Alex Harvey publishes book on the Isle of Axholme

News | Posted on Tuesday 21 November 2023

The former BA Historical Archaeology and MA Medieval Archaeology student has published a book on the history and archaeology of the Isle of Axholme in northwestern Lincolnshire.

Today, the Isle of Axholme is a small corner of north Lincolnshire sandwiched between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, but long ago before industrial drainage, it was an island. Jutting out of the Humber Wash was a series of grassy knolls; farming communities linked by fishing, agropastoralism and trade.

Very little research had been done on the history of the Isle prior to 1066 AD, yet Alex argues that the results of an investigation are not only interesting for local history but also the history of early Medieval England overall. Three Northumbrian monarchs were defeated in and around the Isle in the seventh century, it was the staging point for the Great Heathen Army which ravaged King Alfred's Wessex, and it was the economic hinterland for the wealthiest Anglo-Saxon rural settlement ever discovered (Flixborough).

Alex describes the fascinating history of the Isle of Axholme, and how it connects to the wider 'Dark Ages', through a combination of toponymy (the study of place names), history and documentary sources, and through the meat-and-gravy: archaeology.

Alex has always enjoyed writing and he found himself missing "the joy of academic research" after taking up his current role in the museum sector. Thinking back to his studies, he recalls particularly enjoying writing his undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations, "huge bodies of work that required months of careful research, planning, and thought."

He especially wants to thank Professor Dawn Hadley and Dr Steve Ashby for giving him the skills to conduct large pieces of research and for enhancing his love for the relevant time-period. His undergraduate dissertation focused on Viking armies in Frisia (the Netherlands) and he notes that "Frisia features extensively in this book, so that's where it all began, I suppose!" Taken together, the knowledge and skills along with the fondness for writing and research laid the foundation for the book, and he remembers when he decided to write it:

"There was one particular moment when I was driving back to York after visiting the Isle of Axholme and I was lamenting the fact I didn't do much in my spare time outside of my usual hobbies. My fiancée Dettori said: 2Why don't you just write a history book or something' - and here we are."

The Isle of Axholme isn't the most interesting place in the world now, but the past 1,000 years have inspired many local researchers to write their own history books. However, nobody had ever dared to venture beyond 1066 into the Early Medieval period. I saw a research gap, and filled it in.

Initial responses to the book have been really encouraging. Here in the department, one of our members of staff is from the area and is really excited to find out more about its history. Alex says:

"Fellow academics and authors, like York alumni Max Adams, have praised the fact I've even attempted to bring the Early Medieval Isle of Axholme to life. Local farmers, business owners, friends, family members, distant cousins, altruists etc; many people from the Isle have expressed their support for another history book about their heritage, especially one that taps into a previously uncornered 'market,' so to speak.

"Another Isle historian, Bob Fish, has been a huge help throughout the writing process and his support, along with the support of my publisher Jane Moffett and sponsor Dan Edwards of D&K Accounting, has been unparalleled. I'm doing a launch event at a local café (which I believe I even mention in the book: Belton Coffee House) on Saturday 25 November between 10am and 12 noon, and on Tuesday 12 December I have been asked to lecture at North Lincolnshire Museum for their Fearsome Craftsmen Viking Age exhibition.

"I've spoken to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society about this research so far and a few of their members seemed especially interested - I was even blessed to have Peter Addyman, the founder of York Archaeology, in the audience (thank you for your difficult questions, Peter). Moving into 2024, I know I am due at the Danum Gallery and Museum in Doncaster for a similar talk. All in all, the response from the South Yorkshire/North Lincolnshire area has been massive, and I really hope the shops and museums that stock it come back for more!"

On thinking about the future, Alex is currently working on a peer reviewed academic paper about some of the research contained in the book. He says that his primary motivation was to share academic knowledge in an accessible format for anyone who "wouldn’t normally read this kind of thing," but that he also enjoys academic writing and is keen to do both.

He has also been working on another book with Amberley Publishing on the Viking Age titled Forgotten Vikings, and is already plotting future projects and he would live to start a project on the Yorkshire Dales in the Early Medieval period. Stay tuned for more!

Riddles of the Isle by Alex Harvey is for sale via JJ Moffs Independent Book Publisher as well as other major online outlets.