The Gallows Pole

The Gallows Pole

by Benjamin Myers


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Set in the moorland hills of 18th century Yorkshire, The Gallows Pole is the true story of an organized crime of forgers known as the Cragg Vale Coiners. Lead by the charismatic ‘King David Hartley, a man prone to violence and mystical visions, they rise to glory until the bloody murder of a government official brings them to the attention of the authorities. An English western, The Gallows Pole is a poetic and visceral telling of a secret history and a wild landscape. It explores contemporary themes including wealth, abuse of power, class, corruptions, borders and boundaries and national identity. Includes a Foreword by Benjamin Myers exclusive to this USA edition from Third Man Books.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780997457858
Publisher: Third Man Books
Publication date: 10/15/2019
Pages: 350
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Myers was born in Durham, UK, in 1976. He is in an award-winning author, poet and journalist, translated into several languages. His novel Beastings (2014) won the Portico Prize For Literature and was recipient of the Northern Writers’ Award. Pig Iron (2012) was the winner of the inaugural Gordon Burn Prize and runner-up in The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. A controversial combination of biography and novel, Richard (2010) was a bestseller, chosen as a Sunday Times book of the year. Myers’ ‘folk crime’ novels Turning Blue (2016) and These Darkening Days (2017) were widely acclaimed by critics including Val McDermid.

His latest book Under The Rock, a non-fiction work, has been described as “a bold and original exploration of nature and literature that firmly establishes him firmly among the first ranks of Britain’s most exciting writers of landscape and place.”

The Gallows Pole was the recipient of Roger Deakin Award and longlisted for both the 2018 Walter Scott Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize.

As a journalist he has written about music, the arts and nature for publications including New Statesman, The Guardian, The Spectator, NME, Mojo, Time Out, New Scientist, Caught By The River, Record Collector, Vice, The Quietus, Melody Maker, Metal Hammer, Alternative Press, and many others. His short stories and poetry have appeared in dozens of print and small press anthologies, chapbooks and underground obscurities.
His new novel The Offing is published by Bloomsbury in August 2019.

Benjamin Myers currently lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, UK.

Read an Excerpt

Yes. That. On the pot. What’s it meant to be?
That, said The Alchemist. That represents the bladed branches of the stag.
His voice was dry in his mouth. His voice was fire-cracked and heat-worn.
Why, said David Hartley. Why?
Because the stag is the life force of the moors just as fire is the life of forging. I thought you’d know that.
I do know that, said David Hartley. I do know that.
Only then did The Alchemist look at the brothers and their father, and the glances that passed between them. In the latter he saw an aged man who had lived for six long decades of turf-digging and loom-mending, of flint-slitting and rock-breaking and pond-dredging and rabbit-trapping and slate-fixing, all with nothing to show for it but twisted fingers and a locked left knee, a squint and a crooked spine. He saw that the old man’s dark eyes seemed to hold the seeds of fire too,
and that his chin was pointed and one temple scarred with a white mess of flesh healed into a tight pattern like the fossilised form of flowering lichen across a wet valley rock. The mashed markings of a true coin smelter.
The Alchemist extended an arm. He held out a palm,
requested alms.
David Hartley produced a pouch and poured half of it into the hand of The Alchemist who took the shears and clipped each coin in turn until he had a small pile of slivers.
With neat movements he circled the fire and roddled the coals and pumped the bellows.
The remaining coins he deftly stacked in a tower on the floor.
With his poker he tapped the pot and the four men leaned in to see that the guinea shards were changing shape. Softening and collapsing. They were gaining a liquid sheen.
The Alchemist signalled for the men to step back as he unwrapped another cloth and set down beside him a selection of moulds and dies of different sizes. He carefully arranged
5 5
them. He touched them once. He touched them twice, then with tongs he lifted the pot from the fire and poured its contents into four of the moulds. The pot he set aside.
Still squatting and stock still, The Alchemist muttered words to himself. The Hartleys could not determine what he was saying.
His whispered words ran into one another. Strange incantations.
He uttered a song without a melody. An inaudible spell for the casting of the metal. A twisting of the tongue.
Then in a sudden burst of movement The Alchemist snatched up a spelter stamp in one hand and hammer in the other. The stamp he pressed down onto the first mould and he twirled the hammer once and then twice over the back of his hand in a conjurer’s display of showmanship before swinging it and bringing it down hard on the head of the stamp. He struck again and again, the shrill judder of metal on metal reverberating.
The stamp he cast aside before seizing the next one – this slightly larger – and swinging and striking in quick succession.
Four times he did this, one after another; the stone space echoing with the hammer’s call.
Then he laid his tools aside. There were beads of sweat on his brow now. They looked black. As black as the dew that settles on the coomb of a coalman’s shovelled remnants.
The Alchemist turned the moulds upside down and tapped the bottom of each so that their contents fell into a bowl of water that steamed with each newly-forged coin. Then he spoke.
He said: the white hot hiss is a vicious liquid kiss from the lady of the fire who is softer than silver and swifter than light.
What’s that? said Isaac Hartley. What’s he saying?
The mottled dirty water he threw onto the hot coals and these too hissed and steamed and spat tiny gobbets of dead and dying embers in a cloud of smothering muffled smoke that had all the men but The Alchemist, who seemed impervious to it,
hacking and rubbing at their eyes.
He rattled the bowl and swirled its contents then flicked the newly-forged and stamped coins into his hand. From a pocket
5 6
he produced a rag and a small snuff box of dark daubing into which he dipped a blackened digit and dabbed some of its contents onto each coin. With an economical flourish he buffed each disc.
He slowly stood and handed a coin in turn to young William
Hartley and Isaac Hartley and the old man William Hartley the elder. At David Hartley he paused and held the coin aloft between thumb and forefinger and in the half-light it seemed to turn and spin of its own accord and he said come, come press a coin into my palm and I’ll return you two like a curse reversed on a gypsy’s tongue.
David Hartley took the coin.
He touched it. He studied it. It still held within it the warmth of the fire. He examined it further.
He said: this work is good.
The Alchemist said nothing.
Here, he’s milled the rim, said William Hartley, and David
Hartley studied the tiny writing that ran around the side of the coin.
Do you know what these words say? asked The Alchemist.
No, I do not said, David Hartley. They are not in any language that any right-minded man round these parts would know even if they were book learners.
That’s because these words is Latin, said The Alchemist.
Decus Et Tutamen . They say: An Ornament and a Safeguard.
A hundred years or more this coin has carried these words and
I’d wager it’ll carry them for a hundred more.
What’s all this Latin for?
Latin is the language that the crown favours, said William
Hartley Sr. It’s what they speak across foreign waters and it makes the king think he’s better than common folk.
I’m not no fucking common folk, said David Hartley. I’m a king too; a king that’s more respected amongst his own folk than these betterny-bodies who think their shit smells as sweet as pollen. And I’m a king that doesn’t need no fucking foreign tongue from across no foreign waters to make him feel big about himself, nor a crown upon his napper. All I wear is the sky above me, and the only throne this man needs is that which sits above the shitting pit.


A Foreword written by author Benjamin Myers exclusive to the USA/Third Man Books Edition of The Gallows Pole.

A decade or so ago my now-wife and I, like generations of jaded romantics before us, left London and headed back to our native northlands, to a dank valley in West Yorkshire. London is for the young and the wealthy and after twelve years of scratching an existence in the writing and music racket, and a financial crash causing fault-lines across the world, I was alarmed to discover that we were neither.
We moved to a village called Mytholmroyd (pronounced My-thom-royd), located in the upper Calder Valley in the Pennines, that rocky, spine-like range of hills that runs up through England towards the Scottish borders. The Pennines are the backbone of the rural north, a place traditionally based around sheep-farming, cotton-weaving and, more recently, tourism. Its landscapes can be unforgiving, wild and gothic places. I had previously visited Mytholmroyd for half an hour; it didn’t matter. I was tired and wanted a change of scene.
Our rented cottage was built in 1641 and was fed with beautiful clean water, filtered through subterranean strata over thousands of years, that ran from a spring up the hill. I knew the village only as the birth-place of visionary poet Ted Hughes and that his American wife, the equally brilliant Sylvia Plath, was buried a mile or two along the road in a cemetery on a hill overlooking the bohemian hill town of Hebden Bridge.
In time I heard the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a local organised crime gang of forgers lead by charismatic ‘King’ David Hartley who quickly accumulated great wealth in the area during the 1760s (Hartley is now buried close to Plath). The story of the Coiners was largely unknown beyond the valley yet seemed as significant in the narrative of English history as that of Robin Hood, a figure of whom very little is known but nevertheless has been much mythologised. Here also was a tale that seemed akin to those of the wild American frontier, yet took place in an earlier England, at the dawn of the coming Industrial Age.
I spent two years researching and writing the Coiners’ story, as well as walking in their footsteps around the valley. Along the way I learned that the man responsible for their downfall, James Broadbent, had worked a loom in the very same squat stone cottage in which we had been living. I was inadvertently part of their continuity, the latest link in a chain from a tough and troubled past to a modern digital world. Sometimes life gifts you such signs and prompts. A writer’s duty is to act upon them.
The Gallows Pole was published in 2017 by Bluemoose Books, a small independent publisher based in a terraced house hallway between my desk and the buried bones of Hartley himself. Reviews in the national press were positive and the initial print run sold well. Then I began to notice strange things happening: I passed groups of weekend walkers on my otherwise solitary routes. They were looking for the haunts of the Coiners and visiting the grave of Hartley to place coins on his horizontal headstone. With a local cartographer I produced a map so that visitors might better explore real locations from the book.
And the novel kept selling. The film and TV rights were optioned and The Gallows Pole took me to many unexpected places: onto radio, television and the occasional magazine cover, and to a vast country mansion where a Scottish duke awarded it the Walter Scott Prize, the world’s largest literary prize for historical fiction. A band of musicians recorded a soundtrack to the novel, and released it to acclaim. After seven print runs it also lead to a deal with Bloomsbury publishing, otherwise known as the house of Harry Potter.
And the journey has also lead to Third Man Books. A more appropriate spiritual home for a bunch of enterprising and artisan outlaws, I could not conceive of.
‘King’ David Hartley has crossed the water. I hope you enjoy his story.

Benjamin Myers.

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