern London is mainly
fed by steam. The Express Meat-Train, which runs nightly from
Aberdeen to London, drawn by two engines and makes the journey in
twenty-four hours, is but a single illustration of the rapid and
certain method by which modem London is fed. The north Highlands
of Scotland have thus, by means of railways, become grazing-grounds
for the metropolis. Express fish trains from Dunbar and Eyemouth
(Smeaton's harbours), augmented by fish-trucks from Cullercoats and
Tynemouth on the Northumberland coast, and from Redcar, Whitby, and
Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast, also arrive in London every
morning. And what with steam-vessels bearing cattle, and meat and
fish arriving by sea, and canal-boats laden with potatoes from
inland, and railway-vans laden with butter and milk drawn from a
wide circuit of country, and road-vans piled high with vegetables
within easy drive of Covent Garden, the Great Mouth is thus from
day to day regularly, satisfactorily, and expeditiously filled.

*[9] The white witches are kindly disposed, the black cast the
"evil eye," and the grey are consulted for the discovery of theft,

*[10] See 'The Devonshire Lane', above quoted

*[11] Willow saplings, crooked and dried in the required form.



The internal communications of Scotland, which Telford did so much
in the course of his life to improve, were, if possible, even worse
than those of England about the middle of last century. The land
was more sterile, and the people were much poorer. Indeed, nothing
could be more dreary than the aspect which Scotland then presented.
Her fields lay untilled, her mines unexplored, and her fisheries
uncultivated. The Scotch towns were for the most part collections
of thatched mud cottages, giving scant shelter to a miserable
population. The whole country was desponding, gaunt, and haggard,
like Ireland in its worst times. The common people were badly fed
and wretchedly clothed, those in the country for the most part
living in huts with their cattle. Lord Kaimes said of the Scotch
tenantry of the early part of last century, that they were so
benumbed by oppression and poverty that the most able instructors
in husbandry could have made nothing of them. A writer in the
'Farmer's Magazine' sums up his account of Scotland at that time in
these words:--"Except in a few instances, it was little better than
a barren waste."*[1]

The modern traveller through the Lothians--which now exhibit
perhaps the finest agriculture in the world--will scarcely believe
that less than a century ago these counties were mostly in the
state in which Nature had left them. In the interior there was
little to be seen but bleak moors and quaking bogs. The chief part
of each farm consisted of "out-field," or unenclosed land, no
better than moorland, from which the hardy black cattle could
scarcely gather herbage enough in winter to keep them from
starving. The "in-field" was an enclosed patch of illcultivated
ground, on which oats and "bear," or barley, were grown; but the
principal crop was weeds.

Of the small quantity of corn raised in the country, nine-tenths
were grown within five miles of the coast; and of wheat very little
was raised--not a blade north of the Lothians. When the first crop
of that grain was tried on a field near Edinburgh, about the middle
of last century, people flocked to it as a wonder. Clover,
turnips, and potatoes had not yet been introduced, and no cattle
were fattened: it was with difficulty they could be kept alive.

All loads were as yet carried on horseback; but when the farm was
too small, or the crofter too poor to keep a horse, his own or his
wife's back bore the load. The horse brought peats from the bog,
carried the oats or barley to market, and bore the manure a-field.
But the uses of manure were as yet so little understood that, if a
stream were near, it was usually thrown in and floated away, and in
summer it was burnt.

What will scarcely be credited, now that the industry of Scotland
has become educated by a century's discipline of work, was the
inconceivable listlessness and idleness of the people. They left
the bog unreclaimed, and the swamp undrained. They would not be at
the trouble to enclose lands easily capable of cultivation.
There was, perhaps, but little inducement on the part of the
agricultural class to be industrious; for they were too liable to
be robbed by those who preferred to be idle. Andrew Fletcher,
of Saltoun--commonly known as "The Patriot," because he was so
strongly opposed to the union of Scotland with England*[2]--
published a pamphlet, in 1698, strikingly illustrative of the
lawless and uncivilized state of the country at that time.
After giving a dreadful picture of the then state of Scotland:
two hundred thousand vagabonds begging from door to door and robbing
and plundering the poor people,-- "in years of plenty many
thousands of them meeting together in the mountains, where they
feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets,
burials, and other like public occasions, they are to be seen, both
men and women, perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and
fighting together,"--he proceeded to urge that every man of a
certain estate should be obliged to take a proportionate number of
these vagabonds and compel them to work for him; and further,
that such serfs, with their wives and children, should be incapable
of alienating their service from their master or owner until he had
been reimbursed for the money he had expended on them: in other
words, their owner was to have the power of selling them.
"The Patriot" was, however, aware that "great address, diligence,
and severity" were required to carry out his scheme; "for," said he,
"that sort of people are so desperately wicked, such enemies of all
work and labour, and, which is yet more amazing, so proud in
esteeming their own condition above that which they will be sure to
call Slavery, that unless prevented by the utmost industry and
diligence, upon the first publication of any orders necessary for
putting in execution such a design, they will rather die with
hunger in caves and dens, and murder their young children, than
appear abroad to have them and themselves taken into such

Although the recommendations of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun were
embodied in no Act of Parliament, the magistrates of some of the
larger towns did not hesitate to kidnap and sell into slavery lads
and men found lurking in the streets, which they continued to do
down to a comparatively recent period. This, however, was not so
surprising as that at the time of which we are speaking, and,
indeed, until the end of last century, there was a veritable slave
class in Scotland--the class of colliers and salters--who were
bought and sold with the estates to which they belonged, as forming
part of the stook. When they ran away, they were advertised for
as negroes were in the American States until within the last few
years. It is curious, in turning over an old volume of the 'Scots
Magazine,' to find a General Assembly's petition to Parliament for
the abolition of slavery in America almost alongside the report of
a trial of some colliers who had absconded from a mine near
Stirling to which they belonged. But the degraded condition of the
home slaves then excited comparatively little interest. Indeed, it
was not until the very last year of the last century that praedial
slavery was abolished in Scotland--only three short reigns ago,
almost within the memory of men still living.*[4] The greatest
resistance was offered to the introduction of improvements in
agriculture, though it was only at rare intervals that these were
attempted. There was no class possessed of enterprise or wealth.
An idea of the general poverty of the country may be inferred from
the fact that about the middle of last century the whole circulating
medium of the two Edinburgh banks--the only institutions of the
kind then in Scotland--amounted to only 200,000L., which was
sufficient for the purposes of trade, commerce, and industry.
Money was then so scarce that Adam Smith says it was not uncommon
for workmen, in certain parts of Scotland, to carry nails instead
of pence to the baker's or the alehouse. A middle class could
scarcely as yet be said to exist, or any condition between the
starving cottiers and the impoverished proprietors, whose available
means were principally expended in hard drinking.*[5]

The latter were, for the most part, too proud and too ignorant to
interest themselves in the improvement of their estates; and the few
who did so had very little encouragement to persevere. Miss Craig,
in describing the efforts made by her father, William Craig,
laird of Arbigland, in Kirkcudbright, says, "The indolent obstinacy
of the lower class of the people was found to be almost
unconquerable. Amongst other instances of their laziness, I have
heard him say that, upon the introduction of the mode of dressing
the grain at night which had been thrashed during the day, all the
servants in the neighbourhood refused to adopt the measure, and
even threatened to destroy the houses of their employers by fire if
they continued to insist upon the business. My father speedily
perceived that a forcible remedy was required for the evil.
He gave his servants the choice of removing the thrashed grain in
the evening, or becoming inhabitants of Kirkcudbright gaol: they
preferred the former alternative, and open murmurings were no
longer heard."*[6]

The wages paid to the labouring classes were then very low. Even
in East Lothian, which was probably in advance of the other Scotch
counties, the ordinary day's wage of a labouring man was only five
pence in winter and six pence in summer. Their food was wholly
vegetable, and was insufficient in quantity as well as bad in
quality. The little butcher's meat consumed by the better class
was salted beef and mutton, stored up in Ladner time (between
Michaelmas and Martinmas) for the year's consumption. Mr. Buchan
Hepburn says the Sheriff of East Lothian informed him that he
remembered when not a bullock was slaughtered in Haddington market
for a whole year, except at that time; and, when Sir David Kinloch,
of Gilmerton sold ten wedders to an Edinburgh butcher, he
stipulated for three several terms to take them away, to prevent
the Edinburgh market from being overstocked with fresh butcher's

The rest of Scotland was in no better state: in some parts it was
even worse. The rich and fertile county of Ayr, which now glories
in the name of "the garden of Scotland," was for the most part a
wild and dreary waste, with here and there a poor, miserable,
comfortless hut, where the farmer and his family lodged. There
were no enclosures of land, except one or two about a proprietor's
residence; and black cattle roamed at large over the face of the
country. When an attempt was made to enclose the lands for the
purposes of agriculture, the fences were levelled by the
dispossessed squatters. Famines were frequent among the poorer
classes; the western counties not producing food enough for the
sustenance of the inhabitants, few though they were in number.
This was also the case in Dumfries, where the chief part of the grain
required for the population was brought in "tumbling-cars" from the
sandbeds of Esk; "and when the waters were high by reason of spates
[or floods], and there being no bridges, so that the cars could not
come with the meal, the tradesmen's wives might be seen in the
streets of Dumfries, crying; because there was no food to be

The misery of the country was enormously aggravated by the wretched
state of the roads. There were, indeed, scarcely any made roads
throughout the country. Hence the communication between one town
and another was always difficult, especially in winter. There were
only rough tracks across moors, and when one track became too
deep, another alongside of it was chosen, and was in its turn
abandoned, until the whole became equally impassable. In wet
weather these tracks became "mere sloughs, in which the carts or
carriages had to slumper through in a half-swimming state, whilst,
in times of drought it was a continual jolting out of one hole into

Such being the state of the highways, it will be obvious that very
little communication could exist between one part of the country
and another. Single-horse traffickers, called cadgers, plied
between the country towns and the villages, supplying the
inhabitants with salt, fish, earthenware, and articles of clothing,
which they carried in sacks or creels hung across their horses'
backs. Even the trade between Edinburgh and Glasgow was carried on
in the same primitive way, the principal route being along the high
grounds west of Boroughstoness, near which the remains of the old
pack-horse road are still to be seen.

It was long before vehicles of any sort could be used on the Scotch
roads. Rude sledges and tumbling-cars were employed near towns,
and afterwards carts, the wheels of which were first made of
boards. It was long before travelling by coach could be introduced
in Scotland. When Smollett travelled from Glasgow to Edinburgh on
his way to London, in 1739, there was neither coach, cart, nor
waggon on the road. He accordingly accompanied the pack-horse
carriers as far as Newcastle, "sitting upon a pack-saddle between
two baskets, one of which," he says, "contained my goods in a

In 1743 an attempt was made by the Town Council of Glasgow to set
up a stage-coach or "lando." It was to be drawn by six horses,
carry six passengers, and run between Glasgow and Edinburgh, a
distance of forty-four miles, once a week in winter, and twice a
week in summer. The project, however, seems to have been thought
too bold for the time, for the "lando" was never started. It was
not until the year 1749 that the first public conveyance, called
"The Glasgow and Edinburgh Caravan," was started between the two
cities, and it made the journey between the one place and the other
in two days. Ten years later another vehicle was started, named
"The Fly" because of its unusual speed, and it contrived to make
the journey in rather less than a day and a half.

About the same time, a coach with four horses was started between
Haddington and Edinburgh, and it took a full winter's day to
perform the journey of sixteen miles: the effort being to reach
Musselburgh in time for dinner, and go into town in the evening.
As late as 1763 there was as only one stage-coach in all Scotland
in communication with London, and that set out from Edinburgh only
once a month. The journey to London occupied from ten to fifteen
days, according to the state of the weather; and those who
undertook so dangerous a journey usually took the precaution of
making their wills before starting.

When carriers' carts were established, the time occupied by them on
the road will now appear almost incredible. Thus the common
carrier between Selkirk and Edinburgh, a distance of only
thirty-eight miles, took about a fortnight to perform the double
journey. Part of the road lay along Gala Water, and in summer time,
when the river-bed was dry, the carrier used it as a road. The
townsmen of this adventurous individual, on the morning of his
way-going, were accustomed to turn out and take leave of him,
wishing him a safe return from his perilous journey. In winter the
route was simply impracticable, and the communication was suspended
until the return of dry weather.

While such was the state of the communications in the immediate
neighbourhood of the metropolis of Scotland, matters were, if
possible, still worse in the remoter parts of the country. Down to
the middle of last century, there were no made roads of any kind in
the south-western counties. The only inland trade was in black
cattle; the tracks were impracticable for vehicles, of which there
were only a few--carts and tumbling-cars--employed in the immediate
neighbourhood of the towns. When the Marquis of Downshire
attempted to make a journey through Galloway in his coach, about
the year 1760, a party of labourers with tools attended him, to
lift the vehicle out of the ruts and put on the wheels when it got
dismounted. Even with this assistance, however, his Lordship
occasionally stuck fast, and when within about three miles of the
village of Creetown, near Wigton, he was obliged to send away the
attendants, and pass the night in his coach on the Corse of Slakes
with his family.

Matters were, of course, still worse in the Highlands, where the
rugged character of the country offered formidable difficulties to
the formation of practicable roads, and where none existed save
those made through the rebel districts by General Wade shortly
after the rebellion of 1715. The people were also more lawless
and, if possible, more idle, than those of the Lowland districts
about the same period. The latter regarded their northern
neighbours as the settlers in America did the Red Indians round
their borders--like so many savages always ready to burst in upon
them, fire their buildings, and carry off their cattle.*[10]

Very little corn was grown in the neighbourhood of the Highlands,
on account of its being liable to be reaped and carried off by the
caterans, and that before it was ripe. The only method by which
security of a certain sort could be obtained was by the payment of
blackmail to some of the principal chiefs, though this was not
sufficient to protect them against the lesser marauders. Regular
contracts were drawn up between proprietors in the counties of
Perth, Stirling, and Dumbarton, and the Macgregors, in which it was
stipulated that if less than seven cattle were stolen--which
peccadillo was known as picking--no redress should be required; but
if the number stolen exceeded seven--such amount of theft being
raised to the dignity of lifting--then the Macgregors were bound to
recover. This blackmail was regularly levied as far south as
Campsie--then within six miles of Glasgow, but now almost forming
part of it--down to within a few months of the outbreak of the
Rebellion of 1745.*[11]

Under such circumstances, agricultural improvement was altogether
impossible. The most fertile tracts were allowed to lie waste, for
men would not plough or sow where they had not the certain prospect
of gathering in the crop. Another serious evil was, that the
lawless habits of their neighbours tended to make the Lowland
borderers almost as ferocious as the Higlanders themselves. Feuds
were of constant occurrence between neighbouring baronies, and even
contiguous parishes; and the country fairs, which were tacitly
recognised as the occasions for settling quarrels, were the scenes
of as bloody faction fights as were ever known in Ireland even in
its worst days. When such was the state of Scotland only a century
ago, what may we not hope for from Ireland when the civilizing
influences of roads, schools, and industry have made more general
progress amongst her people?

Yet Scotland had not always been in this miserable condition. There
is good reason to believe that as early as the thirteenth century,
agriculture was in a much more advanced state than we find it to
have been the eighteenth. It would appear from the extant
chartularies of monastic establishments, which then existed all
over the Lowlands, that a considerable portion of their revenue was
derived from wheat, which also formed no inconsiderable part of
their living. The remarkable fact is mentioned by Walter de
Hemingford, the English historian, that when the castle of
Dirleton, in East Lothian, was besieged by the army of Edward I.,
in the beginning of July, 1298, the men, being reduced to great
extremities for provisions, were fain to subsist on the pease and
beans which they gathered in the fields.*[12] This statement is all
the more remarkable on two accounts: first, that pease and beans
should then have been so plentiful as to afford anything like
sustenance for an army; and second, that they should have been fit
for use so early in the season, even allowing for the difference
between the old and new styles in the reckoning of time.
The magnificent old abbeys and churches of Scotland in early times
also indicate that at some remote period a degree of civilization
and prosperity prevailed, from which the country had gradually
fallen. The ruins of the ancient edifices of Melrose, Kilwinning,
Aberborthwick, Elgin, and other religious establishments, show that
architecture must then have made great progress in the North,
and lead us to the conclusion that the other arts had reached a like
stage of advancement. This is borne out by the fact of the number
of well-designed and well-built bridges of olden times which still
exist in different parts of Scotland. "And when we consider," says
Professor Innes, "the long and united efforts required in the early
state of the arts for throwing a bridge over any considerable
river, the early occurrence of bridges may well be admitted as one
of the best tests of civilization and national prosperity."*[13]
As in England, so in Scotland, the reclamation of lands, the
improvement of agriculture, and the building of bridges were mainly
due to the skill and industry of the old churchmen. When their
ecclesiastical organization was destroyed, the country speedily
relapsed into the state from which they had raised it; and Scotland
continued to lie in ruins almost till our own day, when it has
again been rescued from barrenness, more effectually even than
before, by the combined influences of roads, education, and industry.

Footnotes for Chapter IV.

*[1] 'Farmer's Magazine,' 1803. No. xiii. p. 101.

*[2] Bad although the condition of Scotland was at the beginning of
last century, there were many who believed that it would be made
worse by the carrying of the Act of Union. The Earl of Wigton was
one of these. Possessing large estates in the county of Stirling,
and desirous of taking every precaution against what he supposed to
be impending ruin, he made over to his tenants, on condition that
they continued to pay him their then low rents, his extensive
estates in the parishes of Denny, Kirkintulloch, and Cumbernauld,
retaining only a few fields round the family mansion ['Farmer's
Magazine,' 1808, No. xxxiv. p. 193]. Fletcher of Saltoun also
feared the ruinous results of the Union, though he was less
precipitate in his conduct than the Earl of Wigton. We need
scarcely say how entirely such apprehensions were falsified by the
actual results.

*[3] 'Fletcher's Political Works,' London, 1737, p. 149. As the
population of Scotland was then only about 1,200,000, the beggars
of the country, according to the above account, must have
constituted about one-sixth of the whole community.

*[4] Act 39th George III. c. 56. See 'Lord Cockburn's
Memorials,' pp. 76-9. As not many persons may be aware how recent
has been the abolition of slavery in Britain, the author of this
book may mention the fact that he personally knew a man who had
been "born a slave in Scotland," to use his own words, and lived to
tell it. He had resisted being transferred to another owner on the
sale of the estate to which he was "bound," and refused to "go below,"
on which he was imprisoned in Edinburgh gaol, where he lay for a
considerable time. The case excited much interest, and probably
had some effect in leading to the alteration in the law relating
to colliers and salters which shortly after followed.

*[5] See 'Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle,' passim.

*[6] 'Farmer's Magazine.' June. 1811. No. xlvi. p. 155.

*[7] See Buchan Hepburn's 'General View of the Agriculture and
Economy of East Lothian,' 1794, p. 55.

*[8]Letter of John Maxwell, in Appendix to Macdiarmid's 'Picture of
Dumfries,' 1823

*[9] Robertson's 'Rural Recollections,' p. 38.

*[10] Very little was known of the geography of the Highlands down
to the beginning of the seventeenth century The principal
information on the subject being derived from Danish materials.
It appears, however, that in 1608, one Timothy Pont, a young man
without fortune or patronage, formed the singular resolution of
travelling over the whole of Scotland, with the sole view of
informing himself as to the geography of the country, and he
persevered to the end of his task through every kind of difficulty;
exploring 'all the islands with the zeal of a missionary, though
often pillaged and stript of everything; by the then barbarous
inhabitant's. The enterprising youth received no recognition nor
reward for his exertions, and he died in obscurity, leaving his
maps and papers to his heirs. Fortunately, James I. heard of the
existence of Pont's papers, and purchased them for public use. They
lay, however, unused for a long time in the offices of the Scotch
Court of Chancery, until they were at length brought to light by
Mr. Robert Gordon, of Straloch, who made them the basis of the
first map of Scotland having any pretensions to accuracy that was
ever published.

*[11] Mr. Grant, of Corrymorry, used to relate that his father,
when speaking of the Rebellion of 1745, always insisted that a
rising in the Highlands was absolutely necessary to give employment
to the numerous bands of lawless and idle young men who infested
every property.--Anderson's 'Highlands and Islands of Scotland,'
p. 432.

*[12] 'Lord Hailes Annals,' i., 379.

*[13] Professor Innes's 'Sketches of Early Scottish History.' The
principal ancient bridges in Scotland were those over the Tay at
Perth (erected in the thirteenth century) over the Esk at Brechin
and Marykirk; over the Bee at Kincardine, O'Neil, and Aberdeen;
over the Don, near the same city; over the Spey at Orkhill; over
the Clyde at Glasgow; over the Forth at Stirling; and over the Tyne
at Haddington.



The progress made in the improvement of the roads throughout
England was exceedingly slow. Though some of the main throughfares
were mended so as to admit of stage-coach travelling at the rate of
from four to six miles an hour, the less frequented roads continued
to be all but impassable. Travelling was still difficult, tedious,
and dangerous. Only those who could not well avoid it ever thought
of undertaking a journey, and travelling for pleasure was out of
the question. A writer in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' in 1752 says
that a Londoner at that time would no more think of travelling into
the west of England for pleasure than of going to Nubia.

But signs of progress were not awanting. In 1749 Birmingham
started a stage-coach, which made the journey to London in three
days.*[1] In 1754 some enterprising Manchester men advertised a
"flying coach" for the conveyance of passengers between that town
and the metropolis; and, lest they should be classed with
projectors of the Munchausen kind, they heralded their enterprise
with this statement: "However incredible it may appear, this coach
will actually (barring accidents) arrive in London in four days and
a half after leaving Manchester!"

Fast coaches were also established on several of the northern
roads, though not with very extraordinary results as to speed.
When John Scott, afterwards Lord Chancellor Eldon, travelled from
Newcastle to Oxford in 1766, he mentions that he journeyed in what
was denominated "a fly," because of its rapid travelling; yet he
was three or four days and nights on the road. There was no such
velocity, however, as to endanger overturning or other mischief.
On the panels of the coach were painted the appropriate motto of
Sat cito si sat bene--quick enough if well enough--a motto which
the future Lord Chancellor made his own.*[2]

The journey by coach between London and Edinburgh still occupied
six days or more, according to the state of the weather. Between
Bath or Birmingham and London occupied between two and three days
as late as 1763. The road across Hounslow Heath was so bad, that
it was stated before a Parliamentary Committee that it was
frequently known to be two feet deep in mud. The rate of
travelling was about six and a half miles an hour; but the work was
so heavy that it "tore the horses' hearts out," as the common
saying went, so that they only lasted two or three years.

When the Bath road became improved, Burke was enabled, in the
summer of 1774, to travel from London to Bristol, to meet the
electors there, in little more than four and twenty hours; but his
biographer takes care to relate that he "travelled with incredible
speed." Glasgow was still ten days' distance from the metropolis,
and the arrival of the mail there was so important an event that a
gun was fired to announce its coming in. Sheffield set up a
"flying machine on steel springs" to London in 1760: it "slept" the
first night at the Black Man's Head Inn, Nottingham; the second at
the Angel, Northampton; and arrived at the Swan with Two Necks,
Lad-lane, on the evening of the third day. The fare was 1L. l7s.,
and 14 lbs. of luggage was allowed. But the principal part of the
expense of travelling was for living and lodging on the road, not
to mention the fees to guards and drivers.

Though the Dover road was still one of the best in the kingdom, the
Dover flying-machine, carrying only four passengers, took a long
summer's day to perform the journey. It set out from Dover at four
o'clock in the morning, breakfasted at the Red Lion, Canterbury,
and the passengers ate their way up to town at various inns on the
road, arriving in London in time for supper. Smollett complained
of the innkeepers along that route as the greatest set of
extortioners in England. The deliberate style in which journeys
were performed may be inferred from the circumstance that on one
occasion, when a quarrel took place between the guard and a
passenger, the coach stopped to see them fight it out on the road.

Foreigners who visited England were peculiarly observant of the
defective modes of conveyance then in use. Thus, one Don Manoel
Gonzales, a Portuguese merchant, who travelled through Great
Britain, in 1740, speaking of Yarmouth, says, "They have a comical
way of carrying people all over the town and from the seaside, for
six pence. They call it their coach, but it is only a wheel-barrow,
drawn by one horse, without any covering." Another foreigner, Herr
Alberti, a Hanoverian professor of theology, when on a visit to
Oxford in 1750, desiring to proceed to Cambridge, found there was
no means of doing so without returning to London and there taking
coach for Cambridge. There was not even the convenience of a
carrier's waggon between the two universities. But the most
amusing account of an actual journey by stage-coach that we know
of, is that given by a Prussian clergyman, Charles H. Moritz, who
thus describes his adventures on the road between Leicester and
London in 1782:--

"Being obliged," he says, "to bestir myself to get
back to London, as the time drew near when the
Hamburgh captain with whom I intended to return had
fixed his departure, I determined to take a place as
far as Northampton on the outside. But this ride from
Leicester to Northampton I shall remember as long as I live.

"The coach drove from the yard through a part of the
house. The inside passengers got in from the yard,
but we on the outside were obliged to clamber up in
the street, because we should have had no room for
our heads to pass under the gateway. My companions on
the top of the coach were a farmer, a young man very
decently dressed, and a black-a-moor. The getting up
alone was at the risk of one's life, and when I was
up I was obliged to sit just at the corner of the
coach, with nothing to hold by but a sort of little
handle fastened on the side. I sat nearest the wheel,
and the moment that we set off I fancied that I saw
certain death before me. All I could do was to take
still tighter hold of the handle, and to be strictly
careful to preserve my balance. The machine rolled
along with prodigious rapidity over the stones
through the town, and every moment we seemed to fly
into the air, so much so that it appeared to me a
complete miracle that we stuck to the coach at all.
But we were completely on the wing as often as we
passed through a village or went down a hill.

"This continual fear of death at last became
insupportable to me, and, therefore, no sooner were
we crawling up a rather steep hill, and consequently
proceeding slower than usual, then I carefully crept
from the top of the coach, and was lucky enough to
get myself snugly ensconced in the basket behind.
"'O,Sir, you will be shaken to death!' said the
black-a-moor; but I heeded him not, trusting that he
was exaggerating the unpleasantness of my new
situation. And truly, as long as we went on slowly up
the hill it was easy and pleasant enough; and I was
just on the point of falling asleep among the
surrounding trunks and packages, having had no rest
the night before, when on a sudden the coach
proceeded at a rapid rate down the hill. Then all the
boxes, iron-nailed and copper-fastened, began, as it
were, to dance around me; everything in the basket
appeared to be alive, and every moment I received
such violent blows that I thought my last hour had
come. The black-a-moor had been right, I now saw
clearly; but repentance was useless, and I was
obliged to suffer horrible torture for nearly an
hour, which seemed to me an eternity. At last we came
to another hill, when, quite shaken to pieces,
bleeding, and sore, I ruefully crept back to the top
of the coach to my former seat. 'Ah, did I not tell
you that you would be shaken to death?' inquired the
black man, when I was creeping along on my stomach.
But I gave him no reply. Indeed, I was ashamed; and I
now write this as a warning to all strangers who are
inclined to ride in English stage-coaches, and take
an outside at, or, worse still, horror of horrors, a
seat in the basket.

"From Harborough to Northampton I had a most dreadful
journey. It rained incessantly, and as before we had
been covered with dust, so now we were soaked with
rain. My neighbour, the young man who sat next me in
the middle, every now and then fell asleep; and when
in this state he perpetually bolted and rolled
against me, with the whole weight of his body, more
than once nearly pushing me from my seat, to which I
clung with the last strength of despair. My forces
were nearly giving way, when at last, happily, we
reached Northampton, on the evening of the 14th July,
1782, an ever-memorable day to me.

"On the next morning, I took an inside place for
London. We started early in the morning. The journey
from Northampton to the metropolis, however, I can
scarcely call a ride, for it was a perpetual motion,
or endless jolt from one place to another, in a close
wooden box, over what appeared to be a heap of unhewn
stones and trunks of trees scattered by a hurricane.
To make my happiness complete, I had three travelling
companions, all farmers, who slept so soundly that
even the hearty knocks with which they hammered their
heads against each other and against mine did not
awake them. Their faces, bloated and discoloured by
ale and brandy and the knocks aforesaid, looked, as
they lay before me, like so many lumps of dead flesh.

"I looked, and certainly felt, like a crazy fool when
we arrived at London in the afternoon."*[3]

[Image] The Basket Coach, 1780.

Arthur Young, in his books, inveighs strongly against the execrable
state of the roads in all parts of England towards the end of last
century. In Essex he found the ruts "of an incredible depth,"
and he almost swore at one near Tilbury. "Of all the cursed roads,
"he says, "that ever disgraced this kingdom in the very ages of
barbarism, none ever equalled that from Billericay to the King's
Head at Tilbury. It is for near twelve miles so narrow that a
mouse cannot pass by any carriage. I saw a fellow creep under his
waggon to assist me to lift, if possible, my chaise over a hedge.
To add to all the infamous circumstances which concur to plague a
traveller, I must not forget the eternally meeting with chalk
waggons, themselves frequently stuck fast, till a collection of
them are in the same situation, and twenty or thirty horses may be
tacked to each to draw them out one by one!"*[4] Yet will it be
believed, the proposal to form a turnpike-road from Chelmsford to
Tilbury was resisted "by the Bruins of the country, whose horses
were worried to death with bringing chalk through those vile

Arthur Young did not find the turnpike any better between Bury and
Sudbury, in Suffolk: "I was forced to move as slow in it," he says,
"as in any unmended lane in Wales. For, ponds of liquid dirt, and
a scattering of loose flints just sufficient to lame every horse
that moves near them, with the addition of cutting vile grips
across the road under the pretence of letting the water off, but
without effect, altogether render at least twelve out of these
sixteen miles as infamous a turnpike as ever was beheld." Between
Tetsworth and Oxford he found the so-called turnpike abounding in
loose stones as large as one's head, full of holes, deep ruts, and
withal so narrow that with great difficulty he got his chaise out
of the way of the Witney waggons. "Barbarous" and "execrable" are
the words which he constantly employs in speaking of the roads;
parish and turnpike, all seemed to be alike bad. From Gloucester
to Newnham, a distance of twelve miles, he found a "cursed road,"
"infamously stony," with "ruts all the way." From Newnham to
Chepstow he noted another bad feature in the roads, and that was
the perpetual hills; "for," he says, "you will form a clear idea of
them if you suppose the country to represent the roofs of houses
joined, and the road to run across them." It was at one time even
matter of grave dispute whether it would not cost as little money
to make that between Leominster and Kington navigable as to make
it hard. Passing still further west, the unfortunate traveller,
who seems scarcely able to find words to express his sufferings,

"But, my dear Sir, what am I to say of the roads in
this country! the turnpikes! as they have the
assurance to call them and the hardiness to make one
pay for? From Chepstow to the half-way house between
Newport and Cardiff they continue mere rocky lanes,
full of hugeous stones as big as one's horse, and
abominable holes. The first six miles from Newport
they were so detestable, and without either
direction-posts or milestones, that I could not well
persuade myself I was on the turnpike, but had
mistook the road, and therefore asked every one I
met, who answered me, to my astonishment, 'Ya-as!'
Whatever business carries you into this country,
avoid it, at least till they have good roads: if they
were good, travelling would be very pleasant."*[5]

At a subsequent period Arthur Young visited the northern counties;
but his account of the roads in that quarter is not more
satisfactory. Between Richmond and Darlington he found them like to
"dislocate his bones," being broken in many places into deep holes,
and almost impassable; "yet," says he, "the people will drink tea!"
--a decoction against the use of which the traveller is found
constantly declaiming. The roads in Lancashire made him almost
frantic, and he gasped for words to express his rage. Of the road
between Proud Preston and Wigan he says: "I know not in the whole
range of language terms sufficiently expressive to describe this
infernal road. Let me most seriously caution all travellers who
may accidentally propose to travel this terrible country, to avoid
it as they would the devil; for a thousand to one they break their
necks or their limbs by overthrows or breakings-down.

They will here meet with ruts, which I actually measured, four feet
deep, and floating with mud only from a wet summer. What,
therefore, must it be after a winter? The only mending it receives
is tumbling in some loose stones, which serve no other purpose than
jolting a carriage in the most intolerable manner. These are not
merely opinions, but facts; for I actually passed three carts
broken down in those eighteen miles of execrable memory."*[6]

It would even appear that the bad state of the roads in the Midland
counties, about the same time, had nearly caused the death of the
heir to the throne. On the 2nd of September, 1789, the Prince of
Wales left Wentworth Hall, where he had been on a visit to Earl
Fitzwilliam, and took the road for London in his carriage. When
about two miles from Newark the Prince's coach was overturned by a
cart in a narrow part of the road; it rolled down a slope, turning
over three times, and landed at the bottom, shivered to pieces.
Fortunately the Prince escaped with only a few bruises and a
sprain; but the incident had no effect in stirring up the local
authorities to make any improvement in the road, which remained in
the same wretched state until a comparatively recent period.

When Palmer's new mail-coaches were introduced, an attempt was made
to diminish the jolting of the passengers by having the carriages
hung upon new patent springs, but with very indifferent results.
Mathew Boulton, the engineer, thus described their effect upon
himself in a journey he made in one of them from London into
Devonshire, in 1787:--

"I had the most disagreeable journey I ever
experienced the night after I left you, owing to the
new improved patent coach, a vehicle loaded with iron
trappings and the greatest complication of
unmechanical contrivances jumbled together, that I
have ever witnessed. The coach swings sideways, with
a sickly sway without any vertical spring; the point
of suspense bearing upon an arch called a spring,
though it is nothing of the sort, The severity of the
jolting occasioned me such disorder, that I was
obliged to stop at Axminster and go to bed very ill.
However, I was able next day to proceed in a
post-chaise. The landlady in the London Inn, at
Exeter, assured me that the passengers who arrived
every night were in general so ill that they were
obliged to go supperless to bed; and, unless they go
back to the old-fashioned coach, hung a little lower,
the mail-coaches will lose all their custom."*[7]

We may briefly refer to the several stages of improvement --if
improvement it could be called--in the most frequented highways of
the kingdom, and to the action of the legislature with reference to
the extension of turnpikes. The trade and industry of the country
had been steadily improving; but the greatest obstacle to their
further progress was always felt to be the disgraceful state of the
roads. As long ago as the year 1663 an Act was passed*[8]
authorising the first toll-gates or turnpikes to be erected, at
which collectors were stationed to levy small sums from those using
the road, for the purpose of defraying the needful expenses of
their maintenance. This Act, however, only applied to a portion of
the Great North Road between London and York, and it authorised the
new toll-bars to be erected at Wade's Mill in Hertfordshire, at
Caxton in Cambridgeshire, and at Stilton in Huntingdonshire.*[9]
The Act was not followed by any others for a quarter of a century,
and even after that lapse of time such Acts as were passed of a
similar character were very few and far between.

For nearly a century more, travellers from Edinburgh to London met
with no turnpikes until within about 110 miles of the metropolis.
North of that point there was only a narrow causeway fit for
pack-horses, flanked with clay sloughs on either side. It is,
however, stated that the Duke of Cumberland and the Earl of
Albemarle, when on their way to Scotland in pursuit of the rebels
in 1746, did contrive to reach Durham in a coach and six; but there
the roads were found so wretched, that they were under the
necessity of taking to horse, and Mr. George Bowes, the county
member, made His Royal Highness a present of his nag to enable him
to proceed on his journey. The roads west of Newcastle were so bad,
that in the previous year the royal forces under General Wade,
which left Newcastle for Carlisle to intercept the Pretender and
his army, halted the first night at Ovingham, and the second at
Hexham, being able to travel only twenty miles in two days.*[10]

The rebellion of 1745 gave a great impulse to the construction of
roads for military as well as civil purposes. The nimble
Highlanders, without baggage or waggons, had been able to cross the
border and penetrate almost to the centre of England before any
definite knowledge of their proceedings had reached the rest of the
kingdom. In the metropolis itself little information could be
obtained of the movements of the rebel army for several days after
they had left Edinburgh. Light of foot, they outstripped the
cavalry and artillery of the royal army, which were delayed at all
points by impassable roads. No sooner, however, was the rebellion
put down, than Government directed its attention to the best means
of securing the permanent subordination of the Highlands, and with
this object the construction of good highways was declared to be
indispensable. The expediency of opening up the communication
between the capital and the principal towns of Scotland was also
generally admitted; and from that time, though slowly, the
construction of the main high routes between north and south made
steady progress.

The extension of the turnpike system, however, encountered violent
opposition from the people, being regarded as a grievous tax upon
their freedom of movement from place to place. Armed bodies of men
assembled to destroy the turnpikes; and they burnt down the
toll-houses and blew up the posts with gunpowder. The resistance
was the greatest in Yorkshire, along the line of the Great North
Road towards Scotland, though riots also took place in
Somersetshire and Gloucestershire, and even in the immediate
neighbourhood of London. One fine May morning, at Selby, in
Yorkshire, the public bellman summoned the inhabitants to assemble
with their hatchets and axes that night at midnight, and cut down
the turnpikes erected by Act of Parliament; nor were they slow to
act upon his summons. Soldiers were then sent into the district to
protect the toll-bars and the toll-takers; but this was a difficult
matter, for the toll-gates were numerous, and wherever a "pike" was
left unprotected at night, it was found destroyed in the morning.
The Yeadon and Otley mobs, near Leeds, were especially violent. On
the 18th of June, 1753, they made quite a raid upon the turnpikes,
burning or destroying about a dozen in one week. A score of the
rioters were apprehended, and while on their way to York Castle a
rescue was attempted, when the soldiers were under the necessity of
firing, and many persons were killed and wounded. The prejudices
entertained against the turnpikes were so strong, that in some
places the country people would not even use the improved roads
after they were made.*[11] For instance, the driver of the
Marlborough coach obstinately refused to use the New Bath road, but
stuck to the old waggon-track, called "Ramsbury." He was an old
man, he said: his grandfather and father had driven the aforesaid
way before him, and he would continue in the old track till
death.*[12] Petitions were also presented to Parliament against
the extension of turnpikes; but the opposition represented by the
petitioners was of a much less honest character than that of the
misguided and prejudiced country folks, who burnt down the
toll-houses. It was principally got up by the agriculturists in the
neighbourhood of the metropolis, who, having secured the advantages
which the turnpike-roads first constructed had conferred upon them,
desired to retain a monopoly of the improved means of
communication. They alleged that if turnpike-roads were extended
into the remoter counties, the greater cheapness of labour there
would enable the distant farmers to sell their grass and corn
cheaper in the London market than themselves, and that thus they
would be ruined.*[13]

This opposition, however, did not prevent the progress of turnpike
and highway legislation; and we find that, from l760 to l774, no
fewer than four hundred and fifty-two Acts were passed for making
and repairing highways. Nevertheless the roads of the kingdom long
continued in a very unsatisfactory state, chiefly arising from the
extremely imperfect manner in which they were made.

Road-making as a profession was as yet unknown. Deviations were
made in the old roads to make them more easy and straight; but the
deep ruts were merely filled up with any materials that lay nearest
at hand, and stones taken from the quarry, instead of being broken
and laid on carefully to a proper depth, were tumbled down and
roughly spread, the country road-maker trusting to the operation of
cart-wheels and waggons to crush them into a proper shape. Men of
eminence as engineers--and there were very few such at the time--
considered road-making beneath their consideration; and it was even
thought singular that, in 1768, the distinguished Smeaton should
have condescended to make a road across the valley of the Trent,
between Markham and Newark.

The making of the new roads was thus left to such persons as might
choose to take up the trade, special skill not being thought at all
necessary on the part of a road-maker. It is only in this way that
we can account for the remarkable fact, that the first extensive
maker of roads who pursued it as a business, was not an engineer,
nor even a mechanic, but a Blind Man, bred to no trade, and
possessing no experience whatever in the arts of surveying or
bridge-building, yet a man possessed of extraordinary natural
gifts, and unquestionably most successful as a road-maker.
We allude to John Metcalf, commonly known as "Blind Jack of
Knaresborough," to whose biography, as the constructor of nearly
two hundred miles of capital roads--as, indeed, the first great
English road-maker--we propose to devote the next chapter.

Footnotes for Chapter V.

*[1] Lady Luxborough, in a letter to Shenstone the poet, in 1749,
says,--"A Birmingham coach is newly established to our great
emolument. Would it not be a good scheme (this dirty weather, when
riding is no more a pleasure) for you to come some Monday in the
said stage-coach from Birmingham to breakfast at Barrells,
(for they always breakfast at Henley); and on the Saturday following
it would convey you back to Birmingham, unless you would stay longer,
which would be better still, and equally easy; for the stage goes
every week the same road. It breakfasts at Henley, and lies at
Chipping Horton; goes early next day to Oxford, stays there all day
and night, and gets on the third day to London; which from
Birmingham at this season is pretty well, considering how long they
are at Oxford; and it is much more agreeable as to the country than
the Warwick way was."

*[2] We may incidentally mention three other journeys south by
future Lords Chancellors. Mansfield rode up from Scotland to
London when a boy, taking two months to make the journey on his pony.
Wedderburn's journey by coach from Edinburgh to London, in 1757,
occupied him six days. "When I first reached London," said
the late Lord Campbell, "I performed the same journey in three
nights and two days, Mr. Palmer's mail-coaches being then
established; but this swift travelling was considered dangerous as
well as wonderful, and I was gravely advised to stay a day at York,
as several passengers who had gone through without stopping had
died of apoplexy from the rapidity of the motion!"

*[3] C. H. Moritz: 'Reise eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782.'
Berlin, 1783.

*[4] Arthur Young's 'Six Weeks' Tour in the Southern Counties of
England and Wales,' 2nd ed., 1769, pp. 88-9.

*[5] 'Six Weeks Tour' in the Southern Counties of England and
Wales,' pp. 153-5. The roads all over South Wales were equally
bad down to the beginning of the present century. At Halfway, near
Trecastle, in Breconshire, South Wales, a small obelisk is still to
be seen, which was erected to commemorate the turn over and
destruction of the mail coach over a steep of l30 feet; the driver
and passengers escaping unhurt.

*[6] 'A Six Months' Tour through the North of England,' vol. iv.,
p. 431.

*[7] Letter to Wyatt, October 5th, 1787, MS.

*[8] Act 15 Car. II., c. 1.

*[9] The preamble of the Act recites that "The ancient highway and
post-road leading from London to York, and so into Scotland, and
likewise from London into Lincolnshire, lieth for many miles in the
counties of Hertford, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, in many of which
places the road, by reason of the great and many loads which are
weekly drawn in waggons through the said places, as well as by
reason of the great trade of barley and malt that cometh to Ware,
and so is conveyed by water to the city of London, as well as other
carriages, both from the north parts as also from the city of
Norwich, St. Edmondsbury, and the town of Cambridge, to London, is
very ruinous, and become almost impassable, insomuch that it is
become very dangerous to all his Majesty's liege people that pass
that way," &c.

*[10] Down to the year 1756, Newcastle and Carlisle were only
connected by a bridle way. In that year, Marshal Wade employed his
army to construct a road by way of Harlaw and Cholterford,
following for thirty miles the line of the old Roman Wall, the
materials of which he used to construct his "agger" and culverts.
This was long after known as "the military road."

*[11] The Blandford waggoner said, "Roads had but one object--for
waggon-driving. He required but four-foot width in a lane, and all
the rest might go to the devil." He added, "The gentry ought to
stay at home, and be d----d, and not run gossiping up and down the
country."--Roberts's 'Social History of the Southern Counties.'

*[12] 'Gentleman's Magazine' for December, 1752.

*[13] Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations,' book i., chap. xi., part i.



[Image] Metcalf's birthplace Knaresborough

John Metcalf was born at Knaresborough in 1717, the son of poor
working people. When only six years old he was seized with
virulent small-pox, which totally destroyed his sight. The blind
boy, when sufficiently recovered to go abroad, first learnt to
grope from door to door along the walls on either side of his
parents' dwelling. In about six months he was able to feel his way
to the end of the street and back without a guide, and in three
years he could go on a message to any part of the town. He grew
strong and healthy, and longed to join in the sports of boys of his
age. He went bird-nesting with them, and climbed the trees while
the boys below directed him to the nests, receiving his share of
eggs and young birds. Thus he shortly became an expert climber,
and could mount with ease any tree that he was able to grasp.
He rambled into the lanes and fields alone, and soon knew every foot
of the ground for miles round Knaresborough. He next learnt to
ride, delighting above all things in a gallop. He contrived to
keep a dog and coursed hares: indeed, the boy was the marvel of the
neighbourhood. His unrestrainable activity, his acuteness of sense,
his shrewdness, and his cleverness, astonished everybody.

The boy's confidence in himself was such, that though blind, he was
ready to undertake almost any adventure. Among his other arts he
learned to swim in the Nidd, and became so expert that on one
occasion he saved the lives of three of his companions. Once, when
two men were drowned in a deep part of the river, Metcalf was sent
for to dive for them, which he did, and brought up one of the
bodies at the fourth diving: the other had been carried down the
stream. He thus also saved a manufacturer's yarn, a large quantity
of which had been carried by a sudden flood into a deep hole under
the High Bridge. At home, in the evenings, he learnt to play the
fiddle, and became so skilled on the instrument, that he was shortly
able to earn money by playing dance music at country parties.
At Christmas time he played waits, and during the Harrogate season
he played to the assemblies at the Queen's Head and the Green Dragon.

On one occasion, towards dusk, he acted as guide to a belated
gentleman along the difficult road from York to Harrogate.
The road was then full of windings and turnings, and in many places
it was no better than a track across unenclosed moors. Metcalf
brought the gentleman safe to his inn, "The Granby," late at night,
and was invited to join in a tankard of negus. On Metcalf leaving
the room, the gentleman observed to the landlord--"I think,
landlord, my guide must have drunk a great deal of spirits since we
came here." "Why so, Sir?" "Well, I judge so, from the appearance
of his eyes." "Eyes! bless you, Sir," rejoined the landlord, "don't
yon know that he is blind?" "Blind! What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, Sir, that he cannot see--he is as blind as a stone.
"Well, landlord," said the gentleman, "this is really too much:
call him in." Enter Metcalf. "My friend, are you really blind?"
"Yes, Sir," said he, "I lost my sight when six years old." "Had I
known that, I would not have ventured with you on that road from
York for a hundred pounds." "And I, Sir," said Metcalf, "would not
have lost my way for a thousand."

Metcalf having thriven and saved money, bought and rode a horse of
his own. He had a great affection for the animal, and when he
called, it would immediately answer him by neighing. The most
surprising thing is that he was a good huntsman; and to follow the
hounds was one of his greatest pleasures. He was as bold as a
rider as ever took the field. He trusted much, no doubt, to the
sagacity of his horse; but he himself was apparently regardless of
danger. The hunting adventures which are related of him,
considering his blindness, seem altogether marvellous. He would
also run his horse for the petty prizes or plates given at the
"feasts" in the neighbourhood, and he attended the races at York
and other places, where he made bets with considerable skill,
keeping well in his memory the winning and losing horses.
After the races, he would return to Knaresborough late at night,
guiding others who but for him could never have made out the way.

On one occasion he rode his horse in a match in Knaresborough
Forest. The ground was marked out by posts, including a circle of
a mile, and the race was three times round. Great odds were laid
against the blind man, because of his supposed inability to keep
the course. But his ingenuity was never at fault. He procured a
number of dinner-bells from the Harrogate inns and set men to ring
them at the several posts. Their sound was enough to direct him
during the race, and the blind man came in the winner! After the
race was over, a gentleman who owned a notorious runaway horse came
up and offered to lay a bet with Metcalf that he could not gallop
the horse fifty yards and stop it within two hundred. Metcalf
accepted the bet, with the condition that he might choose his
ground. This was agreed to, but there was to be neither hedge nor
wall in the distance. Metcalf forthwith proceeded to the
neighbourhood of the large bog near the Harrogate Old Spa, and
having placed a person on the line in which he proposed to ride,
who was to sing a song to guide him by its sound, he mounted and
rode straight into the bog, where he had the horse effectually
stopped within the stipulated two hundred yards, stuck up to his
saddle-girths in the mire. Metcalf scrambled out and claimed his
wager; but it was with the greatest difficulty that the horse could
be extricated.

The blind man also played at bowls very successfully, receiving the
odds of a bowl extra for the deficiency of each eye. He had thus
three bowls for the other's one; and he took care to place one
friend at the jack and another midway, who, keeping up a constant
discourse with him, enabled him readily to judge of the distance.
In athletic sports, such as wrestling and boxing, he was also a
great adept; and being now a full-grown man, of great strength and
robustness, about six feet two in height, few durst try upon him
the practical jokes which cowardly persons are sometimes disposed
to play upon the blind.

Notwithstanding his mischievous tricks and youthful wildness, there
must have been something exceedingly winning about the man,
possessed, as he was, of a strong, manly, and affectionate nature;
and we are not, therefore, surprised to learn that the land lord's
daughter of "The Granby" fairly fell in love with Blind Jack and
married him, much to the disgust of her relatives. When asked how
it was that she could marry such a man, her woman-like reply was,
"Because I could not be happy without him: his actions are so
singular, and his spirit so manly and enterprising, that I could
not help loving him." But, after all, Dolly was not so far wrong in
the choice as her parents thought her. As the result proved,
Metcalf had in him elements of success in life, which, even according
to the world's estimate, made him eventually a very "good match,"
and the woman's clear sight in this case stood her in good stead.

But before this marriage was consummated, Metcalf had wandered far
and "seen" a good deal of the world, as he termed it. He travelled
on horseback to Whitby, and from thence he sailed for London,
taking with him his fiddle, by the aid of which he continued to
earn enough to maintain himself for several weeks in the
metropolis. Returning to Whitby, He sailed from thence to
Newcastle to "see" some friends there, whom he had known at
Harrogate while visiting that watering-place. He was welcomed by
many families and spent an agreeable month, afterwards visiting
Sunderland, still supporting himself by his violin playing.
Then he returned to Whitby for his horse, and rode homeward alone to
Knaresborough by Pickering, Malton, and York, over very bad roads,
the greater part of which he had never travelled before, yet
without once missing his way. When he arrived at York, it was the
dead of night, and he found the city gates at Middlethorp shut.
They were of strong planks, with iron spikes fixed on the top; but
throwing his horse's bridle-rein over one of the spikes, he climbed
up, and by the help of a corner of the wall that joined the gates,
he got safely over: then opening; them from the inside, he led his
horse through.

After another season at Harrogate, he made a second visit to
London, in the company of a North countryman who played the small
pipes. He was kindly entertained by Colonel Liddell, of Ravensworth
Castle, who gave him a general invitation to his house. During
this visit which was in 1730-1, Metcalf ranged freely over the
metropolis, visiting Maidenhead and Reading, and returning by
Windsor and Hampton Court. The Harrogate season being at hand,
he prepared to proceed thither,--Colonel Liddell, who was also about
setting out for Harrogate, offering him a seat behind his coach.
Metcalf thanked him, but declined the offer, observing that he
could, with great ease, walk as, far in a day as he, the Colonel,
was likely to travel in his carriage; besides, he preferred the
walking. That a blind man should undertake to walk a distance of
two hundred miles over an unknown road, in the same time that it
took a gentleman to perform the same distance in his coach, dragged
by post-horses, seems almost incredible; yet Metcalf actually
arrived at Harrogate before the Colonel, and that without hurrying
by the way. The circumstance is easily accounted for by the
deplorable state of the roads, which made travelling by foot on the
whole considerably more expeditious than travelling by coach.
The story is even extant of a man with a wooden leg being once offered
a lift upon a stage-coach; but he declined, with "Thank'ee, I can't
wait; I'm in a hurry." And he stumped on, ahead of the coach.

The account of Metcalf's journey on foot from London to Harrogate
is not without a special bearing on our subject, as illustrative of
the state of the roads at the time. He started on a Monday
morning, about an hour before the Colonel in his carriage, with his
suite, which consisted of sixteen servants on horseback. It was
arranged that they should sleep that night at Welwyn, in
Hertfordshire. Metcalf made his way to Barnet; but a little north
of that town, where the road branches off to St. Albans, he took
the wrong way, and thus made a considerable detour. Nevertheless
he arrived at Welwyn first, to the surprise of the Colonel. Next
morning he set off as before, and reached Biggleswade; but there he
found the river swollen and no bridge provided to enable travellers
to cross to the further side. He made a considerable circuit, in
the hope of finding some method of crossing the stream, and was so
fortunate as to fall in with a fellow wayfarer, who led the way
across some planks, Metcalf following the sound of his feet.
Arrived at the other side, Metcalf, taking some pence from his
pocket, said, "Here, my good fellow, take that and get a pint of beer."
The stranger declined, saying he was welcome to his services.
Metcalf, however, pressed upon his guide the small reward, when the
other asked, "Pray, can you see very well?" "Not remarkably well,"
said Metcalf. "My friend," said the stranger, "I do not mean to
tithe you: I am the rector of this parish; so God bless you,
and I wish you a good journey. " Metcalf set forward again with
the blessing, and reached his journey's end safely, again before the
Colonel. On the Saturday after their setting out from London,
the travellers reached Wetherby, where Colonel Liddell desired to
rest until the Monday; but Metcalf proceeded on to Harrogate, thus
completing the journey in six days,--the Colonel arriving two days

He now renewed his musical performances at Harrogate, and was also
in considerable request at the Ripon assemblies, which were
attended by most of the families of distinction in that
neighbourhood. When the season at Harrogate was over, he retired
to Knaresborough with his young wife, and having purchased an old
house, he had it pulled down and another built on its site,--he
himself getting the requisite stones for the masonry out of the bed
of the adjoining river. The uncertainty of the income derived from
musical performances led him to think of following some more
settled pursuit, now that he had a wife to maintain as well as
himself. He accordingly set up a four-wheeled and a one-horse
chaise for the public accommodation,--Harrogate up to that time
being without any vehicle for hire. The innkeepers of the town
having followed his example, and abstracted most of his business,
Metcalf next took to fish-dealing. He bought fish at the coast,
which he conveyed on horseback to Leeds and other towns for sale.
He continued indefatigable at this trade for some time, being on
the road often for nights together; but he was at length forced to
abandon it in consequence of the inadequacy of the returns. He was
therefore under the necessity of again taking up his violin; and he
was employed as a musician in the Long Room at Harrogate, at the
time of the outbreak of the Rebellion of 1745.

The news of the rout of the Royal army at Prestonpans, and the
intended march of the Highlanders southwards, put a stop to
business as well as pleasure, and caused a general consternation
throughout the northern counties. The great bulk of the people
were, however, comparatively indifferent to the measures of defence
which were adopted; and but for the energy displayed by the country
gentlemen in raising forces in support of the established
government, the Stuarts might again have been seated on the throne
of Britain. Among the county gentlemen of York who distinguished
themselves on the occasion was William Thornton, Esq., of
Thornville Royal. The county having voted ninety thousand pounds
for raising, clothing, and maintaining a body of four thousand men,
Mr. Thornton proposed, at a public meeting held at York, that they
should be embodied with the regulars and march with the King's
forces to meet the Pretender in the field. This proposal was,
however, overruled, the majority of the meeting resolving that the
men should be retained at home for purposes merely of local
defence. On this decision being come to, Mr. Thornton determined
to raise a company of volunteers at his own expense, and to join
the Royal army with such force as he could muster. He then went
abroad among his tenantry and servants, and endeavoured to induce
them to follow him, but without success.

Still determined on raising his company, Mr. Thornton next cast
about him for other means; and who should he think of in his
emergency but Blind Jack! Metcalf had often played to his family at
Christmas time, and the Squire knew him to be one of the most
popular men in the neighbourhood. He accordingly proceeded to
Knaresborough to confer with Metcalf on the subject. It was then
about the beginning of October, only a fortnight after the battle
of Prestonpans. Sending for Jack to his inn, Mr. Thornton told
him of the state of affairs--that the French were coming to join
the rebels--and that if the country were allowed to fall into their
hands, no man's wife, daughter, nor sister would be safe. Jack's
loyalty was at once kindled. If no one else would join the Squire,
he would! Thus enlisted--perhaps carried away by his love of
adventure not less than by his feeling of patriotism Metcalf
proceeded to enlist others, and in two days a hundred and forty men
were obtained, from whom Mr. Thornton drafted sixty-four, the
intended number of his company. The men were immediately drilled
and brought into a state of as much efficiency as was practicable
in the time; and when they marched off to join General Wade's army
at Boroughbridge, the Captain said to them on setting out,
"My lads! you are going to form part of a ring-fence to the finest
estate in the world!" Blind Jack played a march at the head of the
company, dressed in blue and buff, and in a gold-laced hat.
The Captain said he would willingly give a hundred guineas for only
one eye to put in Jack's head: he was such a useful, spirited, handy

On arriving at Newcastle, Captain Thornton's company was united to
Pulteney's regiment, one of the weakest. The army lay for a week
in tents on the Moor. Winter had set in, and the snow lay thick
on the ground; but intelligence arriving that Prince Charles, with
his Highlanders, was proceeding southwards by way of Carlisle,
General Wade gave orders for the immediate advance of the army on
Hexham, in the hope of intercepting them by that route. They set
out on their march amidst hail and snow; and in addition to the
obstruction caused by the weather, they had to overcome the
difficulties occasioned by the badness of the roads. The men were
often three or four-hours in marching a mile, the pioneers having
to fill up ditches and clear away many obstructions in making a
practicable passage for the artillery and baggage. The army was
only able to reach Ovingham, a distance of little more than ten
miles, after fifteen hours' marching. The night was bitter cold;
the ground was frozen so hard that but few of the tent-pins could
be driven; and the men lay down upon the earth amongst their straw.
Metcalf, to keep up the spirits of his company for sleep was next
to impossible --took out his fiddle and played lively tunes whilst
the men danced round the straw, which they set on fire.

Next day the army marched for Hexham; But the rebels having already
passed southward, General Wade retraced. his steps to Newcastle to
gain the high road leading to Yorkshire, whither he marched in all
haste; and for a time his army lay before Leeds on fields now
covered with streets, some of which still bear the names of
Wade-lane, Camp-road, and Camp-field, in consequence of the event.

On the retreat of Prince Charles from Derby, General Wade again
proceeded to Newcastle, while the Duke of Cumberland hung upon the
rear of the rebels along their line of retreat by Penrith and
Carlisle. Wade's army proceeded by forced marches into Scotland,
and at length came up with the Highlanders at Falkirk. Metcalf
continued with Captain Thornton and his company throughout all
these marchings and countermarchings, determined to be of service
to his master if he could, and at all events to see the end of the
campaign. At the battle of Falkirk he played his company to the
field; but it was a grossly-mismanaged battle on the part of the
Royalist General, and the result was a total defeat. Twenty of
Thornton's men were made prisoners, with the lieutenant and
ensign. The Captain himself only escaped by taking refuge in a
poor woman's house in the town of Falkirk, where he lay hidden for
many days; Metcalf returning to Edinburgh with the rest of the
defeated army.

Some of the Dragoon officers, hearing of Jack's escape, sent for
him to head-quarters at Holyrood, to question him about his
Captain. One of them took occasion to speak ironically of
Thornton's men, and asked Metcalf how he had contrived to escape.
"Oh!" said Jack, "I found it easy to follow the sound of the
Dragoons' horses-- they made such a clatter over the stones when
flying from the Highlandmen. Another asked him how he, a blind
man, durst venture upon such a service; to which Metcalf replied,
that had he possessed a pair of good eyes, perhaps he would not
have come there to risk the loss of them by gunpowder. No more
questions were asked, and Jack withdrew; but he was not satisfied
about the disappearance of Captain Thornton, and determined on
going back to Falkirk, within the enemy's lines, to get news of
him, and perhaps to rescue him, if that were still possible.

The rest of the company were very much disheartened at the loss of
their officers and so many of their comrades, and wished Metcalf to
furnish them with the means of returning home. But he would not
hear of such a thing, and strongly encouraged them to remain until,
at all events, he had got news of the Captain. He then set out for
Prince Charles's camp. On reaching the outposts of the English
army, he was urged by the officer in command to lay aside his
project, which would certainly cost him his life. But Metcalf was
not to be dissuaded, and he was permitted to proceed, which he did
in the company of one of the rebel spies, pretending that he wished
to be engaged as a musician in the Prince's army. A woman whom
they met returning to Edinburgh from the field of Falkirk, laden
with plunder, gave Metcalf a token to her husband, who was Lord
George Murray's cook, and this secured him an access to the
Prince's quarters; but, notwithstanding a most diligent search,
he could hear nothing of his master. Unfortunately for him, a person
who had seen him at Harrogate, pointed him out as a suspicions
character, and he was seized and put in confinement for three days,
after which he was tried by court martial; but as nothing could be
alleged against him, he was acquitted, and shortly after made his
escape from the rebel camp. On reaching Edinburgh, very much to his
delight he found Captain Thornton had arrived there before him.

On the 30th of January, 1746, the Duke of Cumberland reached
Edinburgh, and put himself at the head of the Royal army, which
proceeded northward in pursuit of the Highlanders. At Aberdeen,
where the Duke gave a ball, Metcalf was found to be the only
musician in camp who could play country dances, and he played to
the company, standing on a chair, for eight hours,--the Duke
several times, as he passed him, shouting out "Thornton, play up!"
Next morning the Duke sent him a present of two guineas; but as the
Captain would not allow him to receive such gifts while in his pay,
Metcalf spent the money, with his permission, in giving a treat to
the Duke's two body servants. The battle of Culloden, so
disastrous to the poor Highlanders; shortly followed; after which
Captain Thornton, Metcalf, and the Yorkshire Volunteer Company,
proceeded homewards. Metcalf's young wife had been in great fears
for the safety of her blind, fearless, and almost reckless partner;
but she received him with open arms, and his spirit of adventure
being now considerably allayed, he determined to settle quietly
down to the steady pursuit of business.

During his stay in Aberdeen, Metcalf had made himself familiar with
the articles of clothing manufactured at that place, and he came to
the conclusion that a profitable trade might be carried on by
buying them on the spot, and selling them by retail to customers in
Yorkshire. He accordingly proceeded to Aberdeen in the following
spring; and bought a considerable stock of cotton and worsted
stockings, which he found he could readily dispose of on his return
home. His knowledge of horseflesh--in which he was, of course,
mainly guided by his acute sense of feeling--also proved highly
serviceable to him, and he bought considerable numbers of horses in
Yorkshire for sale in Scotland, bringing back galloways in return.
It is supposed that at the same time he carried on a profitable
contraband trade in tea and such like articles.

After this, Metcalf began a new line of business, that of common
carrier between York and Knaresborough, plying the first
stage-waggon on that road. He made the journey twice a week in
summer and once a week in winter. He also undertook the conveyance
of army baggage, most other owners of carts at that time being
afraid of soldiers, regarding them as a wild rough set, with whom
it was dangerous to have any dealings. But the blind man knew them
better, and while he drove a profitable trade in carrying their
baggage from town to town, they never did him any harm. By these
means, he very shortly succeeded in realising a considerable store
of savings, besides being able to maintain his family in
respectability and comfort.

Metcalf, however, had not yet entered upon the main business of his
life. The reader will already have observed how strong of heart
and resolute of purpose he was. During his adventurous career he
had acquired a more than ordinary share of experience of the
world. Stone blind as he was from his childhood, he had not been
able to study books, but he had carefully studied men. He could
read characters with wonderful quickness, rapidly taking stock, as
he called it, of those with whom he came in contact. In his youth,
as we have seen, he could follow the hounds on horse or on foot,
and managed to be in at the death with the most expert riders.
His travels about the country as a guide to those who could see,
as a musician, soldier, chapman, fish-dealer, horse-dealer,
and waggoner, had given him a perfectly familiar acquaintance with
the northern roads. He could measure timber or hay in the stack,
and rapidly reduce their contents to feet and inches after a mental
process of his own. Withal he was endowed with an extraordinary
activity and spirit of enterprise, which, had his sight been spared
him, would probably have rendered him one of the most extraordinary
men of his age. As it was, Metcalf now became one of the greatest
of its road-makers and bridge-builders.

[Image] John Metcalf, the blind road-maker.

About the year 1765 an Act was passed empowering a turnpike-road to
be constructed between Harrogate and Boroughbridge. The business
of contractor had not yet come into existence, nor was the art of
road-making much understood; and in a remote country place such as
Knaresborough the surveyor had some difficulty in finding persons
capable of executing the necessary work. The shrewd Metcalf
discerned in the proposed enterprise the first of a series of
public roads of a similar kind throughout the northern counties,
for none knew better than he did how great was the need of them.
He determined, therefore, to enter upon this new line of business,
and offered to Mr. Ostler, the master surveyor, to construct three
miles of the proposed road between Minskip and Fearnsby. Ostler
knew the man well, and having the greatest confidence in his
abilities, he let him the contract. Metcalf sold his stage-waggons
and his interest in the carrying business between York and
Knaresborough, and at once proceeded with his new undertaking.
The materials for metaling the road were to be obtained from one
gravel-pit for the whole length, and he made his arrangements on a
large scale accordingly, hauling out the ballast with unusual
expedition and economy, at the same time proceeding with the
formation of the road at all points; by which means he was enabled
the first to complete his contract, to the entire satisfaction of
the surveyor and trustees.

This was only the first of a vast number of similar projects on
which Metcalf was afterwards engaged, extending over a period of
more than thirty years. By the time that he had finished the road,
the building of a bridge at Boroughbridge was advertised, and
Metcalf sent in his tender with many others. At the same time he
frankly stated that, though he wished to undertake the work, he had
not before executed anything of the kind. His tender being on the
whole the most favourable, the trustees sent for Metcalf, and on
his appearing before them, they asked him what he knew of a bridge.
He replied that he could readily describe his plan of the one they
proposed to build, if they would be good enough to write down his
figures. The span of the arch, 18 feet," said he, "being a
semicircle, makes 27: the arch-stones must be a foot deep, which,
if multiplied by 27, will be 486; and the basis will be 72 feet
more. This for the arch; but it will require good backing, for
which purpose there are proper stones in the old Roman wall at
Aldborough, which may be used for the purpose, if you please to
give directions to that effect." It is doubtful whether the
trustees were able to follow his rapid calculations; but they were
so much struck by his readiness and apparently complete knowledge
of the work he proposed to execute, that they gave him the contract
to build the bridge; and he completed it within the stipulated time
in a satisfactory and workmanlike manner.

He next agreed to make the mile and a half of turnpike-road between
his native town of Knaresborough and Harrogate--ground with which
he was more than ordinarily familiar. Walking one day over a
portion of the ground on which the road was to be made, while still
covered with grass, he told the workmen that he thought it differed
from the ground adjoining it, and he directed them to try for stone
or gravel underneath; and, strange to say, not many feet down, the
men came upon the stones of an old Roman causeway, from which he
obtained much valuable material for the making of his new road.
At another part of the contract there was a bog to be crossed, and
the surveyor thought it impossible to make a road over it. Metcalf
assured him that he could readily accomplish it; on which the other
offered, if he succeeded, to pay him for the straight road the
price which he would have to pay if the road were constructed round
the bog. Metcalf set to work accordingly, and had a large quantity
of furze and ling laid upon the bog, over which he spread layers of
gravel. The plan answered effectually, and when the materials had
become consolidated, it proved one of the best parts of the road.

It would be tedious to describe in detail the construction of the
various roads and bridges which Metcalf subsequently executed, but
a brief summary of the more important will suffice. In Yorkshire,
he made the roads between Harrogate and Harewood Bridge; between
Chapeltown and Leeds; between Broughton and Addingham; between Mill
Bridge and Halifax; between Wakefield and Dewsbury; between
Wakefield and Doncaster; between Wakefield, Huddersfield, and
Saddleworth (the Manchester road); between Standish and Thurston
Clough; between Huddersfield and Highmoor; between Huddersfield and
Halifax, and between Knaresborough and Wetherby.

In Lancashire also, Metcalf made a large extent of roads, which
were of the greatest importance in opening up the resources of that
county. Previous to their construction, almost the only means of
communication between districts was by horse-tracks and mill-roads,
of sufficient width to enable a laden horse to pass along them with
a pack of goods or a sack of corn slung across its back. Metcalf's
principal roads in Lancashire were those constructed by him between
Bury and Blackburn, with a branch to Accrington; between Bury and
Haslingden; and between Haslingden and Accrington, with a branch to
Blackburn. He also made some highly important main roads
connecting Yorkshire and Lancashire with each other at many parts:
as, for instance, those between Skipton, Colne, and Burnley; and
between Docklane Head and Ashton-under-Lyne. The roads from Ashton
to Stockport and from Stockport to Mottram Langdale were also his

Our road-maker was also extensively employed in the same way in the
counties of Cheshire and Derby; constructing the roads between
Macclesfield and Chapel-le-Frith, between Whaley and Buxton,
between Congleton and the Red Bull (entering Staffordshire), and in
various other directions. The total mileage of the turnpike-roads
thus constructed was about one hundred and eighty miles, for which
Metcalf received in all about sixty-five thousand pounds.
The making of these roads also involved the building of many bridges,
retaining-walls, and culverts. We believe it was generally
admitted of the works constructed by Metcalf that they well stood
the test of time and use; and, with a degree of justifiable pride,
he was afterwards accustomed to point to his bridges, when others
were tumbling during floods, and boast that none of his had fallen.

This extraordinary man not only made the highways which were
designed for him by other surveyors, but himself personally
surveyed and laid out many of the most important roads which he
constructed, in difficult and mountainous parts of Yorkshire and
Lancashire. One who personally knew Metcalf thus wrote of him
during his life-time:. "With the assistance only of a long staff,
I have several times met this man traversing the roads, ascending
steep and rugged heights, exploring valleys and investigating their
several extents, forms, and situations, so as to answer his designs
in the best manner. The plans which he makes, and the estimates he
prepares, are done in a method peculiar to himself, and of which he
cannot well convey the meaning to others. His abilities in this
respect are, nevertheless, so great that he finds constant
employment. Most of the roads over the Peak in Derbyshire have
been altered by his directions, particularly those in the vicinity
of Buxton; and he is at this time constructing a new one betwixt
Wilmslow and Congleton, to open a communication with the great
London road, without being obliged to pass over the mountains.
I have met this blind projector while engaged in making his survey.
He was alone as usual, and, amongst other conversation, I made some
inquiries respecting this new road. It was really astonishing to
hear with what accuracy he described its course and the nature of
the different soils through which it was conducted. Having
mentioned to him a boggy piece of ground it passed through, he
observed that 'that was the only place he had doubts concerning,
and that he was apprehensive they had, contrary to his directions,
been too sparing of their materials.'"*[1]

Metcalf's skill in constructing his roads over boggy ground was
very great; and the following may be cited as an instance. When
the high-road from Huddersfield to Manchester was determined on,
he agreed to make it at so much a rood, though at that time the
line had not been marked out. When this was done, Metcalf, to his
dismay, found that the surveyor had laid it out across some deep
marshy ground on Pule and Standish Commons. On this he
expostulated with the trustees, alleging the much greater expense
that he must necessarily incur in carrying out the work after their
surveyor's plan. They told him, however, that if he succeeded in
making a complete road to their satisfaction, he should not be a
loser; but they pointed out that, according to their surveyor's
views, it would be requisite for him to dig out the bog until he
came to a solid bottom. Metcalf, on making his calculations, found
that in that case he would have to dig a trench some nine feet deep
and fourteen yards broad on the average, making about two hundred
and ninety-four solid yards of bog in every rood, to be excavated
and carried away. This, he naturally conceived, would have proved
both tedious as well as costly, and, after all, the road would in
wet weather have been no better than a broad ditch, and in winter
liable to be blocked up with snow. He strongly represented this
view to the trustees as well as the surveyor, but they were
immovable. It was, therefore, necessary for him to surmount the
difficulty in some other way, though he remained firm in his
resolution not to adopt the plan proposed by the surveyor.
After much cogitation he appeared again before the trustees,
and made this proposal to them: that he should make the road
across the marshes after his own plan, and then, if it should be
found not to answer, he would be at the expense of making it over
again after the surveyor's proposed method. This was agreed to;
and as he had undertaken to make nine miles of the road within ten
months, he immediately set to work with all despatch.

Nearly four hundred men were employed upon the work at six
different points, and their first operation was to cut a deep ditch
along either side of the intended road, and throw the excavated
stuff inwards so as to raise it to a circular form. His greatest
difficulty was in getting the stones laid to make the drains, there
being no firm footing for a horse in the more boggy places.
The Yorkshire clothiers, who passed that way to Huddersfield market
--by no means a soft-spoken race--ridiculed Metcalf's proceedings,
and declared that he and his men would some day have to be dragged
out of the bog by the hair of their heads! Undeterred, however,
by sarcasm, he persistently pursued his plan of making the road
practicable for laden vehicles; but he strictly enjoined his men
for the present to keep his manner of proceeding; a secret.

His plan was this. He ordered heather and ling to be pulled from
the adjacent ground, and after binding it together in little round
bundles, which could be grasped with the hand, these bundles were
placed close together in rows in the direction of the line of road,
after which other similar bundles were placed transversely over
them; and when all had been pressed well down, stone and gravel
were led on in broad-wheeled waggons, and spread over the bundles,
so as to make a firm and level way. When the first load was
brought and laid on, and the horses reached the firm ground again
in safety, loud cheers were set up by the persons who had assembled
in the expectation of seeing both horses and waggons disappear in
the bog. The whole length was finished in like manner, and it
proved one of the best, and even the driest, parts of the road,
standing in very little need of repair for nearly twelve years
after its construction. The plan adopted by Metcalf, we need
scarcely point out, was precisely similar to that afterwards
adopted by George Stephenson, under like circumstances, when
constructing the railway across Chat Moss. It consisted simply in a
large extension of the bearing surface, by which, in fact, the road
was made to float upon the surface of the bog; and the ingenuity of
the expedient proved the practical shrewdness and mother-wit of the
blind Metcalf, as it afterwards illustrated the promptitude as well
as skill of the clear-sighted George Stephenson.

Metcalf was upwards of seventy years old before he left off
road-making. He was still hale and hearty, wonderfully active for
so old a man, and always full of enterprise. Occupation was
absolutely necessary for his comfort, and even to the last day of
his life he could not bear to be idle. While engaged on road-making
in Cheshire, he brought his wife to Stockport for a time,
and there she died, after thirty-nine years of happy married life.
One of Metcalf's daughters became married to a person engaged in
the cotton business at Stockport, and, as that trade was then very
brisk, Metcalf himself commenced it in a small way. He began with
six spinning-jennies and a carding-engine, to which he afterwards
added looms for weaving calicoes, jeans, and velveteens. But trade
was fickle, and finding that he could not sell his yarns except at
a loss, he made over his jennies to his son-in-law, and again went
on with his road-making. The last line which he constructed was
one of the most difficult he had everundertaken,-- that between
Haslingden and Accrington, with a branch road to Bury. Numerous
canals being under construction at the same time, employment was
abundant and wages rose, so that though he honourably fulfilled his
contract, and was paid for it the sum of 3500L., he found himself a
loser of exactly 40L. after two years' labour and anxiety.
He completed the road in 1792, when he was seventy-five years of age,
after which he retired to his farm at Spofforth, near Wetherby,
where for some years longer he continued to do a little business in
his old line, buying and selling hay and standing wood, and
superintending the operations of his little farm, During the later
years of his career he occupied himself in dictating to an
amanuensis an account of the incidents in his remarkable life,
and finally, in the year 1810, this strong-hearted and resolute man
--his life's work over--laid down his staff and peacefully departed
in the ninety-third year of his age; leaving behind him four
children, twenty grand-children, and ninety great grand-children.

[Image] Metcalf's house at Spofforth.

The roads constructed by Metcalf and others had the effect of
greatly improving the communications of Yorkshire and Lancashire,
and opening up those counties to the trade then flowing into them
from all directions. But the administration of the highways and
turnpikes being entirely local, their good or bad management
depending upon the public spirit and enterprise of the gentlemen of
the locality, it frequently happened that while the roads of one
county were exceedingly good, those of the adjoining county were
altogether execrable.

Even in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis the Surrey roads
remained comparatively unimproved. Those through the interior of
Kent were wretched. When Mr. Rennie, the engineer, was engaged in
surveying the Weald with a view to the cutting of a canal through
it in 1802, he found the country almost destitute of practicable
roads, though so near to the metropolis on the one hand and to the
sea-coast on the other. The interior of the county was then
comparatively untraversed, except by bands of smugglers, who kept
the inhabitants in a state of constant terror. In an agricultural
report on the county of Northampton as late as the year 1813, it
was stated that the only way of getting along some of the main
lines of road in rainy weather, was by swimming!

In the neighbourhood of the city of Lincoln the communications were
little better, and there still stands upon what is called Lincoln
Heath--though a heath no longer--a curious memorial of the past in
the shape of Dunstan Pillar, a column seventy feet high, erected
about the middle of last century in the midst of the then dreary,
barren waste, for the purpose of serving as a mark to wayfarers by
day and a beacon to them by night.*[2]

[Image] Land Lighthouse on Lincoln Heath.

At that time the Heath was not only uncultivated, but it was also
unprovided with a road across it. When the late Lady Robert
Manners visited Lincoln from her residence at Bloxholm, she was
accustomed to send forward a groom to examine some track, that on
his return he might be able to report one that was practicable.
Travellers frequently lost themselves upon this heath. Thus a
family, returning from a ball at Lincoln, strayed from the track
twice in one night, and they were obliged to remain there until
morning. All this is now changed, and Lincoln Heath has become
covered with excellent roads and thriving farmsteads.
"This Dunstan Pillar," says Mr. Pusey, in his review of the
agriculture of Lincolnshire, in 1843, "lighted up no longer time
ago for so singular a purpose, did appear to me a striking witness
of the spirit of industry which, in our own days, has reared the
thriving homesteads around it, and spread a mantle of teeming
vegetation to its very base. And it was certainly surprising to
discover at once the finest farming I had ever seen and the only
land lighthouse ever raised.*[3] Now that the pillar has ceased to
cheer the wayfarer, it may serve as a beacon to encourage other
landowners in converting their dreary moors into similar scenes of
thriving industry."*[4] When the improvement of the high roads of
the country fairly set in, the progress made was very rapid.
This was greatly stimulated by the important inventions of tools,
machines, and engines, made towards the close of last century,
the products of which--more especially of the steam-engine and
spinning-machine--so largely increased the wealth of the nation.
Manufactures, commerce, and shipping, made unprecedented strides;
life became more active; persons and commodities circulated more
rapidly; every improvement in the internal communications being
followed by an increase of ease, rapidity, and economy in
locomotion. Turnpike and post roads were speedily extended all
over the country, and even the rugged mountain districts of North
Wales and the Scotch Highlands became as accessible as any English
county. The riding postman was superseded by the smartly appointed
mail-coach, performing its journeys with remarkable regularity at
the average speed of ten miles an hour. Slow stagecoaches gave
place to fast ones, splendidly horsed and "tooled," until
travelling by road in England was pronounced almost perfect.

But all this was not enough. The roads and canals, numerous and
perfect though they might be, were found altogether inadequate to
the accommodation of the traffic of the country, which had
increased, at a constantly accelerating ratio, with the increased
application of steam power to the purposes of productive industry.
At length steam itself was applied to remedy the inconveniences
which it had caused; the locomotive engine was invented, and
travelling by railway became generally adopted. The effect of
these several improvements in the means of locomotion, has been to
greatly increase the public activity, and to promote the general
comfort and well-being. They have tended to bring the country and
the town much closer together; and, by annihilating distance as
measured by time, to make the whole kingdom as one great city.
What the personal blessings of improved communication have been, no
one has described so well as the witty and sensible Sydney Smith:--

"It is of some importance," he wrote, "at what period
a man is born. A young man alive at this period
hardly knows to what improvement of human life he has
been introduced; and I would bring before his notice
the changes which have taken place in England since I
began to breathe the breath of life, a period
amounting to over eighty years. Gas was unknown;
I groped about the streets of London in the all but
utter darkness of a twinkling oil lamp, under the
protection of watchmen in their grand climacteric,
and exposed to every species of degradation and
insult. I have been nine hours in sailing from Dover
to Calais, before the invention of steam. It took me
nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath, before the
invention of railroads; and I now go in six hours
from Taunton to London! In going from Taunton to
Bath, I suffered between l0,000 and 12,000 severe
contusions, before stone-breaking Macadam was
born.... As the basket of stage-coaches in which
luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes
were rubbed all to pieces; and, even in the best
society, one-third of the gentlemen at least were
always drunk..... I paid 15L. in a single year for
repairs of carriage-springs on the pavement of
London; and I now glide without noise or fracture on
wooden pavement. I can walk, by the assistance of the
police, from one end of London to the other without
molestation; or, if tired, get into a cheap and
active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which
the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my
life..... Whatever miseries I suffered, there was no
post to whisk my complaints for a single penny to the
remotest comer of the empire; and yet, in spite of
all these privations, I lived on quietly, and am now
ashamed that I was not more discontented, and utterly
surprised that all these changes and inventions did
not occur two centuries ago.

With the history of these great improvements is also mixed up the
story of human labour and genius, and of the patience and
perseverance displayed in carrying them out. Probably one of the
best illustrations of character in connection with the development
of the inventions of the last century, is to be found in the life
of Thomas Telford, the greatest and most scientific road-maker of
his day, to which we proceed to direct the attention of the reader.

Footnotes for Chapter VI.

*[1] 'Observations on Blindness and on the Employment of the other
Senses to supply the Loss of Sight.' By Mr. Bew.--'Memoirs of the
Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester,'
vol.i., pp. 172-174. Paper read 17th April, 1782.

*[2] The pillar was erected by Squire Dashwood in 1751; the lantern
on its summit was regularly lighted till 1788, and occasionally till
1808,, when it was thrown down and never replaced. The Earl of
Buckingham afterwards mounted a statue of George III. on the top.

*[3] Since the appearance of the first edition of this book, a
correspondent has informed us that there is another lighthouse
within 24 miles of London, not unlike that on Lincoln Heath. It is
situated a little to the south-east of the Woking station of the
South-western Railway, and is popularly known as "Woking Monument."
It stands on the verge of Woking Heath, which is a continuation of
the vast tract of heath land which extends in one direction as far
as Bagshot. The tradition among the inhabitants is, that one of the
kings of England was wont to hunt in the neighbourhood, when a fire
was lighted up in the beacon to guide him in case he should be
belated; but the probability is, that it was erected like that on
Lincoln Heath, for the guidance of ordinary wayfarers at night.

*[4] 'Journal of the Agricultural Society of England, 1843.'



[Image] Valley of "the Unblameable Shepherd", Eskdale

Thomas Telford was born in one of the most Solitary nooks of the
narrow valley of the Esk, in the eastern part of the county of
Dumfries, in Scotland. Eskdale runs north and south, its lower end
having been in former times the western march of the Scottish
border. Near the entrance to the dale is a tall column erected on
Langholm Hill, some twelve miles to the north of the Gretna Green
station of the Caledonian Railway,--which many travellers to and
from Scotland may have observed,--a monument to the late Sir John
Malcolm, Governor of Bombay, one of the distinguished natives of
the district. It looks far over the English border-lands, which
stretch away towards the south, and marks the entrance to the
mountainous parts of the dale, which lie to the north. From that
point upwards the valley gradually contracts, the road winding
along the river's banks, in some places high above the stream,
which rushes swiftly over the rocky bed below.

A few miles upward from the lower end of Eskdale lies the little
capital of the district, the town of Langholm; and there, in the
market-place, stands another monument to the virtues of the Malcolm
family in the statue erected to the memory of Admiral Sir Pulteney
Malcolm, a distinguished naval officer. Above Langholm, the country
becomes more hilly and moorland. In many places only a narrow strip
of land by the river's side is left available for cultivation;
until at length the dale contracts so much that the hills descend
to the very road, and there are only to be seen their steep
heathery sides sloping up towards the sky on either hand, and a
narrow stream plashing and winding along the bottom of the valley
among the rocks at their feet.

[Image] Telford's Native District

From this brief description of the character of Eskdale scenery,
it may readily be supposed that the district is very thinly peopled,
and that it never could have been capable of supporting a large
number of inhabitants. Indeed, previous to the union of the crowns
of England and Scotland, the principal branch of industry that
existed in the Dale was of a lawless kind. The people living on the
two sides of the border looked upon each other's cattle as their
own, provided only they had the strength to "lift" them. They were,
in truth, even during the time of peace, a kind of outcasts,
against whom the united powers of England and Scotland were often
employed. On the Scotch side of the Esk were the Johnstones and
Armstrongs, and on the English the Graemes of Netherby; both clans
being alike wild and lawless. It was a popular border saying that
"Elliots and Armstrongs ride thieves a';" and an old historian says
of the Graemes that "they were all stark moss-troopers and arrant
thieves; to England as well as Scotland outlawed." The neighbouring
chiefs were no better: Scott of Buccleugh, from whom the modern
Duke is descended, and Scott of Harden, the ancestor of the
novelist, being both renowned freebooters.

There stands at this day on the banks of the Esk, only a few miles
from the English border, the ruin of an old fortalice, called
Gilnockie Tower, in a situation which in point of natural beauty is
scarcely equalled even in Scotland. It was the stronghold of a
chief popularly known in his day as Johnnie Armstrong.*[1] He was a
mighty freebooter in the time of James V., and the terror of his
name is said to have extended as far as Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
between which town and his castle on the Esk he was accustomed to
levy black-mail, or "protection and forbearance money," as it was
called. The King, however, determining to put down by the strong
hand the depredations of the march men, made a sudden expedition
along the borders; and Johnnie Armstrong having been so ill-advised
as to make his appearance with his followers at a place called
Carlenrig, in Etterick Forest, between Hawick and Langholm, James
ordered him to instant execution. Had Johnnie Armstrong, like the
Scotts and Kers and Johnstones of like calling, been imprisoned
beforehand, he might possibly have lived to found a British
peerage; but as it was, the genius of the Armstrong dynasty was for
a time extinguished, only, however, to reappear, after the lapse
of a few centuries, in the person of the eminent engineer of
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the inventor of the Armstrong gun.

The two centuries and a half which have elapsed since then have
indeed seen extraordinary changes.*[2] The energy which the old
borderers threw into their feuds has not become extinct, but
survives under more benignant aspects, exhibiting itself in efforts
to enlighten, fertilize, and enrich the country which their
wasteful ardour before did so much to disturb and impoverish.
The heads of the Buccleugh and Elliot family now sit in the British
House of Lords. The descendant of Scott of Harden has achieved a
world-wide reputation as a poet and novelist; and the late Sir
James Graham, the representative of the Graemes of Netherby, on the
English side of the border, was one of the most venerable and
respected of British statesmen. The border men, who used to make
such furious raids and forays, have now come to regard each other,
across the imaginary line which divides them, as friends and
neighbours; and they meet as competitors for victory only at
agricultural meetings, where they strive to win prizes for the
biggest turnips or the most effective reaping-machines; while the
men who followed their Johnstone or Armstrong chiefs as prickers or
hobilers to the fray have, like Telford, crossed the border with
powers of road-making and bridge-building which have proved a
source of increased civilization and well-being to the population
of the entire United Kingdom.

The hamlet of Westerkirk, with its parish church and school,
lies in a narrow part of the valley, a few miles above Langholm.
Westerkirk parish is long and narrow, its boundaries being the
hill-tops on either side of the dale. It is about seven miles long
and two broad, with a population of about 600 persons of all ages.
Yet this number is quite as much as the district is able to
support, as is proved by its remaining as nearly as possible
stationary from one generation to another.*[3] But what becomes of
the natural increase of families? "They swarm off!" was the
explanation given to us by a native of the valley. "If they
remained at home," said he, "we should all be sunk in poverty,
scrambling with each other amongst these hills for a bare living.
But our peasantry have a spirit above that: they will not consent
to sink; they look up; and our parish schools give them a power of


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