With its stunning scenery and twisting plot, The Gallows Pole is set to become a firm favourite for period drama fans.

The show is set in Yorkshire in the 18th century, and follows a criminal enterprise trying to carve a path during the Industrial Revolution.

But was it based on a true story?


What can we expect from The Gallows Pole?

Writer-director Shane Meadows (This Is England, The Virtues) has fictionalised the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a group of 18th-century weavers turned counterfeiters in Yorkshire – their cottage-based livelihood threatened by the industrial revolution.

The BBC writes: “The Gallows Pole, based on the novel of the same name by Benjamin Myers, fictionalises the remarkable true story of the rise and fall of David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners.

“Set against the backdrop of the coming industrial revolution in 18th-century Yorkshire, the compelling drama follows the enigmatic David Hartley, played by Michael Socha, as he assembles a gang of weavers and land-workers to embark upon a revolutionary criminal enterprise that will capsize the economy and become the biggest fraud in British history.”

In the first of three episodes, Hartley returns to his family’s moor-top dwelling after seven years in Birmingham to find the area has declined in the time he was away. But he has cash and a cunning plan.

Is it a true story?

It is based on a 2017 novel by British author and journalist Ben Myers, which is a fictionalised version of true events based on surviving sources and accounts from the time.

It follows the real-life David Hartley, who returns home to find his community destitute and persuades a groyp of weavers to commit a major fraud.

He shows them how to make money from clipping, which was the act of making fake coins, a skill he had learnt as an ironmonger in Birmingham. This crime was punishable by death at the time.

He hoped to help his friends and family lift themselves out of poverty, but the authorities soon want to crack down on it.

The gang were called the Cragg Vale Coiners.

The Visit Calderdale website reads: “Hartley seems to have been an enigmatic individual. With him as ringleader, the activity spread to other families at nearby Hill Top Farm and Keelham Farm, forming the beginnings of a gang of dozens of individuals; the Cragg Vale Coiners. Hartley became known as ‘King David’ Hartley and local publicans helped the gang by placing the counterfeit coins into circulation.

“The usual method of counterfeiting used by other Coiners around the country was to produce fake coins using a cheap base metal, which was then plated or treated to give it the appearance of a gold coin. The Cragg Vale Coiners were distinct from this usual method as they collected gold fragments and forged new coins using real gold.

“Gold was clipped from the edges of a [real] coin and the coin’s milled edges recreated by rolling and beating the edge of the coin along a file. The collected gold clippings were melted down to create a blank disc, which was then stamped with an impression using dies made of spelter, a zinc alloy.

The Gallows Pole,31-05-2023,1,David Hartley (MICHAEL SOCHA),Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC,Dean Rogers
Michael Socha as David Hartley (Photo: BBC/Element Pictures/Objective Feedback/Dean Rogers)

“Those who were not Coiners themselves but lent the Coiners good guineas benefited from the activity, as the Coiners would pay a small amount to the lender of the coin in payment for the gold that was collected.”

The area was an important factor in why they were successful: “The rugged location, primitive transport links, sparse law enforcement, and the state of the genuine coinage all created the right climate for the Coiners to flourish. The local farmhouses were surrounded by open fields or moorland, making the chances of anyone arriving unexpectedly slim and giving the Coiners ample opportunity to tidy away the evidence of their unlawful activities should anybody come to visit.

“The chances of discovery were made even more remote by the fact that during the 18th century, England had no public officials corresponding to the modern day police. Constables were unpaid and played only a minor role in law enforcement. Halifax, seven miles away, had only two constables and two deputy constables and the nearest magistrate was 14 miles away in Bradford.”

How were they caught?

By March 1769 the Leeds Mercury reported that it was believed coiners were working in the Halifax area.

William Dighton, the supervisor of excise for Halifax District, had been working for several years to bring coiners to justice.

The website continues: “A breakthrough came in the following month, when James Broadbent from Mytholmroyd, who was active on the fringes of the Coiners gang, approached Dighton. Dighton allegedly offered Broadbent 100 guineas to betray ‘King David’ Hartley and his close associate, James Jagger.

“On 12th October 1769 Broadbent swore a statement before magistrate Edward Rookes Leedes of Royds Hall, in the presence of Dighton, stating that he witnessed Hartley and Jagger clip four Guineas at Bell House. The statement gave Dighton and Parker the evidence they needed and two days later on the 14th of October, David Hartley was arrested at the Old Cock Inn (which is still open as a pub today) and Jagger at the Cross Pipes Inn, both in Halifax. The two were kept at York Gaol, ready for trial the following Spring.”

However, they never paid Broadbent and he started plotting with Hartleys brother Isaac to try and free him. Despite Broadbent retracting his statement, the police refused to release him as they believed him to be guilty. So, the gang arranged to have Dighton killed, and he was shot dead in November 1769.

“The Government was outraged. On the 14th of November the Marquis of Rockingham, Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding, was appointed to hunt down Dighton’s killers. A reward was offered for information leading to their arrest, as well as a free pardon (to anyone except the killers) who wished to turn King’s Evidence.

“By late 1769 a list of nearly 80 counterfeiters had been drawn up; 30 from Cragg Vale, 20 from Sowerby, 15 from Halifax, 7 from Wadsworth and 6 from Warley and Midgley. By Christmas over 20 Coiners had been arrested, imprisoned and were awaiting trial.

“The trial of David Hartley took place on 2nd April 1770, presided over by William Murray, Lord Chief Justice. Hartley was accused of clipping four guineas with James Jagger, on the evidence of James Broadbent and Joshua Stancliffe, a watchmaker from Halifax. Hartley was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed by hanging at Tynburn, near York, on April 28th.

“When the trial of Dighton’s murderers took place, the case against Thomas and Normanton could not be proved because of unreliable evidence. Both men were acquitted.”

Isaac Hartey was never held for the murder, and lived to be an old man.

“It is estimated that the Cragg Vale Coiners paid £3.5m (£490m in today’s money) of fake coins into the Bank of England in the 1760s, devaluing the Pound by 9 per cent and almost causing the British economy to collapse.”

How can I watch The Gallows Pole?

The Gallows Pole premieres on BBC Two on Wednesday 31 May at 9pm.

It will also be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

By admin