Select Metcalfe Miscellany

Here are some Metcalfe stories and accounts over the years:

Metcalfe Origins

There are two stories about the origin of the Metcalfe name.  The first of them of them is fanciful and does not have much basis in fact.

The legendary story tells of two Saxon dalesmen travelling through the forest, the one named Wilfred and the other Oswald.  They were surprised to see what they thought to be a red coloured animal of large size, approaching them at a slow gait.  Wilfred, seized with fear as he thought it was a lion, rushed off to the nearest hamlet.  The more courageous Oswald confronted the animal and found it to be, not a lion, but a harmless red calf.  From that time forward he was known as Oswald Metcalf and his friend received the name of Wilfred Lightfoot.

Medecalffe and Metcalfe Origins

The other story has more fact to it.

The story starts with a Danish lord named Arkefrith who was granted lands in north Yorkshire in the early 11th century.  His family were lords of the lands of Dent in Dentdale.  Richard of this family was said to have ceded to his son Adam only a portion of his lands and estates, the lands extending to the top of the mountain, known as “Calffe Fell,” on the border with Westmorland.

In those times the region abounded with wild deer.  As a deer up to the age of four years was called a “calffe” by the foresters, so the mountain had become known as “the Calffe.”  By virtue of his owning half of the Calffe, Adam in due course became known as the man of “half-the-Calffe.”  Hiis son (also named Adam) who succeeded him in 1278 took the name of “de Medecalffe de Dent."

This Adam died in single combat, as the following account tells:

"Adam was slain in single combat by one Richard de Steynbrigge who was mulct by ye coroner in a fine of 14/6d, but he himself died of wounds received in ye fight before the sheriff could levy against him.”

He was survived by his eldest son who also bore the name of Adam and who appears to have been the first to use the surname in its more modern shortened form (he was officially styled “Adam Mede-calffe of Baynbridge, chief forester to the Earl of Richmond”).

William Camden on the Metcalfes

The Elizabethan writer William Camden probably saw the Metcalfes in their pomp.  He wrote about them as follows:

"We accept for a fact that Christopher Marcalfe, a man of equestrian rank (i.e. a knight) and head of his family accompanied by 300 horsemen of the same name and family in his livery, welcomed the justice of assize and conducted them to York where he was recently High Sheriff."

This was in 1555.  Other reports say that the clansmen were all on white horses.

Blind Jack of Knaresborough

John Metcalf was commonly known all over Yorkshire as ‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough.’  Born in Knaresborough in 1717, he had the misfortune to be stricken with blindness after an attack of smallpox at the age of six.

Apparantly undeterred by his disability, he was climbing ttrees and bird-nesting with other boys.  Soon he began his long and useful career as an errand-runner.  This he started from the age of nine, and soon gained for himself a thorough knowledge of the then involved and labyrinthine pattern of paths and roads across the Yorkshire moors.  As he grew up, he became also a good boxer, wrestler and swimmer, as well as a good horseman; and an excellent musician, chiefly as violinist. 

In 1739 he befriended Dorothy Benson, the daughter of the landlord at the Granby inn at Harrogate.  When at the age of 21 he made another woman pregnant, Dorothy begged him not to marry the woman.  Jack fled and spent some time living along the coast and lodging with his aunt at Whitby while working as a fiddler. When he heard that Dorothy was to be married to a shoemaker, he returned and eloped with her on the night before her projected marriage to this shoemaker.

It was as musician to the troops that in 1745 he joined Colonel Thornton’s troop of volunteers against the Pretender.  The campaign only served to whet his appetite for travel and soon he set off again to explore the north of England, travelling sometimes on horseback, but mostly on foot, earning his way by playing the violin at village fairs and taverns.  From the north he took ship to London.  Colonel Liddle there offered him a seat in his carriage back to Yorkshire.  But this he declined, saying he would get back there sooner on foot.  And walk he did, the 200 odd miles, beating the carriage by more than a day.

After that he turned his hand first to fish-dealing and then to cotton spinning.  But these he gave up again, returning to his native moors, starting off first as a carrier and subsequently as a guide.  From that he turned to road-making and bridge-building, at which he was highly successful and earned himself a great reputation.  He constructed miles and miles of road over the swamps and marshes of the district, building lots of culverts and bridges.  His last road was constructed in 1792 at the age of seventy five when he took a farm in Spofforth.

At the age of 93 he died on his farm and was buried in the churchyard at Spofforth in 1810.  His descendants at the time of his death numbered 114.

Charles Metcalfe and the Barn Chapel of Roxton

Charles Metcalfe, the last of his family to reside at Roxton House, was a Dissenter.  For some years he and his family had travelled to nearby St. Neots to worship.  But his hopes to open a church for Independent worship at Roxton were realised in 1808 when "the Barn Chapel" opened "for occasional worship on the Lord's Day."  The thatched Congregational Church was in fact once a barn and had been converted by Charles Metcalfe to a place of worship.

Later two wings were added.  The north wing was used as a schoolroom with children paying two pence a week for their education.  Both churches are still in regular use and hold coffee mornings and fundraising events as well as the usual services.

Metcalfs and Metcalfes

Metcalf and Metcalfe are the two most common spellings.  Metcalfe predominates in England, Metcalf in America.  The following are the current approximate numbers of Metcalfs and Metcalfes around the world.

Numbers (000's)
New Zealand

The Metcalf spelling has persisted in England.  The high share of Metcalfs in America is probably due to the first immigrant, Michael Metcalf in 1637, spelling his name without an "e."

Thomas Metcalfe, Governor of Kentucky

Thomas Metcalfe had arrived in Kentucky with his family in 1785 as a young boy.  He received there a limited school education and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to learn the stone mason trade, apparently under the tutelage of his older half-brother, John. 

He built several courthouses in Kentucky and his own home at Forest Retreat (which still stands), together with the tavern across the street and the stone barn where stagecoach horses were stabled for the night.  From his trade and his great earnestness afterwards as a public speaker, he got the nickname of "Old Stone Hammer." 

He was a soldier, a captain of the Kentucky volunteers, in the War of 1812 and then he started his political career.  After representing his state in Congress for many years, he entered and won the race for Governor of Kentucky in 1828.  Twenty years later Metcalfe filled by appointment the unexpired term of John J. Crittendon in the U.S. Senate.

After his death in 1855, Metcalfe county in Kentucky was named in his honor.

Return to Top of Page
Return to Metcalfe Main Page