Led by “King” David Hartley, the Coiners obtained real coins from publicans, sometimes on the promise that they could “grow” the investment by smelting the original metals with base ores. They removed the coins’ genuine edges and milled them again, collecting the shavings. The coins were only slightly smaller. They then melted down the shavings to produce counterfeits. Designs were punched into the blank “coins” with a hammer and a “coining kit”. The Coiners then had their accomplices place the fakes into circulation. Most of the counterfeit coins had French, Spanish, or Portuguese designs.
The Cragg Coiners were so successful because the region of Yorkshire they operated within was isolated from centralized England.
In 1769, William Dighton, a public official, investigated the possibilities of a counterfeiting gang in Cragg Vale. A Coiner by the name of James Broadbent betrayed the gang by turning King’s evidence and revealing the gang’s existence and operations to authorities. Dighton had Hartley arrested.
The arrest made the Coiners vengeful. Isaac Hartley, “King” David’s brother, engineered a plan to have Dighton killed. On November 10, two Coiners, Matthew Normanton and Robert Thomas, ambushed Dighton behind the Lewins pub in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and shot him. There was a pub in the centre of Halifax called The William Dighton although the name has been changed now to Portman and Pickle.
Charles Watson-Wentworth (the Marquees of Rockingham and former Prime Minister) was tasked with hunting down the killers. He had thirty Coiners arrested by Christmas Day. David Hartley was hanged at Tyburn near York on 28 April 1770, and buried in the village of Heptonstall, West Yorkshire. His brother, Isaac, escaped the authorities and lived until 1815. As for Dighton’s murderers, Normanton was hanged on 15 April 1775 and Thomas was hanged on 6 August 1774
- David Hartley, who lived at a farm called Bell House, was the leader of the gang.
- Thomas Sunderland, Joseph Shaw, and a Mr. Lightoulers were engravers for the Coiners.
- James Broadbent, the confessor.
- Other Coiners included John Wilcock, Thomas Clayton, Matthew Normanton, Thomas Spencer, and James Oldfield.
The Cragg Coiners were the subject of a children’s novel Gold Pieces by Phyllis Bentley. The story is seen through the eyes of a fictitious twelve-year-old boy who lives nearby and who befriends the son of David Hartley. All the places and the main characters such as David Hartley and William Dighton are given their real names. Gold Pieces was reprinted in 2007.
The story of the gang was used as a basis in the independently published graphic novel, The Last Coiner, written by Peter M. Kershaw. David Hartley is renamed “David Hawksworth” and is portrayed, through manipulated photography, by the actor Keith Patrick. There is an anticipated feature film to be completed.