Climbing up the hill from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, it is not long before you reach the village of Heptonstall, whose history can be traced back to 1253.
Like most villages of its age, the church has played a central role in local life and their graveyards can provide a host of information to even the most casual observer. The churchyard in Heptonstall is no exception.
Probably the most famous grave there is that of Sylvia Plath, the American writer and poet. However, I found a more interesting one with a local connection.
You may not have heard of David Hartley, but he was the leader of a gang of counterfeiters known as ‘coiners’.
David Hartley was the eldest of three sons born to William Hartley, a weaver and hill farmer of Halifax in 1731. After working as an apprenticed ironworker in the Midlands of England, Hartley returned to his father’s remote hill farm around 1766, with his by now pregnant wife.
The remote location of the farm provided an excellent location to carry out all manners of activities away from the watchful eye of the authorities.
It is believed Hartley would get a supply of real coins from hotel & innkeepers and publicans, with the promise of them seeing a return on their ‘investment’. The Cragg Vale Coiners would then set about clipping metals from the edges of real coins, then re-shaping them so they appeared genuine albeit slightly smaller than normal.
The metal that had been cut from real coins would then be smelted down in batches, restamped and machined in the form of coins in circulation.
At the height of the Cragg Vale operation, the authorities believe up to two hundred people may have been involved in the supply process of acquisition of genuine coins, clipping genuine coins, manufacturing counterfeit coin and returning them into general circulation from up to a dozen different manufacturing sites.
In October 1769 Hartley was arrested. A former associate, James Broadbent had been engaged as an informer to an Officer of His Majesty’s Excise.
In April the following year, Hartley was found guilty at the York Assizes and sentenced to death. David Hartley, King of the Cragg Vale coiners was executed by hanging on 28 April 1770.
His body was brought home on 1 May and laid to rest in the churchyard in Heptonstall. The stone is laid flat and mentioning a number of his relatives is not the grandiose grave that perhaps could otherwise have been expected. Perhaps this was deliberate to send the message far and wide that no matter how successful you think you are in your criminal activity, crime does not pay.