Outline sketch of eyes on face in partial shadow of tricorn hat

King of Cragg Vale

by Northern Life

Steve Chapples takes us back in time to when money was money, when coins changed hands without anyone looking too closely, and when a group of farmers and weavers gathered in a remote medieval farm in Yorkshire with the aim of growing rich through forged coins. Likened by some to Robin Hood, or by others to a gang of thugs, this is the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners and their leader David Hartley.

On the edge of the moors overlooking Bell Hole at Cragg Vale stands a remote medieval farm called Bell House, which was the home of David Hartley, the ‘King’ of the 80 strong Yorkshire coiners, who illegally clipped and re-milled Spanish, French and Portuguese gold coins in the mid 18th century to supplement their meagre incomes from farming and handloom weaving. They melted down the gold shavings and with a hammer and engraved die, they converted the blanks into new currency. Hartley deliberately chose this location two miles from Heptonstall, so he could spot the imminent arrival across the moors of any constables and would have time to hide the illicit tools of his trade.

Coining had been taking place in Yorkshire since 1,500 and wealthybankers and merchants often deposited their money with the coiners.

On 2nd January 1770 William Hartley, the brother of David, who was known to his accomplices as the ‘Duke of York’, had his house surrounded by the constables one rainy night and narrowly escaped capture by crawling through a window in his nightshirt. Coining had been taking place in Yorkshire since 1,500 and wealthybankers and merchants often deposited their money with the coiners. Even men of the cloth, constables and publicans colluded with them and some were even coiners themselves! The Crown was becoming seriously concerned at the devaluation of its currency and both King George II and George III were regarded by many of the populace as fools.



A customs and excise man William Deighton was dispatched by Isaac Newton of the Royal Mint in 1769 to arrest Hartley and met a James Broadbent, who informed him of David Hartley’s whereabouts, after being promised 100 guineas by Deighton. Anyone co- operating with the authorities was also offered immunity from arrest. Hartley was aware of Deighton’s arrival and was planning to give £100 to anyone who would kill him. He and his cronies were threatened on billposters in turn with being branded on the right cheek with the letter R. Hartley was duly arrested in Halifax before he could dispose of Deighton and was transported under armed guard to York Gaol to await trial on a charge of high treason. Hartley was a thug, who I am convinced, believed he would never be caught, as the residents of Cragg Vale and Heptonstall had too much to lose by his arrest. Many must have regarded him as a latter-day Robin Hood, who was merely redistributing the country’s wealth in a fairer manner. The sheer inaccessibility of the terrain must have also made him feel reasonably secure. Unfortunately for the hapless Deighton, Hartley’s brother Isaac convened a meeting of the coiners at the Dusty Miller pub in Mytholmroyd, which still stands and offered £100 to anyone who would agree to kill Deighton.


His only reference to the crime was the use the famous quote of ‘Render unto Caesar.’

On 10th November Matthew Normanton and Robert Thomas armed with a sawn-off blunderbuss ambushed the excise officer a hundred yards from his home on Bull Close Lane near Halifax. They shot him once through the head and again through the body, then jumped on his face and body several times and rifled his pockets for money and other valuables. A married man of 52 with eight children, he was buried in Halifax Parish Church. Meanwhile David Hartley was languishing in York Gaol and having been found guilty he was taken on 28th April 1770 to be hanged at Tyburn, where York Race Course now stands on the Tadcaster Road. His body was brought back to Heptonstall and he was buried in the old churchyard of the now ruined St Thomas a Beckett church. His gravestone is to be found 12 slabs directly in front of the old church porch and two slabs to the left. John Wesley preached to a large crowd of people at Hoo Hole on his 67th birthday, 28th June, a mere two months after the hanging, when many of the notorious gang of coiners were still at large. His only reference to the crime was the use the famous quote of ‘Render unto Caesar.’

On 8th January 1771, a farm hand, Abraham Ingham of Heptonstall and one of Deighton’s informers, went into the Cross Inn in the village and in a state of inebria- tion was overheard to brag that he knew who had killed Deighton and that he was going to inform the authorities. Unfortunately for him there were coiners present, who grabbed Ingham, threw him into the fireplace and after heating some tongs, held him by the neck with them and poured red-hot coals down his breeches. Ingham died quickly from his injuries and the coiners fled and were never caught. Robert Thomas followed Hartley to the gallows in York four years later. He was gibbeted at Beacon Hill, Halifax with his right hand pointing at the scene of his crime. Matthew Normanton was found a year later, hiding in some briars at the bottom of a well at Spawheath near Halifax and suffered the same fate as Thomas, being hung in chains and his bones left on Beacon Hill for eight years. Even though he was the organiser of Deighton’s murder, Isaac was never arrested through lack of evidence and died an agonising death aged 78 in 1815. He too is buried in the old churchyard.

By 1783 with the hanging of another coiner Thomas Spencer, the saga of the Cragg Vale coiners came to an end. Others had been imprisoned and some deported to the African Colonies. If one looks at the left-hand pillar of the North Gate as you turn towards the churchyard, there you will find the word Hartley carved crudely in capital letters into the stone. Was this Broadbent’s way of pointing out Hartley’s identity to Deighton without saying a word? All he would need to do was stand in front of the pillar as Hartley passed and Deighton’s men could have done the rest.

NorthernLife July/August 2022