For a a few years now, I have been working on – well, thinking about – writing an article about that notorious gang of counterfeiters known as the Cragg Vale Coiners. Maybe you have heard of them. So damaging were the activities of the coiners in the second half of the 18th century, it was said that they came close to wrecking the currency of Britain.
The leader of the counterfeiters was a man (hanged in 1770) known as ‘King’ David Hartley who lived in a remote medieval farmhouse in Cragg Vale called Bell House… and it still exists today. Bell House is now a listed building and in the past has been a museum, as well as a three-room bed and breakfast establishment. In 2015 the small house and barn were extensively renovated.
Bell House, Cragg Vale. Home of David Hartley. Picture courtesy of H. Kendall
Clipping Gold Coins of the Realm
In the 1760s “King” David Hartley and his associates clipped gold coins and moulded the gold into counterfeit ones, often Portuguese, which were accepted currency. At first sight it seems strange that Portuguese and not British coins should have been counterfeited. Portuguese money was introduced into England owing to the balance of trade between England and Portugal being so much in England’s favour at the beginning of the eighteenth century. But foreign coins had been legal tender in this country centuries before. The Portuguese MOIDORE [shown below] was a favourite for counterfeiters to use.
‘So damaging were the Coiners activities that it was said they came close to ruining the currency of Britain‘
Top – Picture of Hartley’s Coining Die – (Portuguese coins, a Cragg Vale specialty, were in active and legal circulation in England at this time, along with other continental coinage.) @Excutedtoday.com
M U R D E R
An Excise officer, William Dighton, was closing in on the gang they took fright and shot him. A Halifax solicitor then took up the case for the prosecution and the criminals were arrested. David Hartley and a couple of his gang were given the death penalty for clipping and diminishing coins of the realm, also the murder of excise man Dighton.
I am inventing the wheel here. There is lots of information available on the Web. Can I direct you to some sources? Steve Hartley has done a lot of research on his ancestors and has produced a book shown below. He also keeps a blog HERE. where you have a run-down of the media inspired by the tale
‘Steve Hartley has been researching the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners for many years. His interest in the story was sparked by the knowledge that he is a direct descendant of the gang leader ‘King David’ Hartley. In this book he presents the facts of the sensational reign of the Cragg Vale gang in a corner of Yorkshire that has fascinated people through the centuries since, inspiring folk songs, novels, plays and poetry as well as plans for a TV series and documentary, some of which Steve has assisted with his unparalleled knowledge of the true story of the Yorkshire Coiners.’ Blurb from back-cover of book.
The award winning magazine NORTHERN LIFE published an account of The King of Cragg Vale in August of this year – well worth a read!
The Gallows Pole was the winner of the prestigious Walter Scott Prize for Historic Fiction in 2018 and Ben Myers collected many other Awards for this book I identify with this award-winning author and journalist because he was born in County Durham, Land of my Fathers.
Mr. Myers is a refreshing writer; the descriptions of the landscape, weather and the characters is outstanding. For those with a political bent it’s got masses of social comment,
Te book transports the reader back into the actual time of the coiners. The characters are brought to life vividly and I was transported to the Cragg Vale of the period.