The Cragg Vale Coiners

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In today's world of electronic money, where it is possible to go for weeks without even seeing a coin, it's easy to forget that coinage once had not just a notional value but an intrinsic value based on the metals used to make it.

Thus, tampering with coins of the realm had an appeal to the rogueish. It was possible, if you were careful, to make near-exact fake coins by milling real coins and using the surplus metal to make new ones.

At Cragg Vale, a bleak spot overlooking the Calder Valley, the art reached perhaps its pinnacle. A group of over 30 weavers, beset by the economic vicissitudes of the time fell into coining as a way to better their lot. In connivance with local publicans, genuine coins were taken out of circulation. In the remote farmhouses where the coiners lived and plied their illegal trade, they would carefully shave the coins down - by such a small fraction as to make them almost undetectable from normal coins.

The shavings were then melted and beaten into moulds, carefully carved in near-exact facsimiles of legitimate currency. With some of the coiners doubling up in the legal ironmongery trade, the necessary tools were easily at hand, and the remote, exposed locations in which they worked meant that it was possible to easily avoid detection - the houses almost impossible to approach undetected.

When complete, the new coins were passed back into circulation through the publicans.

The practice was so easy and so profitable to maintain that the number of coiners rapidly grew in the surrounding dales. David Hartley became known as "King David" and his brothers took on similarly grand titles - Isaac becoming "Duke of York" and William "Duke of Edinburgh".

But despite the jollity of the nicknames, these were dangerous felons. Moreover, devaluing the currency of the realm was a serious matter with real economic consequences. Finally, the control of currency was tightly bound with the exercise of power. Tampering with the currency was a direct assault on the power of the crown and the exchequer.

No surprise then that as word of the coiners' activities spread that an excise officer - William Dighton - was charged to investigate the matter, round up the coiners and bring them to justice. Dighton lucked upon a tangential member of the coiners' gang, James Broadbent. For agreeing to betray Hartley and the coiners, Broadbent was to be awarded the princely sum of 100 guineas.

The information he handed to Dighton was enough to see Hartley clapped in irons, but the Coiners were not men to be cowed so easily by the forces of law and order. Hartley's brother Isaac offered a "reward" of 100 to any man who could kill Deighton.

The lure of money has never failed to drag out men's secret capacities for crime and so it was that in the Dusty Miller pub in Mytholmroyd that plans were drawn up to waylay Deighton shoot him in the head by two desperados by the names of Matthew Normington and Thomas Spencer.

On the 8th November 1769, their plans came to fruition and Deighton's life was extinguished, his body defiled by the stamping of feet afterwards. His own daughter found the body.

Naturally, this affront to authority could not stand. Tweaking the nose of the exchequer was one thing, but to kill the Crown's representatives was quite another. The Marquis of Rockingham was charged with extirpating the coiners and his offers of pardons and rewards soon brought forth a host of accomplices to name the coiners.

In total, some 80 coiners were charged with a variety of offenses from coining itself to conspiracy to murder. David Hartley was hanged at York Tyburn, and buried at Heptonstall.

See also: conspiracy theories

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 15th April 2012 | © Weird Island 2010-2018
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