As might be expected, the pack-horses held their ground in Dartmoor the longest, and in some parts of North Devon they are not yet extinct. When our artist was in the neighbourhood, sketching the ancient bridge on the moor and the site of the old fair, a farmer said to him, "I well remember the train of pack-horses and the effect of their jingling bells on the silence of Dartmoor. My grandfather, a respectable farmer in the north of Devon, was the first to use a 'butt' (a square box without wheels, dragged by a horse) to carry manure to field; he was also the first man in the district to use an umbrella, which on Sundays he hung in the church-porch, an object of curiosity to the villagers." We are also informed by a gentleman who resided for some time at South Brent', on the borders of the Moor, that the introduction of the first cart in that district is remembered by many now living, the bridges having been shortly afterwards widened to accommodate the wheeled vehicles.
The primitive features of this secluded district are perhaps best represented by the interesting little town of Chagford, situated in the valley of the North Teign, an ancient stannary and market town backed by a wide stretch of moor. The houses of the place are built of moor stone—grey, venerable-looking, and substantial—some with projecting porch and parvise room over, and granite-mullioned windows; the ancient church, built of granite, with a stout old steeple of the same material, its embattled porch and granite-groined vault springing from low columns with Norman-looking capitals, forming the sturdy centre of this ancient town clump.
A post-chaise is still a phenomenon in Chagford, the roads and lanes leading to it being so steep and rugged as to be ill adapted for springed vehicles of any sort. The upland road or track to Tavistock scales an almost precipitous hill, and though well enough adapted for the pack-horse of the last century, it is quite unfitted for the cart and waggon traffic of this. Hence the horse with panniers maintains its ground in the Chagford district; and the double-horse, furnished with a pillion for the lady riding behind, is still to be met with in the country roads.
Among the patriarchs of the hills, the straight-breasted blue coat may yet be seen, with the shoe fastened with buckle and strap as in the days when George III. was king; and old women are still found retaining the cloak and hood of their youth. Old agricultural implements continue in use. The slide or sledge is seen in the fields; the flail, with its monotonous strokes, resounds from the barn-floors; the corn is sifted by the windstow—the wind merely blowing away the chaff from the grain when shaken out of sieves by the motion of the hand on some elevated spot; the old wooden plough is still at work, and the goad is still used to urge the yoke of oxen in dragging it along.
[Image] The Devonshire Crooks
"In such a place as Chagford," says Mr. Rowe, "the cooper or rough carpenter will still find a demand for the pack-saddle, with its accompanying furniture of crooks, crubs, or dung-pots. Before the general introduction of carts, these rough and ready contrivances were found of great utility in the various operations of husbandry, and still prove exceedingly convenient in situations almost, or altogether, inaccessible to wheel-carriages. The long crooks are used for the carriage of corn in sheaf from the harvest-field to the mowstead or barn, for the removal of furze, browse, faggot-wood, and other light materials. The writer of one of the happiest effusions of the local muse,* with fidelity to nature equal to Cowper or Crabbe, has introduced the figure of a Devonshire pack-horse bending under the 'swagging load' of the high-piled crooks as an emblem of care toiling along the narrow and rugged path of life. The force and point of the imagery must be lost to those who have never seen (and, as in an instance which came under my own knowledge, never heard of) this unique specimen of provincial agricultural machinery. The crooks are formed of two poles,* about ten feet long, bent, when green, into the required curve, and when dried in that shape are connected by horizontal bars. A pair of crooks, thus completed, is slung over the pack-saddle—one 'swinging on each side to make the balance true.' The short crooks, or crubs, are slung in a similar manner. These are of stouter fabric, and angular shape, and are used for carrying logs of wood and other heavy materials. The dung-pots, as the name implies, were also much in use in past times, for the removal of dung and other manure from the farmyard to the fallow or plough lands. The slide, or sledge, may also still occasionally be seen in the hay or corn fields, sometimes without, and in other cases mounted on low wheels, rudely but substantially formed of thick plank, such as might have brought the ancient Roman's harvest load to the barn some twenty centuries ago."
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.
* 'Three Years' Travels in England, Scotland, and Wales.' By James Brome, M.A., Rector of Cheriton, Kent. London, 1726.
* 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.
* Scatcherd, 'History of Morley.'
* Murray's ' Handbook of Surrey, Hants, and Isle of Wight,' 168.
* Whitaker's 'History of Craven.'
* Scatcherd's 'History of Morley,' 226.
* 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.
* 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.
* The white witches are kindly disposed, the black cast the "evil eye," and the grey are consulted for the discovery of theft, &c.
* See 'The Devonshire Lane', above quoted
* Willow saplings, crooked and dried in the required form.
ROADS AND TRAVELLING IN SCOTLAND IN THE LAST CENTURY.
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."*
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*— 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 service."*
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.* 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.*
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."*
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 meat!*
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 had."*
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 another."*
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 knapsack."
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.*
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.*
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.* 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."* 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.
* 'Farmer's Magazine,' 1803. No. xiii. p. 101.
* 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.
* '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.
* 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.
* See 'Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle,' passim.
* 'Farmer's Magazine.' June. 1811. No. xlvi. p. 155.
* See Buchan Hepburn's 'General View of the Agriculture and Economy of East Lothian,' 1794, p. 55.
*Letter of John Maxwell, in Appendix to Macdiarmid's 'Picture of Dumfries,' 1823
* Robertson's 'Rural Recollections,' p. 38.
* 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.
* 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.
* 'Lord Hailes Annals,' i., 379.
* 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.
ROADS AND TRAVELLING IN ENGLAND TOWARDS THE END OF LAST CENTURY.
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.* 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.*
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."*
[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!"* 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 roads!"
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, continues:—
"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."*
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."*
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."*
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* 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.* 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.*
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.* 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.* 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.*
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.
* 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."
* 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!"
* C. H. Moritz: 'Reise eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782.' Berlin, 1783.
* Arthur Young's 'Six Weeks' Tour in the Southern Counties of England and Wales,' 2nd ed., 1769, pp. 88-9.
* '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.
* 'A Six Months' Tour through the North of England,' vol. iv., p. 431.
* Letter to Wyatt, October 5th, 1787, MS.
* Act 15 Car. II., c. 1.
* 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.
* 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."
* 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.'
* 'Gentleman's Magazine' for December, 1752.
* Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations,' book i., chap. xi., part i.
JOHN METCALF, ROAD-MAKER.
[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 later.
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 fellow.
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.