I have just finished reading "The Gallows Pole" by Benjamin Myers. Set in The West Riding of Yorkshire, it is an historical novel that focuses upon a group of men known as The Cragg Vale Coiners.
Round about 1760, these men became notorious for clipping coins and using the resulting metal to create new coins in ingenious moulds. They created so much extra coinage that it affected the local economy around Halifax and The Calder Valley. By all accounts it was also used to make the lives of impoverished hill and valley dwellers more bearable.
The Coiners were led by a man called David Hartley whose grave can still be seen in the churchyard at Heptonstall - the same graveyard where the American writer Sylvia Plath is also buried. Hartley was hanged at York in April 1770. The landed gentry and the business community were not prepared to tolerate the continuation of his criminal activities so they decided to silence him forever.
Hartley was a tough, often ruthless man. He became known as King David Hartley. He knew little of the world beyond his valley and his lofty moorland home - Bell House. That was his kingdom. There are scenes of terrible but believable violence in the novel. They are not gratuitous. We are talking about rough men who are intent on secrecy and survival. They swear and they fight and they value loyalty as much as gold.
Throughout the novel there are italicised sections attributed to King David as he languishes in his hideous cell at York Castle. He is barely literate and his intermittent writing is littered with errors in spelling and grammar. It feels authentic:-
All yool hear is the choken sound of a man hoos life itself was liyved like a pome Hoos every thort and ackshun was poetry And who rose to graytnuss and his final ritten and his lassed dyn breath Well that was poetry too. (page 348)
"The Gallows Pole" might not be everyone's cup of tea but I loved it. It was earthy and simply real. My attention was wrapt throughout. Of course for me it probably helped that it was set in Yorkshire just forty miles north of this keyboard. It is not an area I know well but I know it all the same.
Thanks to blog visitors Christina and Thelma for alerting me to "The Gallows Pole" and to my friend Tony for lending me his copy.