“The biggest fraud in British history” the shocking real story behind historical drama The Gallows Pole

It's a part of history you might not know about

The Gallows Pole true story: Michael Socha as David Hartley in The Gallows Pole
(Image credit: BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers/Future)

The Gallows Pole true story is one you might not have heard of - the new BBC historical drama is about to change that, and prepare to be shocked.

The Gallows Pole lands on BBC Two on Wednesday, May 31st. Based on the book of the same name by Benjamin Myers, the novel is an embellished version of the real-life story of the Cragg Vale Coiners. Director Shane Meadows (This Is England) has taken the contents of the book and brought the remarkable story of the rise of David Hartley (Michael Socha) and his crew to life on screen - but with a few extra twists. The series acts as a prequel looking at why the men who went on to be known as the Cragg Vale Coiners did what they did. But who were the Cragg Vale Coiners, and what did Hartley and his assembled gang of weavers and land-workers do to capsize the economy and become the "biggest fraud in British history"? Read on to find out. 

For more drama that took inspiration from real life, Maryland on ITV had real stories from its writers woven into it. The Maryland ending was described as "gut wrenching" by some viewers, with powerhouse performances from Suranne Jones and Eve Best. Nicola Walker returned to screens in the triumphant Annika - prepare to be addicted from the beginning of this BBC offering. 

The Gallows Pole true story

During the mid-18th century, Calder Valley weavers were falling foul of The Industrial Revolution. Traditional industry was floundering as mechanisation thrived, and people were starving as a result. Skilled workers were seeing their livelihoods die before their eyes and decided to take back some control over their lives - but they used illegal methods to do so.

The Coiners were headed by David Hartley of Cragg Vale, who obtained officially minted coins from anyone bent who'd offer them. They'd clip the edges of the coins, mixing them with base ores to form new coins. The real coins would be filed to remove evidence of being clipped, with the newly formed ones made to mimic Spanish, French and Portuguese coins; these were legal tender at the time as a Royal Mint coin shortage was underway. 

Gang members would smuggle the counterfeit coins into circulation, along with those that had been clipped to make them. The enterprise became so successful, the gang scaled up their efforts and the 80-strong crew paid around £3.5 million of their forged coins into the Bank of England at their peak. Hartley and others were no longer poor, basking in the riches previously known to families in now-dying trades.

The economy began to tank due to the Coiners' actions, with the pound becoming devalued by 9%. Rumors that a Yorkshire gang could be responsible soon got out, and public official William Dighton opened an official investigation in 1769. Gang member James Broadbent gave up his fellow Coiners, and information he passed to Dighton resulted in David Hartley's arrest. 

In response to his inteferance, Hartley's brother Isaac had Dighton assassinated - farmhands Matthew Normanton and Robert Thomas shot him dead. The hunt for his killers led officials to the Coiners, and 30 of them were arrested on Christmas Day 1769. Hartley was the only person convicted, and he was hanged for his crimes on April 28, 1770 - his grave can be found in Heptonstall.

Isaac Hartley (SAMUEL EDWARD COOK), David Hartley (MICHAEL SOCHA) in The Gallows Pole

(Image credit: BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers)

Where was The Gallows Pole filmed?

The Gallows Pole was filmed in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, with most of the filming taking place in the Yorkshire village of Heptonstall where the real David Hartley's grave lies. 

Some fans living in, or visiting the area shared pictures of filming to social media. Writing on Twitter, one person wrote "Barb's pub nearly ready to open - for filming of The Gallows Pole in Heptonstall." 

Another wrote "2nd week of retirement went to visit son in Calder Valley for a bit of walking and visit to picturesque olde worlde Heptonstall - happened upon filming taking place for new BBC period drama coming soon called The Gallows Pole #craggvalecoiners." 

How many episodes of The Gallows Pole are there?

There are 3 episodes of The Gallows Pole altogether, with each episode being one hour in length. 

Director Shane Meadows spoke at length about what he wanted viewers to get out of the series. He said "It may have turned into one of the biggest crimes in British history, but it was pulled off by a bunch of destitute farmers and weavers doing what they had to to survive, and I think people will resonate with that. You can tell a story in any century if you care about the characters, but there was something so attractive about this period in British history." 

He continued "Large mouthfuls of West Yorkshire were about to be inhaled by the Industrial Revolution and our country and its unspoilt sides set to change forever. So it was an honour to be able to go back and hold up a magnifying glass to some of dudes that were living through it. Marry that with a cast that pitches some of the UK’s finest actors alongside an awesome array of brand spanking new Yorkshire talent and you have a series unlike anything else I’ve made before." 

Tom Hartley (DAVE PERKINS), Gwen Hartley (CHARLOTTE OCKELON), Darya Hartley (SORAYA JANE NABIPOUR), William Hartley (THOMAS TURGOOSE), Abe Oldfield (ANTHONY WELSH), Bethsheba (YUSRA WARSAMA), Barb (JENNIFER REID), Mand (STEVIE BINNS), James Broadbent (ADAM FOGERTY), Tom Hartley (DAVE PERKINS) in The Gallows Pole

(Image credit: BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers)

The Gallows Pole: Cast

  • Michael Socha (This is England, Time) as David Hartley
  • Sophie McShera (Waterloo Road, Downton Abbey) as Grace
  • Thomas Turgoose (This Is England, Looted) as William Hartley
  • Yusra Warsama (Castle Rock, The Last Days on Mars) as Bethsheba
  • Anthony Welsh (The Flatshare, The Trial of Christine Keeler) as Abe Oldfield
  • Samuel Edward-Cook (Peaky Blinders, Better) as Isaac Hartley
  • Joe Sproulle (The A Word, Coming Down The Mountain) as Joe
  • Adam Fogerty (Legend, Snatch) as James Broadbent
  • Nicole Barber-Lane (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale) as Susie
  • Fine Time Fontayne (All Creatures Great and Small, Coronation Street) as Joseph Broadbent
  • Ralph Ineson (Chernobyl, The Green Knight) as The Clothier
  • Stevie Binns as Mand
  • Jennifer Reid as Barb
  • Soraya Jane Nabipour as Darya Hartley
  • Olivia Pentelow as Hannah
  • Charlotte Ockelton as Gwen Hartley
  • Dave Perkins as Tom Hartley

Michael Socha portrays the lead role of David Hartley, and has worked with Shane Meadows previously, on This Is England. Speaking about preparing for the role of Hartley, Socha said "I worked on a farm for a week and learnt how to shear sheep, I did lots of walking around the area, I went to York castle to see where David was locked up, I learnt to clip coins, which I enjoyed doing, it was very satisfying."

He continued "In This is England, I wasn’t in it half as much as I am in this and there’s also a bit more of a character attached to this role. I’m playing somebody who existed, so I’ve also got a back story that was half made for me. Whereas the character I played in This is England was, I suppose, a version of me, I think there are definitely elements of myself here, but in terms of back story, it’s already written." 

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.