The Gallows Pole - Winner of the 2018 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
Fight The Power – the celebration of rebellion in the Calder Valley
It is said that West Yorkshire’s Cragg Vale Coiners nearly caused the economy to crash in England in the 1700s. Led by ‘King’ David Hartley, a group of men in Cragg Vale, Calderdale, carefully clipped the edges from gold coins, milled the edges so no change could be seen, returned the clipped coins to circulation, and melted down the shavings to create fake new currency. Locals were encouraged (often strongly - one man who resisted had his head put in a fire) to contribute their coins, and to launder the new currency. As well as filling the gang’s pockets, ‘coining’ also increased the wider community’s prosperity.
It was a time of great change in rural England. Yorkshire’s isolation, small-scale farming and land use was being changed forever by the advent of industry, private ownership and centralised government. The Coiners’ story has been compellingly told by Benjamin Myers, a Mytholmroyd-based author, in his novel ‘The Gallows Pole’, winner of the prestigious national Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018!
It can’t be a coincidence that a tale of resistance by rural, hungry, working men, against a London-based financial system perceived to benefit the few is resonating at the moment. The novel raises questions of social injustice and forgotten communities, without shying away from the venality and violence of the Coiners and their leaders. Myers’ writing is earthy and evocative, vividly conveying the majesty and harshness of Calderdale’s rugged landscape and the richness of our natural world.
More than one reader said it made them want to get out and experience the Coiners’ landscape for themselves – so Myers worked with local cartographer Chris Goddard to create a map of the Coiners’ haunts, leading walkers through ancient bluebell-strewn woodland and over spectacular moors. The map with its pencil drawings and excerpts from the book is a work of art in itself.
Most of the Coiners were eventually brought to justice – ‘King’ David was hanged at York Tyburn in 1770, and buried in the picturesque hill village of Heptonstall. His wife Grace bought a house and farm nearby a couple of years later – for cash.
The Coiners’ story lives on - people visit ‘King’ David’s grave and leave coins in tribute, while in Heptonstall you can visit the Coiners’ pubs of choice - The White Lion and the Grade II-listed Cross Inn - along with the Heptonstall Museum, a welcoming little place next to the graveyard (open Saturdays/Sundays/Bank Holidays March-October.) Bankfield Museum in Halifax even runs coining workshops for kids…
The Coiners’ spirit of independence, defiance, and solidarity lives on in the Calder Valley – though, you will be relieved to hear, in a kinder, more peaceful, and more inclusive form. The theme of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival (22 June – 1 July) this year is ‘nonconformism’, celebrating rule-breakers and risk-takers in all their guises. The Happy Valley Pride Festival (6-12 August) will celebrate ‘Revolution’, bringing world-class entertainers like Camille O’Sullivan to Hebden Bridge as well as running family-friendly events in the park – everyone is invited, no matter where they’re from or how they identify. The Incredible Festival of Ideas (21-24 June) was born of the radical idea that with kindness you can change the world.
Visit Calderdale this summer, and join our celebrations – they’re full of the Calder Valley’s unique mix of heart, fun, rebellion and kindness that you won’t find anywhere else!