Unknown - portrait of William Metcalfe

The artist of this miniature portrait is unknown, but the sitter is William Metcalfe (1830-Jun 1909) who was born in Norwich, Norfolk, as was his wife Mary (1828-?).

In the 1881 census William and Mary lived with seven children and two servants at 33 Chiswick St, Carlisle. Judging from current house price records it was a terraced house and a reasonable size, as in May 2007, 37 Chiswick St, no doubt a similar property, was sold for GBP225,000, see CHISWICK STREET CARLISLE CA1 - House Prices

In the 1891 census, he lived with his wife, Mary, and three daughters; Mary, Florence, and Constance still at 33 Cheswick St, Carlisle where he was teaching of pianoforte. He was still teaching for the 1901 census.

William Metcalfe was for 50 years lay clerk at Carlisle Cathedral and also a musical composer. He is best known for his arrangement of the popular hunting song "D'ye Ken John Peel", which commemorated the fox hunting exploits of John Peel (1776-1854).

Metcalfe first heard the song sung at a dinner in Carlisle in 1868. He was inspired by the words, but thought he could compose a more musical arrangement of the melody.

The following year, he sang his new version at a Cumberland Benevolent Society dance in London. The romantic image of Cumberland country life in the words, coupled with a catchy tune, proved an instant hit in Victorian London society. Soon, song sheet copies of John Peel were common in drawing rooms and assembly rooms across the British Empire.

The first verse and chorus are the best known:

D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey*?
D'ye ken John Peel at the break o' day?
D'ye ken John Peel when he's far, far a-way.
With his hounds and his horn in the morning?


For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed,
And the cry of his hounds which he oftime led,
Peel's "View, Halloo!" could awaken the dead,
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

*Some believe the end of this line to be 'grey', due to the colour of his coat made from local Herdwick wool, others say "gay". The words were written by Peel's friend John Woodcock Graves, 1795-1886, in Cumbrian dialect.

An arrangement of the tune can be heard at An arrangement of the tune For more about the song and John Peel and also Images Of Cumbria - John Peel 981

More recently, I have been informed by a kind descendent of William Metcalfe that the first line of John Peel correctly reads "grey". Apparently the descendant's mother used to say "Grey, grey, you idiots!" whenever she saw or heard a reference to "gay".

The same kind descendant also tells me; "William Metcalfe died in 1909, survived by
his wife, two sons and seven daughters. Also a brief comment which comes from a short chapter on Metcalfe in Round Carlisle Cross, by James Walter Brown, Charles Thurnam and Sons 1951.

"He was fond of Purcell and came from a line of pupil/teachers going back to Purcell himself. James Walter Brown describes Metcalfe as being rarely equalled as a Cathedral singer, but since he lived next door to Metcalfe, at 35 Chiswick Street, he may have been a little biased!"

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