Joseph Stell, Yorkshire Counterfeiter

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Joseph Stell, Counterfeiter

I have information on Joseph Stell, son of Michael, because I was searching the Keighley parish records for my ancestor, also named Joseph Stell, who was born at approximately the same time. I found Joseph Stell, the counterfeiter, and was kind of hoping he was mine.

See Joseph Stell

Michael Stell, Yeoman farmer, of Wellhead and/or Dazy-well, Lord of the Manor Oakworth

Birth: Before 1677

Residence: Well head or Wol-head, Dazy-well

Marriage: Michael Stell married Mary Hayley in Bradford parish in 1697


  1. Mary daughter of Michael and Mary Stell baptized August 14 1698. (BT).
  2. Martha daughter of Michael and Mary Stell baptized March 31, 1700 (real year)(BT).
  3. Mary daughter of Michael Stell Dazy-well May 31, 1701
  4. Ann daughter of Michael Stell July 18, 1703.
    Marriage: : Ann married John Merrill on December 9. 1724.
  5. Michael son of Michael Stell December 26, 1706.
  6. Joseph Stells (1710-1768), Yeoman farmer, of Wellhead and/or Dazy-well, Lord of the Manor Oakworth and Alice Taylor
    Birth: Joseph to Michael on August 6, 1710. No place listed.
    According to M. L. Baumber this was the coiner
    • Apprenticed as a silk weaver (Baumber)
    • Traveling chapman (Salesman) parish records
    • Surgeon, parish records
    • Mill owner, silk ribbons, William Keighley
    • Coiner
    Marriage: Joseph Stell married Alice Taylor January 1, 1733/34 in Saxton on Elmet
    1. John son of Mr Joseph Stell, born February 18, baptized March 18, 1734/35in 1735 (YAS)
    2. William in 1736 (Indexes)
    3. Mary in 1738 (Indexes)
    4. Ann daughter of Joseph Stell, surgeon, baptized August 10, 1740 (BT)
    5. Elizabeth in 1743 (Indexes)
    6. Edward in 1745 (indexes)

    Death 1768 by execution

Other Information: According to William Keighley there were three manors in the parish in 1733. One of them belonged to "Mr. Michael Stell of Well Head, in this parish, who lately died, and since his disease, it fell to the eldest son and heir, Mr. Michael Stell of Well Head, in the parish of Keithley." M. L. Baumber also says that Michael Stell was lord of the manor of Oakworth. "The rights could be of considerable value in the event of an enclosure or the discovery of valuable minerals but provided little immediate revenue"

Death: Michael Stell of Wol-head, yeoman of the Lord of the Manor was buried in February 5, 1723

Joseph Stell, the Counterfeiter

  1. Keighley, Past and Present or An Historical Topographical and Statistical Sketch of the Town, Parish, and Environs of Keighley by William Keighley published 1879.

    On page 115

    "The woolen trade appears to have taken its final departure soon after the middle of the last century, and the old Fulling or Walker's Mill, which stood on the premises now occupied by Messrs. Craven called "Walk Mill" was turned into a silk-mill by that ingenious and enterprising gentleman, Mr. Joseph Stell, who is said to have woven silk tapes and other narrow fabrics by water power. Unfortunately for this individual and his family, in an evil hour he was induced to overstep the line of moral rectitude, and plunge into a sea of trouble and distress. He suffered at York for counterfeiting the gold of the realm, and his estate was confiscated to the crown."
  2. Clip a Bright Guinea by John March is the story of David Hartley and his gang of Yorkshire coiners of the 18th century. In addition to telling the story of Hartley and his gang, March makes mention of several other "coiners" in the area. March does not offer much further information on Joseph Stell other than to say that he suffered the "supreme penalty" for counterfeiting.
  3. The Yorkshire Coiners 1767-1783, by H. Ling Roth, was originally published in 1906 and republished in 1971. On page 11 Mr. Roth says,
    In the Leeds Intelligencer for July 26, 1768, we read:-"At the Assizes held at York last week, Joseph Stell was found guilty of counterfeiting the gold coin of this kingdom, and received sentence of death."
    Further he says,
    "In the same paper for August 9, 1768.......Mr Joseph Stell, who was found guilty at the last Assizes was executed on Saturday night last, about six o'clock, pursuant to his sentence."

The Yorkshire Coiners

According to John March:

Counterfeiting was high treason.

David Hartley and his gang were hand loom weavers who lived on the desolate moors east of Halifax and "clipped" the Kings gold to supplement their income. A core group surrounding David Hartley with "hundreds" of hangers-on "eager to turn a quick guinea". Hartley and his gang eventually murdered a government official who was after them. Most of the members of Hartley's gang were captured, tried, and hung.

Records from the Mint show that counterfeiting and clipping were extremely common offenses, especially in the larger cities in the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s.

For a variety of reasons most of the coinage in circulation at the time was gold, some issued by the British Crown and some foreign coins that were in common use.

The "clippers" used a shears to cut off the edge of a coin and then refilled the edge. The clippings were collected and made into new coins using dies.Apparently counterfeiting was tolerated for a long time. In addition, many respectable individuals brought their coins to clippers. The "coiner" kept the clippings and paid the owner of the coin a percentage. The owner of the coin then re-circulated the coin that had been clipped. Many coins were found to have been clipped by as much a 9%.

Two local Yorkshire personalities took up the case to bring the counterfeiters "to book". Rewards were offered to informants who turned in coiners. The main focus of the hunt for the counterfeiters was the Hartley gang, but obviously others went down with them.

The counterfeiters in the area were sent to York prison to await trial. Mach quotes John Howard, "the great prison reformer of the eighteenth century" who had visited York prison at the time the coiners were imprisoned and found it

"a noisesome place with cells that were little more than unlighted dungeons, and, thanks to those who inhabited them, filth and fever-haunted dens of iniquity in which hundreds of people in festering masses were confined."
The prisoners were given a 3 pound 2 ounce loaf every Tuesday and Friday. This was all they had to eat unless the had friends or relatives who brought them food. The cells were 7 feet, by 6 feet, by 8 feet high with straw on the floor for bedding. There was an open sewer running along the passages, but no water in the cells. Most cells contained three prisoners. The prisoners, however, were allowed to exercise in the courtyard. While doing so, they were able to talk to their friends and relations on the outside.

Many of the coiners were executed at Tyburn near York. Subsequently their bodies were "hung in chains". This extremely barbarous means of exhibiting the dead was meant to be a deterrent to the living so that they would not commit the same crimes. The body of the executed criminal was incased in iron and hung by chains on a pole in public view. The gibbet post was covered with hundreds of protruding nails to discourage anyone from climbing the post to release the body. The corpse took a long time to disintegrate even with the help of the carrion crows that pecked at it.

Locally the coiners were not looked on as felons, but as Robin Hood like heroes who were simply taking their due from what they believed to be a corrupt government. Several people who worked for the Mint had their own method of "clipping". March lists:

  1. " George August Selwyn, appointed to the important post of Surveyor of the Melting House and Clerk of Irons in 1740, at the age of 21, received 120 pounds annually plus a residence and certain valuable perks. He held the office for over fifty years and is said to have attended the Mint only to visit the officer's mess on days when they dined at the expense of the Master and Crown."
  2. Sir Walter James James, when Warden of the Mint, lived fifty miles outside London and was never seen at the Mint, though for many years he drew his salary and perks. A clerk deputized for him at a salary of 100 pounds per annum."

March listed several otherwise respectable citizens in the area who were know to "clip a golden guinea" and who did not appear to have been connected with the Hartley gang:

  1. The Reverent Edmund Robinson, "the Incumbent of the Chaple of Holmfirth near Huddersfield" from 1685 to 1688, known for his good works and generosity to the poor, clipped coins and made new money. Reverent Robinson and his son 18 year old son were caught in the act in their cellar. Mr Robinson was taken to York prison, tried, found guilty, and executed. His son took a post with the Royal Mint in London!!!!!!
  2. Daniel Auty of Dewsbury was accused of clipping and was a suspect in the theft of the "Plate from York Minster". He was arrested and accused of sacrilege. The prosecution failed and Auty was freed.
  3. Joseph Stell who suffered the "supreme penalty".

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Joseph Stell, Keighley History


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This page was created in 2004: Latest update, July 2010