Select Metcalfe Miscellany


Here are some Metcalfe stories
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 colored 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 Metcalfand; 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
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
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.
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

Numbers (000’s) Metcalf Metcalfe Total
UK 6   15 21
USA    8    2   10
Canada    1    3    4
Australia    2    2    4
New Zealand    –    1    1
Total   17   23   40

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 Metcalfe Main Page


Leave a Reply