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“I heard the coiners took the scissor to the Union Jack, with a snipper and a clipper and a bloody close shave making fivers, tenners, twenties, change.”

The Calder Valley, looking out over Hebden Bridge towards Cragg Vale
“The hills of Hebden, Hell, and Halifax” – view from Heptonstall overlooking Hebden Bridge looking towards Cragg Vale.

History is such a wide-reaching subject, but at school (certainly in the UK) we’re only really taught the mundane stuff – the Kings & Queens, life in Roman / Saxon / Norman / Elizabethan England, the Industrial Revolution in a general sense, and World War 1. It’s more amazing to hear what we don’t learn – neither the Wars of the Roses nor the three English/British Civil Wars of the 1600s, not really much about colonialism (indeed, almost nothing outside Europe, even if we were directly involved – I learned more about the War of 1812 after one day in Quebec City than I ever learned at school), and certainly very little about everyday life, the occasional peasants revolt aside. The childrens’ TV series ‘Horrible Histories’ fills in a few gaps, but sometimes you end up learning about odd titbits from completely random sources.

And so it is with the Cragg Vale Coiners, whose existence I only learned about through a song by the Yorkshire-based anarchist indie punk rock band Chumbawamba – ‘Snip Snip Snip’ from the album ‘Shhh!’ is an aggressive rock-rap summarising the background to the gang, although it doesn’t go into their demise. Although a minor footnote in the history of Yorkshire, I figured if it was interesting enough to write a song about (albeit Chumbawamba being a slightly biased source, given their standpoint would be aligned very much with the coiners), it would be interesting enough to blog about, especially as I was in the area.

The Cragg Vale itself is a small valley in the hills just south of Mytholmroyd, and is pretty isolated even today, so back in the 1760s it’s likely that the area was lightly policed and very little known about it on an everyday basis, although the coiners themselves operated at least as far as nearby Hebden Bridge, in the Calder Valley. Although supported by many both then and now due to their cocking a snook at the establishment, and seen as ‘jolly rogues’ (in much the same way as people like Dick Turpin), in simple terms what the coiners were doing was very definitely illegal – hacking bits off the edges of coins (enough to get a good sliver of metal but not enough as to make the original coin noticeably worthless), then melting the scraps and reforming them into new coins, essentially therefore literally ‘making money’ in its proper sense. It needs to be remembered of course that in those days, the coins used as money were actually worth something – made of silver rather than a cheap alloy – so were easy to work as well as being of intrinsic value in and of itself.

The road through the Cragg Vale
The road through the Cragg Vale, near the Robin Hood Inn – unfortunately too recent (c.1800) to have been one of the coiners’ haunts.

It was a particularly good spot for such activity. The main road through the Calder Valley to the North was an important trade route across the South Pennines/North Dales, linking the towns of West Yorkshire like Halifax and Huddersfield with Lancashire towns like Bacup and Burnley, from which there would be easy access to the sea. However, off the main road the mountains were relatively high and remote, so the many valleys off the Calder would have been little-known and little-ventured; even today the Cragg Vale has only one road going through it – back in the days of the Coiners, it would have been incredibly quiet and hidden, and even if people were to come through, they would have been very easy to spot from a distance, making it a simple process to hide everything away in good time before they arrived.

The leader of the coiner gang was a chap called David Hartley, who had the nickname ‘King David’ (as the leader of such an influential and rich group, complete with their own power base, it’s not hard to see why); the exact number of coiners will probably never be known but by the end of the scheme, 30 people had been arrested across the whole Calder Valley area in suspicion of forgery, some from as far away as Sowerby and Halifax. Many of the local villagers, especially the publicans, were actively involved in other ways, including providing some of the original coins from which the forgers worked (with the promise of a small ‘return on investment’, of course). The beauty of forgery of course is that most people never check their coinage to see, and as long as someone is willing to accept them as payment, no suspicions are raised. (In a sense the only people to ‘lose out’ are the government – as they’re no longer in control of the money supply – and the very last person to handle the coin, as banks/officials will check). In addition, at the time the quality of the genuine coinage was quite poor anyway due to over-handling (it was quite ‘old’), and there was a reasonable amount of ‘foreign’ (or at least non-standard) coinage already in circulation that was accepted, so the Cragg Vale Coiners wouldn’t have needed to work too hard to create a coin that people would accept, never mind shave little bits off coins that were already accepted.

This isn’t just a tale of forgery (a crime in and of itself punishable by death in those days); it’s also a tale of murder, almost out of the pages of a children’s Victorian-era novel. Once the law got wind of what the coiners were up to, they despatched a law enforcement official (William Dighton) to do some research. Initially his investigations brought fruit – one of the coiners (a chap called James Broadbent) gave damning evidence in return for immunity from prosecution, and as a result, David Hartley was arrested. His brother Isaac didn’t take too kindly to this and arranged for William to meet an ‘unsightly end’; he offered a reward of £100 (a not insignificant sum in those days) for his murder, and two of the coiners (ambushed and shot him while he was in the nearby ‘local capital’ of Halifax.

Overview of the Coiners, in the Cross Inn, Heptonstall
Overview of the Coiners’ activities, in the Cross Inn, Heptonstall. Allegedly on this spot a related murder was committed..

Ultimately, this proved a step too far for the law, who sent in what amounted to a small brigade led by an ex-Prime Minister, and promptly had the whole lot arrested. James himself was swiftly executed in York, and is now buried in nearby Heptonstall. The two coiner-murderers were eventually caught and subsequently hanged (one for the murder itself, the other for a separate charge of highway robbery). As for the other coiners, most of them seem to have been placed on what we might now term ‘on remand’ for a year until the following ‘assizes’ (court in session), but while many death sentences were handed out, they were only carried out in less than a handful of cases, and apart from a couple of deportations (to Africa, it seems), the matter seems to have been quietly dropped (according to the rolls, many of them were eventually acquitted – I assume that getting ‘King’ David Hartley had been enough to demoralise the whole group into submission). Oddly, Isaac was never brought to justice for his role in the murder of William Deighton due to a lack of evidence, presumably no-one would testify against him, and he died in Mytholmroyd many years later at the age of 75.

James Broadbent, the initial ‘grass’, seems to have escaped unscathed, although a couple of other locals/coiners thought close to the police were not so lucky; while not the ‘flame for your pants, poker for your eyes’ retribution mentioned in the Chumbawamba song, David Hartley’s gang did murder a couple of people who threatened to inform the authorities, including a coiner called ‘Abraham Ingham’ who boasted about knowing of the murder of William Deighton.

'King' David Hartley's Gravestone
The grave of ‘King’ David Hartley, in the churchyard at Heptonstall. He died in 1770; more of his family was interred in the same grave later.

As to why the coiners operated in the first place; apart from being a remote area (and therefore likely slightly less affluent than places on the trading routes), the main industry in the area was weaving (mainly wool). Since prosperity depended on a single industry, any changes in the demand for woollen goods would have drastically affected life here, and at the time the wool industry was experiencing a ‘depression’ due to, amongst other things, world peace (English army uniforms were woollen at this time so there was less demand for army uniforms). Conversely, that it was so close to a trading route meant that access to a small but regular supply of coinage was guaranteed – but thus why they needed the help of the publicans to provide them.

Incidentally, although only active for a short period and in such a short area, they have left an important legacy – it is because of people like the Cragg Vale coiners that the UK £1 coin has a ridged edge …

Authorities visited: Calderdale. Date visited: 14 May 2016, aside from the pic of Cragg Vale taken 20 August 2016.

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Return of the Barefoot Daisy

Posted on 2016.08.24 at 20:54
Tags: ,

This post will appeal to different people in different ways … 😉

Earlier this month, I was invited to a wedding in Southampton. I’d known the bride for maybe 12 years, and she’s quite a casual, relaxed soul (it’s the Dutch mentality) – after the ceremony in the church, she arranged for us all to ‘decamp’ to a country park a few miles away, where they’d organised some small marquees, beer, a barbecue, and all manner of small games & fun stuff. As a result, the “dress code” for the wedding was “festival” (specifically, wellies were okay but no high heels!). One of the events on the afternoon programme was “bare feet dancing in the grass”. Obviously that got me thinking … :p

Now, in principle I should have always been fond of barefoot sandals. In general they look like normal sandals, usually with a bit of ‘bling’ or fancy designs, but importantly they have no sole (hence the name – they’re more akin to foot jewellery than sandals). Whereas often with sandals/flip-flops there’s a strap going over the foot, between the toes, that connects to the sole, with barefoot sandals the ‘strap’ (usually a long piece of cord or thick string) loops around a toe, and then ties around the leg just above the ankle. The reasoning behind why I’d wear them is twofold – they make my feet look less ugly whilst giving the impression that I’m not barefoot at all, but rather just wearing some thin sandals. I also have this thing for daisies (I’m not sure why, but it might be something to do with the fact they’re one of the few things I can draw/doodle!), so I’m naturally attracted to that kind of design – I’m basically a wannabe hippie!

Traditional barefoot sandals in the grass
Traditional ‘barefoot sandals’, definitely very ‘bare’ and more akin to foot decoration.

However, on the few occasions I’ve worn the ones I had, I wasn’t really that ‘taken’ with them. Since the ‘strap’ was quite a thin piece of string, no matter how tight I tied them, the knot slowly worked its way down to the ankle. This means I kept losing tension in the over-foot bit, so they continually felt ‘loose’ and like they were about to fall off. As they’re crocheted, they got dirty rather too quickly – this shouldn’t be so much of a problem but as they were quite thin and fragile, they were quite difficult to clean. Finally, the trouble with most barefoot sandals to be fair, and these in particular, is that it was blindingly obvious they’re just a piece of fabric and I really am barefoot – they wouldn’t fool anyone who takes more than a passing glance. This is fine for festivals, but not for walking through city streets in the UK. (Except in Sheffield, where no-one seemed to care one iota that I was completely barefoot when I had a wander last month. Maybe they’re just so used to seeing people like my friend Bea?!)

Searching online, via Pinterest, didn’t bring anything up I liked, but then I had a chat with a friend who said that one of her friends (Mrs Blake’s Makes) might like the challenge, as long as I didn’t mind crochet again. After a few e-mails, and a tracing of my feet onto squared paper, she said she’d completed them.

New barefoot sandals
Close-up of the new barefoot sandals.

New barefoot sandals worn with jeans
This is what they would look like if someone saw me wearing them on the streets. I’m at a mosaic in the Hampshire boating port of Hamble.

This was the end result. The strapping is made with a thicker cord than the sandals I previously had, and they have a little more weight behind them, which means they stay on my feet pretty well – I wore them for the whole of the wedding weekend, and never had any problems with them. The daisies over the forefoot are unusual, and meant there needed to be two toe loops rather than one to ensure that they keep their shape when I walk. That there were so many daisies crocheted meant that a few people at the wedding were fooled – I was complemented with “nice flip flops”; when I showed them they had no soul they were impressed and would never have guessed. (I was wearing jeans for much of the day – it’s more obvious when wearing shorter trousers, when they look a little like old gladiator-like sandals). They’re very comfortable, are easy to slide on and off, and fit perfectly. They even felt like I was wearing proper sandals.

The Barefoot Backpacker in the wild
At the wedding reception in the country park – here seen with the long shorts rather than the full-length jeans.

I did get a few stares when walking through the streets of Southampton and London in them, but that was more due to the daisies than the bare feet – even though I was still a little self-conscious about them, no-one questioned my lack of footwear at all, and I went through some busy areas, certainly in London (including the South Bank and Brick Lane areas).

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I'm not here ...

Posted on 2014.07.03 at 17:46
No GPRS but: Amy's house, K-in-A
Feeling: tiredtired
Background Noise: background radio, tennis on TV
... no, seriously!

I went away on holiday on 30 April 2014 and I haven't been onto LJ since. Normally when I holiday, I provide links to my travel website on daily entries here, but this time I haven't been doing that (mainly because the scope of my travel is more than just daily updates).

Since I only have a couple of friends here who regularly post, I've made the decision to mothball this journal and only come back to check those journals.

Travel journals can now be found at: http://barefoot-backpacker.com
For general contact, my standard twitter feed is : @planet_leesti

To be fair I've barely used LJ for the last couple of years, so it's not going to be much of a loss for me to not come here on a standard regular basis.

Speak laters,

Ian :)

last waltz

The End of An Era

Posted on 2014.04.14 at 19:10
No GPRS but: my bedroom
Feeling: sadsad
Background Noise: none
Tags: , ,
I go travelling at the end of the month. For a year. And I'm going to have to get my place rented. Regardless of whether it's to someone I know or not, I still need to clear out lots of stuff that's cluttering the place.

In my bedroom there is a walk-in closet. Sat at the bottom of that closet, in a large black plastic box, is very penpal letter I've ever received, going back to 1991. It's a very heavy and a very full box. It also hasn't been opened for about seven years.

That was two hours ago.
It is still a very heavy and very full box. Now however it contains all my travel-related nostalgia; stuff that might be useful when I'm writing about travel in the future.

And my penpal letters?
They're all in the recycling bin.

Farewell to them all. Once friends, now mostly merely names written on old paper envelopes and sheets of paper.

dead railway lines

Even My Bank Called To Check!

Posted on 2014.03.28 at 17:35
No GPRS but: Living room, Sarah's house, Northampton
Feeling: melancholymelancholy
Background Noise: BBC 6 Music - Steve Lamacq
Bloody expensive, this travel lark!


But What Happens Then ... ?

Posted on 2014.03.25 at 22:24
No GPRS but: my bedroom
Feeling: tiredtired
Background Noise: none
Tags: ,
... or do I worry too much?!


Strip Strip Strip to my Lou ...

Posted on 2013.12.25 at 20:55
No GPRS but: living room
Feeling: tiredtired
Background Noise: BBC 6 Music - John Lydon
Tags: , ,
A quick glance at my travel guidebook to Chile suggests that the city of La Serena and the nearby Elqui Valley are interesting enough to while away a week in. I'd forgotten about there. Observatories, pisco sour, UFOs, and hippies. Mmmm.

Spent the day stripping wallpaper. Yes, I'm sure there are more interesting ways to spend Christmas Day, but I'm not allowed to work it so given that I have two days just sat at home, it's the perfect time to do big jobs like that which need doing and which require a couple of hours of effort. Done the best part of three walls of my living room. Mostly it's coming off quite easily, as if it's been stuck on with pritt-stick. Just the occasional random patch that seems to have been spot-welded, and half a minute with the steamer isn't even touching it!

Dinner this evening was trout, pasta, and spinach. Total preparation and cooking time combined: 20 minutes. Ha.


Around the World the long way, but not "literally" ...

Posted on 2013.12.24 at 21:21
No GPRS but: living room
Feeling: indifferentindifferent
Background Noise: BBC 6 Music - Gideon Coe playing alternative Christmas music
Tags: ,
It may transpire that most of what I blog about on here may well be travel-related rather than life-related. Maybe I should create a new journal just for travel, separate it out from my historical stuff. Or maybe not. Maybe I should change my username. Maybe not.

But anyway.
Have booked the first series of flights for my Round-the-World trip. First stop Romania, then travel upwards through the Western edge of the ex-Soviet Union to Lithuania, where I fly back to the UK. The best part of a whole day later, I fly out to Chile.

That's as far as I've got.
My original plan was to then fly across the Pacific, calling at Easter Island, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia, before arriving into Australia. However, the cost of doing this is astronomical - it's £912 alone to fly from Easter Island to French Polynesia. In fact, due to the fact it was cheaper to get a return rather than a single from the UK to Chile, it actually works out substantially cheaper to fly from Chile to Australia via the UK, rather than even direct over the Pacific. It is, in fact, less than half the price to do this.

My return flight is about a week too late, which means that unless it doesn't cost too much to change it, I'll have an extra week to spend in Chile, if I choose to do this routing instead. It would give a whole new meaning to 'Round the World', but equally it means I wouldn't have the notable aspect of crossing the International Date Line.
Alternatively I fly across the Pacific, get to Sydney, then sell my body in the gay quarter ...



New Passport, Distant Frontiers

Posted on 2013.11.16 at 11:20
No GPRS but: living room
Feeling: okayokay
Background Noise: BBC 6 Music - Huey Morgan
Tags: ,
Yesterday I got my new passport through the mail. It's shiny, and 48 pages long. It also came rather quickly; the estimated time's 3 weeks and I only sent off the forms last Wednesday (ie 9 days ago). I'm somewhat impressed.

Of course it's not going to stay shiny and new for long ... ;)

I now need to finalise my going-away-date. Not my departure date, but the date from which I officially start my career break. I have between 8-10 days holiday left to take before the end of the holiday year, which I'll tag on to the start of my official career break, thus giving me about 12½ months to travel the world. But since I don't know how much holiday I'll have left yet (it's dependant on a couple of things coming up), I don't know when to make the career break start for best effect ...

Apart from the minutiae, I pretty much have the first three months plotted out, and the following month sort-of identified. I really ought to put up a full itinerary at some point ... I probably will once I book my first flight. That will be the scariest moment, because then it'll all be definitely happening.

Does anyone know anything about Paraguay?!


On My Way Home (Alice)

Posted on 2013.09.30 at 23:59
Holiday in the Fall #2 - Day 15 (and a bit of 16)

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