Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blog post A Tale of Cards and Coiners about my trip to Yorkshireland when the first lockdown eased. I’d discovered a piece of local history that I’d had no idea about; that bit of history has now been brought to life on the telly. Well, it’s a three-part drama prequelling a novel based on events that happened around the Calder Valley in the later eighteenth century. Yes, that, oh so happy valley is on the TV again! I had wondered at the time if this was something that Sally Wainwright might take an interest in (well, she’s made Gentleman Jack about a local historical character).
Shane Meadows (known for This Is England) is the chap behind The Gallows Pole, starting it back to when David Hartley (the later leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners) returns home from being away in Birmingham for seven years. Those years had seen the onset of the industrial revolution which caused major upheavals for weavers and land labourers in places like the Calder Valley, many had to leave to find work in the new mills.
The opening scenes are of Hartley staggering across the moors, it’s all quite trippy, who/what are the weird stag men figures? Are they real or hallucinations? Then the opening titles kicked in, oh, they’re good, brilliantly done, they promise so much. Well, I wasn’t disappointed, that was a cracking first episode for me! This being Shane Meadows there’s quite a few first-time actors in there; he has all his cast working together, improvising to get into their characters, for quite some time before filming; and even then Meadows doesn’t have a full script, just outlines for the actors to follow.
My favourite scene from the first episode is when David steps outside from his father’s wake for some air, to discover that the girl he was courting before he went away is also outside and does not want to see or talk to him (so she says). David ends up sitting on steps round the corner from where Grace is sitting, and boy, she starts talking! Both are obviously quite shook up from seeing each other again; it was a lovely moment, tentative, angry, funny, coy, even a bit flirty by the end, testing each other out.
And it took me sooo long to figure out where I knew Grace’s voice from – Downton Abbey, she was Daisy, would never have figured it out from her face but the voice was so familiar (no, I didn’t cheat). I did a few double-takes at one character Tom, he had a real look of Tom Hardy but it was one of the first-time actors (Dave Perkins), I suspect it won’t be his last.
Much of the filming was done in the area, in Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge, just along the valley from Mytholmroyd and Cragg Vale (where David Hartley lived). I know the road through Cragg Vale up on to the moors very well, been along it many many times, with no idea that this was once the birthplace of a counterfeiting enterprise that almost toppled the British economy! Oh, one thing that struck me watching the first episode – the drystone walls. They’re quite dilapidated in areas now, but back in the late 1700’s they would’ve probably been in better condition than they are today (funny, the thoughts that pop into your head!)
No doubt the series will help attract yet more tourists to the area. I did get a copy of The Cragg Vale Coiners Walk but never got round to doing it, if this fine weather keeps up I shall give it a go next time I’m down. I might also pop into the Heptonstall Museum which has recently reopened (the local council had previously closed it as unviable), one of it’s rooms was used as a set in The Gallows Pole. The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday 11am – 4pm. It’s not far from the graveyard where David Hartley was buried after his hanging in York.
If you’re an energetic type you can walk up to Heptonstall from Hebden Bridge! (well, a very energetic type, it is a very steep climb) There are two fine pubs up there, The White Lion and the Cross Inn, both frequented by coiners back in the day. The place is literally steeped in history, sorry, I just had to get that in.
It’s rather late, I must to bed. Goodnight!