The Guardian review


The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers review – murder on the moors

The desperate rise and fall of a Yorkshire coining gang in the 1760s are made over into myth

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…

Read the full review here.

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