The Gallows Pole – The story of the Cragg Vale Coiners
Nothing to do with the Led Zeppelin song of the same name, I stumbled on the book The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers in a book store in Saltaire. I had heard the story of the infamous Cragg Vale Coiners whilst training as a guide, so when I found a novel about the subject I thought I would treat myself.
What a great book. If you are interested in Yorkshire history I would highly recommend it.
But who were the Cragg Vale Coiners?
Well, they were an interesting bunch of criminals who frequented the Moors around Mytholmroyd back in the 1700’s, whose activities nearly threatened to wreck Britain’s currency.
But watch this space – as we may have the next Peaky Blinders on our hands as the BBC have recently announced that acclaimed film maker Shane Meadows has been commissioned to produce and direct a series about the gangs exploits and filming is due to start shortly on The Gallows pole series. Meadows is probably most famous for his This is England series as well as the classic Brit movie with Paddy Considine – Dead Man’s Shoes.
In the 1760’s at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, the residents around the remote Yorkshire hamlet of Mytholmroyd, in Calderdale were living in poverty. Making a pittance from hand weaving, they struggled to put food on the table.
But this was soon about to change with David Hartley who pronounces himself “King David” had other ideas. Hartley himself had moved from the area down to the Midlands and had not only seen the advent of mechanisation which would soon be heading up north, but had also worked as an iron worker, seeing how metal could be smelted and change form.
On returning to Mytholmroyd, he used his metal working at Bell House up on Erringden Moor as a cover for a criminal operation which eventually lead to his downfall.
The basis for his illegal operation was “coin clipping”, where gold coins had their edges clipped, the clippings were then smelted to make new counterfeit coins which were then returned into circulation along with the clipped coins.
Some of the dies used to stamp the new coins can still be seen in Calderdale Museum.
What started off as a cottage industry grew rapidly, and soon was run by a gang of weavers and local farmers, with shop owners and publicans involved in returning the coins back into circulation.
King David was an enigmatic leader, but no stranger to violence to get things done and his gang grew to over 30.
Unfortunately for Hartley, rumours of his activity spread and attracted interest from the authorities who sent customs officer William Deighton to investigate.
Hartley’s brother Isaac then put a contract out on Deighton who was murdered outside a local pub. This lead to a reward for the killers put out leading to one of the coiners turning Kings evidence and betraying King David who was subsequently arrested in Halifax in 1769.
Hartley was hung the next year at The Tyburn in York and his body was buried in Heptonstall, just above Hebden Bridge.
The book The Gallows Pole is a fictional account of the gang, but based on the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners. The book became a big hit, winning the 2018 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The author Ben Myers lives in Mytholmroyd and knowing the local Cragg Vale woods and moors where the coiners operated, allows him to bring the rugged landscape to life as well as understanding the violence and social injustice of the times.
Roll on the TV series – hopefully this will lead to many more visitors to Yorkshire who I can bring to the area and bring the story to life.
The book can be bought here:
There is also a great walk taking in all the locations from the book and the real life Coiners, illustrated by local artist Christopher Goddard. My next blog will be about this walk but if you are interested – the map can be purchased at: