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An archeology of the air
Marisa Libbon
19 April 2023
published in Issue Three

Sometime in the 1330s, the English poet Robert Manning dug through his books for evidence of a story he’d often heard. The story was about a Danish king named Havelok and his wife, Goldeburgh. Havelok conquered England; Goldeburgh was the daughter of England’s previous king, Ætholwold. Manning was writing a poem tens of thousands of lines long about England’s history, and he was determined to find a written source for what he’d heard. Yet it seemed that no one had written it down anywhere. Finding no word of Havelok’s exploits in either of his main chronicle sources, nor in any other texts, Manning went back to the « books » (his word) of some of the « greats » (my word) of history-writing in medieval Britain. What he found was « þat no compiloure of him tellis ouht » — or, roughly translated: nothing.

At this archival absence, Manning was perhaps disappointed, and rightly dubious, because relics of the story were all around him. He had heard of a stone at Lincoln Castle that Havelok cast further than any other man. He’d heard that the chapel where Havelok and Goldeburgh were wed still stood, and that in their time (though Manning wasn’t certain precisely when that was) a fisherman named Gryme (Grim) founded « Grimesby », now Grimsby, the port town on the North Sea in North East Lincolnshire. With countless versions of the tale circulating in the air and multiple landmarks dotting the ground, the story of Havelok and Grim was too diffuse for Manning to capture, but too ubiquitous for him to ignore.

The fortunes of Grimsby have risen and fallen with the North Sea. In the ninth century, waves of Viking raiders and explorers found that northeastern England’s coastal and inland waters yielded to their longships. By the thirteenth century, Grimsby was a village with a royal charter and a trading port taking in goods from Scandinavia and the Continent, sending out English wool, and docking ships in its haven. But the haven silted up in the sixteenth century, and only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did things get moving again with the coming of the railway and the dredging of the port. Grimsby’s fortunes today are driven by the wind that once drove its ships. About 120 kilometers east of Grimsby in the North Sea sits Hornsea One, the world’s largest offshore wind farm at the time of its completion in 2020. That title has since been claimed by the nearby Hornsea Two, and soon, by Hornsea Three. Together, Hornsea One and Two stable a newfangled flock: 339 windmills crossed with pinwheels crossed with giants. The technical term is « turbines ». They are spindly, sleek, and stark white, save the bright red rivets that dot their blades…

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After prolonged negotiations, Iceland and Britain failed to come to terms over fishing rights by 1 September 1958, the day Iceland’s prohibition on international fishing within twelve miles of its coast went into effect. That morning, several trawlers out of England’s northeastern ports fished in the North Sea near, and sometimes over, the new territorial line, accompanied by several British naval ships. The scene was completed by multiple Icelandic gunboats, whose crews issued warnings to the trawlers. On 2 September, crew members from one of the gunboats boarded and stopped the Grimsby trawler Northern Foam before HMS Eastbourne intervened. When another Icelandic gunboat moved to detain and board a second Grimsby trawler, its crew and skipper — one Bernard « Bunny » Newton, aka « The Beast » — repelled the attempt. What would come to be known as the « Cod Wars » had begun.