Statues of Knaresborough’s two most famous figures can be found on benches in the town’s Market Place.
Though less well known than Mother Shipton, John Metcalf’s legacy both to his home town of Knaresborough and to the surrounding area is perhaps even more profound than that of the prophetess who trod these same streets some 200 years before him.
Blind from the age of six, John – or Jack as he was better known – lived a full life whose adventures included eloping with his mistress, being captured by the invading Scots, and walking from Yorkshire to London and back. The 1765 Act of Parliament which encouraged the building of new turnpike roads, was the making of Jack’s fortune; by the time of his death in 1810, this skilled, self-taught, innovative engineer had created around 180 miles of road.
His bench is close to the front door of the town’s famous alehouse which takes his name. In common with one or two other properties in the town, the traditional sash windows above the front door have been re-purposed into an attractive mural. Two children seem to be leaning out and looking up towards where an elderly fiddler is playing his tunes from a second storey window. This too is Jack – during lean times in his life he made a living from his prowess as a musician.
Stepping inside you arrive in a dimly lit front room of bare brick and plain wooden floors with the bar dead head. There’s a large panel advertising Bass Burton Ale beside the bar but the choice of beers along the counter is far more interesting these days. Blind Jack’s has garnered a strong reputation for the quality of its ales – both hand-pulled cask beers and quality craft kegs, many of them from Yorkshire.
But I’m drawn to Electric Bear Drop Red Ale, whose gaudy, oversized pumpclip shows an alien hand liberally sprinkling hop cones – reference to the masses of Cascade, Chinook and Eldorado hops thrown into this West Country brew. This 4.3% ABV beer has some sweet jammy and smooth caramel notes in the taste and a little tart bitterness provides a further dimension to the finish.
A doorway to one side opens onto a warren of intimate little rooms with wooden-backed banquettes, tables of distressed wood and chunky Chesterfield sofas. The atmosphere is friendly, the welcome warm and genuine.
In places the building’s ancient oak beams are exposed – gnarled and pitted and riven with the signs of age.
A steep dogleg of a staircase leads to a clutch of rooms on the first floor. One room, for reasons which are not immediately obvious, is dedicated to the Holland-America shipping line, with posters and memorabilia from the golden age of shipping. One room is lit by a vast chandelier, another dominated by a little collection of Victoriana including a huge brass birdcage.
But we take our place in a ground floor snug beside the staircase, decorated in a deep petrol blue and lit by attractive little wall lanterns. Beer bottles with stems of tulips add a little splash of colour to each table, alongside gin menus which pander to this most fashionable taste.
And perhaps this last point is the most telling feature of Blind Jack’s. It is utterly characteristic of a pub which manages to maintain a classic old-style alehouse atmosphere, while being utterly relevant to the drinkers of today.
Market Place, Knaresborough
Type: Quality town centre alehouse
Opening Hours: 5-11pm Mon-Thu; 3-11pm Fri; noon-11pm Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of interesting cask and keg ales on draught often including beers from Bad Co at Dishforth and from other Yorkshire brewers and others further afield
Children: Not particularly suitable - and no special facilities
Disabled: Straightforward access to the ground floor, but steep staircase to the upper floor
Entertainment: Occasional live music
Beer Garden: None
Parking: Town centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 01423 860475