See the article elsewhere in this issue about the BBC drama The Gallows Pole based on this 2017 novel by Benjamin Myers. Here's an excerpt from an old book review published by The Guardian.
Benjamin Myers's new novel is about the Yorkshire poor in the 18th century, a time when the theft of a handkerchief or a loaf of bread could lead to the gallows. Small wonder, then, that smuggling and coining – the manufacture of fake money from melted-down clippings – was rife, and that the gangs were protected by local populations.
Today the Cragg Vale Coiners and their chief, David Hartley, who ran a successful coining business and protection racket from his moorland home in the 1760s, are commemorated in a Calderdale museum. Myers's retelling of their desperate rise and fall is interspersed with the fictional prison journal of
the greyt King Dayvid Hartee A farther a husban a leeder a forger a moorman of the hills and a pote [poet] of werds and deeds.
One of the first images presented is of a man hanging in chains:
He who had poached and butchered a nobleman's stag ... Hunger then it was that had led this poor soul to the gallows steps – a hunger for warm meat rather than cold-blooded murder. Not greed but necessity. King David, however, is more Pablo Escobar than Robin Hood, and this is the ancient tragedy of social injustice spawning monsters. Hartley's gang suppresses all dissent.
Those that speak against the Cragg Vale Coiners will be lambs to the abattoir cleaver, his brother declaims. No one is spared intimidation, not even children. The scenes of torture and brutal humiliation are stomach-churning, not to mention the fate of a travelling Cumbrian labourer turned into
bubblinmeet for wandering into the wrong pub and drunkenly thinking aloud about informing for money.
One long lyrical scene portrays the simultaneous journeying of 30 or 40
men of stone and soil … poor men, proud men to a gathering at their chief's house.
Men, Myers adds,
who made myths of their own mad delusions. And yet, while pointing out the moral complexity of the situation, he subtly colludes with the myth. In reality Hartley was an entrepreneur, a shrewd businessman lining his nest while his followers did most of the hard work. Myers presents him as a mighty orator, a poet, a visionary and mystic.
I wish Myers had delved more deeply into these characters. Did no one ever agonise or reflect? Hardly at all, it seems. I'd also like to have seen more of the women. Grace, Hartley's wife, is the only female character, and she serves mainly as a recipient of seed and bearer of ale. Women were involved in the gang's doings and a woman was among those charged over the pub atrocity. Where are they?
To read the complete article, see:
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers review – murder on the moors
For more information, or to order on Amazon, see:
The Gallows Pole Paperback – October 15, 2019
Wayne Homren, Editor
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