New BBC series The Gallows Pole revolves around a bunch of impoverished criminals operating in 18th-century Yorkshire - and it's based on a true story you probably haven't heard of.


Starring Michael Socha and Sophie McShera, the series is based on the book of the same name by Benjamin Myers, which in turn is inspired by the real-life story of the Cragg Vale Coiners.

While director Shane Meadows (This Is England) stays largely faithful to the contents of the book, he has added a few extra twists.

So, without further ado, read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind The Gallows Pole.

Is The Gallows Pole a true story?

William Hartley (Thomas Turgoose) with Gwen Hartley (Charlotte Ockleton), Grace Harltey (Sophie McShera) and David Hartley (Michael Socha) in The Gallows Pole
Thomas Turgoose, Charlotte Ockleton, Sophie McShera and Michael Socha in The Gallows Pole. BBC

The Gallows Pole is based on the true story of David Hartley who, in mid-18th century Cragg Vale, near Hebden Bridge, started the Cragg Vale Coiners, a criminal enterprise which obtained minted coins from corrupt officials, clipped the edges of them and used the clippings to produce new coins.

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The real coins were then filed down to destroy the evidence and the fake ones were minted to resemble French, Spanish and Portuguese currency, which were accepted as legal tender at the time.

By the end of the 1760s it is believed that approximately £3.5 million's worth of forged coins, or £515 million in today's money, was paid into the Bank of England.

David Hartley and many of the gang members were eventually arrested, but most were acquitted. Hartley was convicted and hanged in April 1770 and his grave can be found in Heptonstall.

Meadows called it "one of the biggest crimes in British history that no one's ever heard of", adding that "the Bank of England nearly collapsed towards the sort of final stages of what was going on".

Is The Gallows Pole based on a book?

Michael Socha as David Hartley with the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole.
Michael Socha as David Hartley with the Stag Men in The Gallows Pole. BBC/Element Pictures (GP) Limited/Objective Feedback LLC/Dean Rogers

It is. The Gallows Pole is based on the 2017 book of the same name by Benjamin Myers, which has been described as "historical fiction".

It is based on a true story but has been fictionalised, and Meadows revealed what first made him fall in love with the book once it was sent to him by his agent.

"When the book actually came, the first thing with the book is that it's got a cover very much unlike… it felt like Trainspotting in the 1700s," Meadows said. "If you want to grab my attention, and I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but it was vivid lime green, these gold coins, this sort of silhouetted face.

"And I remember, you read the letter and think, 'Why does someone want me to do a period piece?' That’s obviously my problem because I'm sort of assuming it's going to be all frills and carriages, and then obviously read the book and was like, 'Oh my God.'"

How does The Gallows Pole BBC differ from the book?

Sophie McShera and Michael Socha hugging in The Gallows Pole.
Sophie McShera and Michael Socha in The Gallows Pole. BBC

The Gallows Pole acts as a prequel series to Myers's book, telling a fictionalised version of how the Coiners ended up in business and how David Hartley became inspired to start the enterprise.

Meadows has said that when he first met Myers, he found that he was an "incredible man", and the pair were "really like-minded" about the project. However, Meadows was upfront about the changes he would be making.

He said: "I was honest about the book, I said I thought it was lacking some female characters and to bring it to the screen some of them would need to be a lot more likeable than they were.

"But Ben was just like, 'Look, I took the facts and I created my novel. You can take my novel and the facts and create your series.' So once I got that blessing, that's when we sort of set sail.”

Sophie McShera, who plays Grace, echoed Meadows's opinion that the role of women in the series had to be enhanced, saying, "I didn't read the book and go, 'Which one of these amazing women am I gonna play?'"

She explained: "I was like, 'Shane, what's the deal with female characters?' And he was like, straight away, 'That is so important to me and we really want to bring back the female characters.'

"Me and Shane had a conversation about Northern women and that's very in there; women I've grown up with, women in my family, my community, that's what I was thinking of when we were building this place, this community and this character.

"But that didn't feel like a big ask, I think we just wanted to redress the balance of it and just give a version of a community which is completely plausible. It is a community based crime and the women weren’t all just sat at home letting it happen, they were involved - in fact, the kids were involved in it.

"So I think it would have been a madness to not do that. I don't think it's unrealistic.”

The Gallows Pole premieres on BBC Two on Wednesday 31st May at 9pm, when all episodes will also arrive on BBC iPlayer. For more, check out our dedicated Drama page or our full TV Guide and Streaming Guide.

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