Axholme - A History

If you love exploring Britain’s lesser-known places, then you might have heard of the Isle of Axholme. A relatively unknown area in South Yorkshire, it is a place of natural splendour. The River Don runs through the valley and there are numerous ancient woods, mills and churches to discover when venturing around this unique area. If you begin to delve into the history of this beautiful place, however, you will soon find that its story is much more intriguing than first appears. Once home to a pagan cult, which many believe was a group of witches, this little-known corner of England also has connections with some other intriguing characters from history. This blog explores the history, mystery and mythology associated with Axholme and its inhabitants…

The Isle of Axholme: A Unique Part of the UK

The Isle of Axholme is an area of land surrounded by water and is located in the Don Floodplain. It is one of the largest pieces of naturally occurring flood plain in the UK, and is separated from the rest of South Yorkshire by the River Don. The area is rich in biodiversity and is home to many species of plants and animals, some of which are only found in this area. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The River Don also flows through the Trent and Mersey Canal, which passes through the Isle of Axholme before meeting the River Trent, which travels through the city of Kingston upon Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The Origin of the Name Axholme

The word ‘Ax’, or ‘Axe’, can be traced back to the Old Norse word ‘Eik’, which means ‘Oak’. Alternatively, it may also be a reference to the watery environment, as the word ‘Ax’ means ‘To wash against’. The word ‘Holme’ is associated with the Old English word ‘halm’, which means ‘sedge’ or ‘reeds’. So, put together, Axholme means ‘island of oaks and reeds’ – an apt name for this fascinating area.

Who Were the Witches of Axholme?

The Isle of Axholme is most famous for being home to the ‘Witches of Axholme’, a group of suspected witches who lived in the area during the 16th century. The word ‘witch’, and its various meanings, has been present throughout human history.

Historically, witches were individuals who practised magic that was not consistent with the religious beliefs of the time. They were persecuted, as magic was seen as a threat to religious authorities, who were actively trying to consolidate their power at the time. In 1564, the Witchcraft Act was passed in England, making witchcraft a punishable offence. There are a number of factors that indicate that the ‘witches of Axholme’ were probably not what we would think of as ‘witches’ today.

The Isle of Axholme in Mythology

As Axholme is an area rich in mythology and folklore, it is perhaps appropriate that it is mentioned in the ‘Fall of Troy’, a story from Ancient Greece. In Homer’s Iliad, Odysseus is described as sailing past the ‘Walls of Blinding’ before stopping off at the ‘Huts of the Calm’. Although many believe that this describes the Mediterranean Sea, it has also been suggested that it may be referring to England and the Humber, with Axholme described as the ‘Huts of the Calm’. These references to Axholme in Greek mythology only add to the already rich and intriguing history of this beautiful part of the British Isles.

John Schorne: The Headless Horseman of Axholme

John Schorne was an archer who lived and worked in the area between the 15th and 17th centuries. He was also thought to be a witch and is said to have been beheaded on the island in 1487. Schorne’s house was located in what is now known as ‘Wyndham Park’, a small park and nature reserve in the village of Great Wyndham, which lies within the boundary of the Isle of Axholme. Schorne is said to have been a witch, who used his powers to harm the people of the area. His house was said to have had a large, black mark on one wall, which was said to be a curse that caused cattle to sicken and die.

Queen Elizabeth’s Visit to Axholme

Queen Elizabeth I visited Axholme in 1564 to see the witches for herself. While there, she is said to have stayed at the house of Richard Beale, a man who had been accused of witchcraft in the area. Beale was the vicar of Epworth, a small village in the south of the Isle. Sadly, many of the villagers at Epworth were accused of witchcraft in a case that has come to be known as the ‘Epworth Witchcraft’. A total of 16 villagers were accused of practicing witchcraft and condemned to death, although only two were actually executed. Although these villagers were ultimately pardoned by Elizabeth on the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, they were all still imprisoned for a lengthy period before they were eventually released.

Ruins of an Ancient Temple?

There are a number of mysterious megalithic structures located throughout the Isle of Axholme. These include a large monument, with a diameter of 10 metres, which was built in 1930. There are also several structures that may have been the remains of an ancient temple. These appear to be large standing stones that are arranged in a circle. When visiting the Isle of Axholme, you can also see a ‘Celtic Cross’, which was erected in 1877 to commemorate the witch trials that were held in the area centuries earlier. There are numerous places of interest to visit in the area and it is an area rich in history, mystery and mythology. If you are looking for an intriguing and unique place to visit in the UK, then the Isle of Axholme is a fascinating place to start your journey.


The Isle of Axholme has been a fascinating place since prehistoric times, with myths and legends dating back thousands of years. The witches of the 16th century are perhaps the most famous of the people to have lived in the area, but there is also a mysterious presence of ancient structures that may have been an ancient temple. The Isle of Axholme is a truly fascinating place with a rich and intriguing history that anyone interested in exploring the UK’s lesser-known areas will love to discover.