Book Of The Week, 19th July 2021
Benjamin Myers, The Gallows Pole
Bluemoose Books Ltd; First Edition (17 May 2017)
Benjamin Myers: The Gallows Pole
The desperate rise and fall of a Yorkshire coining gang in the 1760s are made over into myth.
The novel is about the Yorkshire poor in the 18th century, a time when the theft of a loaf of bread could lead to the gallows.
David Hartley assembles a gang of weavers and land-workers to embark upon a criminal enterprise that will capsize the economy and become the biggest fraud in British history. And all from his remote moorland home.
They are the Cragg Vale Coiners and their business is ‘clipping’ – the forging of coins, a treasonous offence punishable by death. Hartley cares for the poor and uses violence and intimidation against his opponents. No wonder he has public protection to cover his crimes.
When excise officer William Deighton vows to bring down the Coiners and one of their own becomes turncoat, Hartley’s empire begins to crumble. With the industrial age set to change the face of England forever, the fate of his empire is under threat.
Forensically assembled from historical accounts and legal documents, The Gallows Pole is a true story of resistance that combines poetry, landscape, crime and historical fiction, whose themes continue to resonate. Here is a rarely-told alternative history of the North.
Today the Cragg Vale Coiners and their chief, David Hartley, are commemorated in a Calderdale museum.
Myers’s writing is more ornate than in his previous novels. He’s an interesting writer and a talented one, and this is a fascinating subject.