The Cragg Vale Coiners

Does the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners

Remind you of the moral economy –

Back in the 18th century when

Citizens would register anger

At unjust wages and unfair prices,

With protests, demonstrations, gatherings,

Rioting, strikes, and beating pots and pans,

In a cacophony of rough music,

With carnival skimmington processions,

And letters to the landlords and the rich:

A repertoire of collective dissent?

This was the expression and practice

Of the moral economy at work and play:

The belief in ethics and morality,

In justice, fair play and commonality,

Rather than the ‘laws’ of supply and demand:

The red in tooth and claw market forces

Of profit-seeking capitalism.

Does the tale of the Turvey Clippers fit into this jigsaw?

Well, certainly on the one hand, it does –

Here’s Steve Hartley (a descendent of ‘King David’)

Describing a community-collective of sorts:

“The difference in Cragg Vale was the number of people involved and the support the Coiners gained by ensuring that it was not only the Coiners that made a profit, but anyone assisting them in their activities also benefited.

Most of the local populace … were farmers using weaving to supplement their meagre income … occupations of the people involved were generally related to the woollen or worsted trades … draw boy weavers, stuff makers, shalloon weavers, and wool combers …

In 1771, a woven ‘piece’ would sell in Halifax for around 11 pence, but this was reduced to around 8 pence by 1774. It could take up to eighty hours to produce a piece …

The Coiners’ policy of paying an extra shilling for an unclipped guinea enabled those not directly part of the gang to boost their own income without necessarily taking part in the act of coining itself.”


So here we have a seeming Robin Hood and his Merry Men and Women

Subverting the very essence and currency of capitalism:

The artisan hand in glove with King Midas:

The working-class subverting royal and ducal titles,

In an act of alchemy and mythology

That transcends the usual A level definition

Of the purposes of ‘money’:

A unit of account; a store of value;

a medium of exchange; a standard of deferred payment.

And in the age of enclosure, war and enslavement,

There in Calderdale in Cragg Vale,

A gold coin glinting in the fire flames,

Clippings drifting in the smoky air,

A material transubstantiation,

Money seemingly made out of thin air,

With an alchemical metaphor:

Not an Old Testament burning bush,

But the grafting of a magic money tree:

An illegal act but not immoral –

As opposed to the transatlantic slave trade;

An illegal but not immoral act of quantitative easing,

As opposed to the £20 million ‘compensation’,

Paid to enslavers after ‘abolition’.

‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.’

But no William Blake mind-forg’d manacles

Far away from London up there in Cragg Vale:

To see a world in a grain of gold

And a Heaven in a new clipped guinea

Hold subversion in the palm of your hand

And defy the rules of the Treasury.