The Cragg Vale Coiners

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This is number 7 in a series of history "shorts" from the Audlem & District History Society. To see the full list, click here.

Today someone said to be 'coining it' is making good money. But in the eighteenth century a coiner was literally making money, by clipping small amounts from the edges of the gold coins then in circulation and melting the clippings down to strike 'new' forged coins. The authorities had tried to limit this activity by putting a milled edge on the coinage, but a skilled coiner could do a good imitation of a milled edge with a file.

One group of coiners established themselves by about 1760 in Cragg Vale, a remote valley lying roughly between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. Their leader was David Hartley, known locally as "King" David. One of his brothers called himself the Duke of York, another, the Duke of Edinburgh. Conviction for coining carried the death penalty and so Hartley prudently chose to operate from a remote home from which approaching visitors could easily be seen.

In September 1769 Mr Deighton, a supervisor of taxes, was brought in to investigate the widespread coin debasement in the area. He had an amazing start; a broadsheet of the time reports that upwards of a hundred people had been informed on, several of whom had already absconded for fear of arrest. Arrests did follow including, in October 1769, that of David Hartley himself. Hartley was arrested on the basis of a sworn statement from an informer called Broadbent who had been promised a payment of 100 guineas by Deighton for the arrest. Deighton failed to pay and then in December he was robbed and murdered. No one seems to have considered the possibility of Broadbent's involvement in the murder, despite the fact that he kept giving different accounts of the event.

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On the strength of his various statements two men, Matthew Normanton and Robert Thomas, were tried for the murder in August 1770, and, unsurprisingly in view of the confused accounts and their denial, were acquitted. The murder enquiry was not closed down and in September the following year Broadbent gave a credible account which involved 'King' David's father offering a payment to several people including Normanton and Thomas for the murder, contributions to this reward being made by several other local coiners.

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Since the 'guilty' men could not be tried again for the murder, they were eventually tried separately for the 'highway robbery' of Deighton. Both were convicted and executed, their bodies ordered to be hung in chains on Beacon Hill near Halifax as a warning to others.

'King' David Hartley was hanged in York for coining in April 1770, his body being returned to the family for burial in Heptonstall churchyard. My great grandfather who died in about 1935 used to say how he was related to David Hartley. Sadly no one wrote it down, but I would like to think he was right!