by Rosemary Stevenson


In August 1993, I was chatting with friends at a wedding reception. They had heard that I was tracing my family tree. “Have you found any scandals?” they asked. “Absolutely not,” I replied. “They were all very respectable, mostly farmers and weavers, in the Lancashire/Yorkshire border town of Todmorden.”


The following Monday, I received a letter from Mrs. E. M. Savage, a Todmorden author and historian, and a member of the Todmorden Antiquarian Society, who has made a huge contribution to my research. “Had you considered,” she asked, “that Isaac Hartley, the reputed father of Ann Shackleton's son, Isaac Shackleton, could be the son of David or Isaac Hartley?” Ann Shackleton was my three times great grandmother. Isaac Shackleton was my great, great grandfather. But who were David and Isaac Hartley?


Mrs. Savage told me that the Hartleys were concerned with coin clipping and were notorious for their “trade”. They were known as the Cragg Vale Coiners. David and Isaac were brothers and involved in counterfeiting. David was hanged at York on 28th April 1770. Isaac died in 1815 aged 78. He, although never brought to justice, planned the murder of the excise officer, William Deighton, whose job had been to arrest the gang. Isaac didn't commit the murder himself but promised the sum of £100 to anyone willing to do the deed. There were quite a few people in the gang and many of the locals were involved in passing the coins.


A simple family tree shows the possible connection.


William Hartley

David Hartley


Isaac Hartley (baptised 2nd April 1769) /Ann Shackleton


Isaac Shackleton

(baptised 7th April 1799)

Isaac Hartley


Isaac Hartley (baptised 12th Jan. 1772) /Ann Shackleton


Isaac Shackleton

(baptised 7th April 1799)


Mrs. Savage told me that the standard work on the subject was The Yorkshire Coiners by H. Ling Roth, privately published in Halifax in 1906 and probably hard to find. Chalfont St. Peter library isn't the best and they certainly didn't have this one! Eventually they did obtain it for me. I also found it, much later, in the library of the Society of Genealogists.


In the meantime, I visited Todmorden Tourist Office and bought some modern books, Clip a Bright Guinea (The Yorkshire Coiners of the Eighteenth Century) by John Marsh, published by Smith Settle Ltd. Ilkley Road, Otley, Yorkshire; The Coiners of Cragg Vale published by the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, and Coiners Chronicle by Bruce Holdsworth, published by Choice High Ltd. Walkley Cloggs, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. I read these books and visited David Hartley's grave in Heptonstall. The graveyard was full of atmosphere, dark, deserted, all the gravestones flat, and with a white cat, which followed me everywhere, meowing loudly. I visited the old church ruins, the new church and the museum.


David Hartley 1770


Here was interred the Body of Grace Hartley of Lodge in Erringden who departed this life Sept. 2nd 1802 in the 61 year of her age.

Also of David Hartley her grandson who departed this life Feby 23rd 1845 aged 25 years.

Also of David Hartley his father who died Feby 27th 1847 aged 81 years

Also Prudence Hartley who died June 1st . 1883 in her 86th year.

I had mixed feelings regarding the information; worrying that anybody in the family had inherited the genes, and excitement about all the published facts concerning possible ancestors. It was also amusing to tell the story.


Last year I finally made it to Bell House, David Hartley's remote house in Cragg Vale. It was difficult to find and we weren't sure we had found the right house. On the way back we asked directions from a family in a four-wheel drive (normal cars can't make it there.) They were very friendly and drove us back to Bell House. They said they lived in Keelham, the next farm.

Bell House, Cragg Vale

Their son knew all about the Hartleys and David's grave at Heptonstall, rather putting me to shame, as I had lived my first 21 years in Yorkshire. They rather put things in to perspective when they said, “He didn't leave you any gold then?” Later, when re-reading my books I found that a former resident of Keelham was John Wilcock, an associate of David Hartley.


In the end, as Isaac Hartley was the reputed father of my great, great grandfather, I can claim him or reject him as I wish. But if it says so in the register, it's probably true, though of course it could be another Isaac Hartley altogether!