Latest News

We give here a summary of various bits of news, such as book publications, talks, radio interviews and so on. More recent things are at the top. From time to time we’ll delete some of the older stuff when it gets too unwieldy.


Crank and Stiff Ships: The Impact of Ballast on Maritime Disasters

Our most recent story for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation is on shipwrecks caused by too little ballast, too much ballast or the shifting of insecure ballast. See more details on our Lloyd’s Register page.




Ballast (and how to avoid shipwreck)

Another story for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation website is on the fascinating topic of ballast, something that was hidden away but was crucial for the stability of a ship. See more details on our Lloyd’s Register page.




‘What Harm Could One Do?’

A recent story for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation website is on the 400 years of dangers of smoking at sea, with pipes, cigarettes and matches being a significant cause of maritime fires and disasters. The story is ‘What Harm Could One Do?’ The Disastrous Result of Smoking at Sea. See more details on our Lloyd’s Register page.




Newsletter 69

Our newsletter for April 2024 is now available here. If you would like to be on the mailing list and receive a pdf version, then please go to our newsletter page.

Women, Ships and the Sea

A recent story for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation website is on customs and superstitions relating to women at sea, See the links to our various stories on our Lloyd’s Register page.






In Folklife Traditions Journal 75, pages 14 to 16, for March 2024,we have had published an article called ‘Rushes’. Several folksongs mention rushes, and we discuss how they were used as floor coverings. We also look the manufacture and use of rushlights, as well as ‘rush-bearing’, the traditional carrying of rushes to churches. See






Guano: a Perilous Cargo

One recent story for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation website is about the perilous cargo of guano. See the links to our various stories on our Lloyd’s Register page.



Thackray Medal

We were longlisted in July 2023 for the prestigious John Thackray Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History. We didn’t win, but it was good to be recognised.




When There Were Birds Paperback

The paperback of our book When There Were Birds is now available from all good boosktores. The jacket design is much the same, but with a few changes, such as the addition of review quotes and brighter colours See our website page for further details.



Kishmul’s Galley

We had a piece published in Folklife West 71 for September 2022 on ‘Kishmul’s Galley’, originally a Gaelic waulking song to accompany women fulling (waulking) the newly woven woollen cloth known as tweed. Originally written by a 17th-century poet, an English version of Kishmul’s Galley was published in 1909. It celebrated the return of a galley to Kishmul (known today as Kisimul) on the Hebridean island of Barra, once the stronghold of the MacNeill Clan. The explorer Isabella Bird visited Kisimul in 1860 and described the castle: ‘near the entrance is a dock adapted to the exact length and breadth of the McNeil galley, and defended by a strong wall from the action of the sea’. We first encountered Miss Bird when, appropriately, we were researching When There Were Birds.


When There Were Birds

Our new book is When There Were Birds. It was published in 2021 and is worth buying for the gorgeous jacket alone. It is available in hardback and as an e-book. An audiobook, narrated by the superb John Telfer, is also available. Guy de la Bédoyère, author of numerous non-fiction books and a specialist for many years on Time Team, has put a lovely review on his You Tube channel. We are really pleased with all the reviews, interviews and general feedback. Keep it coming! See our website page for further details.

**For those who care about the environment, our book provides essential information about how birds fared in the past**

Superstition at Sea

The summer 2022 edition of Quarterdeck has a feature by us, with beautiful illustrations, on superstitions at sea, mostly ones connected to birds. The topics include eggs, witches and shipwrecks, the story behind the albatross in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the rescue of some survivors from the Central America in 1857 (due to the intervention of a bird). You can download the full issue here.



A Flock of Bird Books

Here are 5 books chosen by Lesley about the history of birds. They are featured on the lovely website, and you can see the books here. This website is devoted to books and reading, Many authors have been invited to pick their selection of 5 books on a particular theme, the idea being that you are shepherded from one topic to another, or one author to another, no doubt adding many books to your wish list! You can see Roy’s choice on Jane Austen books here.

Julian Stockwin Summer Bookpick

We very much enjoy receiving book selections made by Julian Stockwin, one of the leading Age of Sail writers, whose latest novel is Thunderer. The bookpicks are always so interesting and help spread the word for many deserving publications. We are thrilled that our own book, When There Were Birds, is one of Julian’s selections in his summer bookpick. You can see the full selection here.

Mark Avery ‘page-turner’ review

We are delighted that the environmental campaigner and writer Dr Mark Avery (described as “Britain’s premier wildlife blogger”) has done a very favourable review for When There Were Birds, especially considering that he worked for the RSPB for 25 years: “Every chapter is replete with such riveting anecdotes which, for me at least, made the book a page-turner. The authors used their research skills and experience to put a different type of book together, and I am grateful to them because it is a very good read … and I recommend it.”. You can see the review in full here.

Jane Austen books

Here are 5 books chosen by Roy about Jane Austen. They are featured on the lovely website, and you can see the books here. This website is devoted to books and reading, Many authors have been invited to pick their selection of 5 books on a particular theme, the idea being that you are shepherded from one topic to another, or one author to another, no doubt adding many books to your wish list! You can see Lesley’s choice of books about the history of birds here.

BBC History Magazine

The May 2022 issue of the BBC History Magazine includes a feature by us (on pages 37 to 39) called “Feather beds, cockfights and midnight flights to the moon”, in which we describe five different themes related to birds and history. Grab a copy at your supermarket or newsagent or else look at a copy via your local library. This is Britain’s bestselling history magazine, and it is also available in the US and Canada. Take a look as well at their History Extra website.



History Extra podcast

You can hear a half-hour interview with us on the History Extra podcast, where we had an enjoyable time being quizzed by Emily Briffett about our book When There Were Birds. The podcast interview is linked to the feature we have written for the BBC History Magazine (above). These History Extra podcasts are a real treat.

When There Were Birds audiobook

The full-length audiobook of When There Were Birds is now available, narrated by the acclaimed actor John Telfer (of ‘The Archers’ fame), who has brilliantly narrated three of our other audiobooks as well: Trafalgar, Jack Tar and Gibraltar. Highly recommended!

The Twa Corbies

Folklife West 70 (for May to August 2022) is full of all sorts of live events over the summer, as well as several features, including one by us called “The Twa Corbies”, a Scottish ballad that is superficially similar to “The Three Ravens”, but is actually quite different – a murder mystery. You can subscribe to the magazine here: scroll down to WHERE TO BUY FOLKLIFE.



Gibraltar Heritage Trust

The Gibraltar Heritage Trust shop is now open until 5pm and is restocked with lovely books and gifts, and we’re thrilled that they are selling three titles of our books (Trafalgar, Jack Tar and Gibraltar). Take a look here at what they sell online as well.



Wokingham Borough Libraries

We have done several talks in the past at the wonderful Wokingham Library, but their programme has been disrupted by the pandemic. The library service has a lovely blog, and you can read a piece by us here on When There Were Birds. We look forward to normal service resuming!

BBC Countryfile Magazine

The February 2022 issue of the BBC Countryfile Magazine has a wonderful review (on page 92) of our book When There Were Birds, written by Emma J Wells, an historian, archaeologist and author who has her own website. It’s difficult to highlight a single quote, as the entire review is worth celebrating, so we suggest you go and buy a copy of the magazine! We’ll just mention one sentence, where our book is described as “a beautiful, yet original portrait of the integral role played by birds throughout history”.



The Spectator

We have a brilliant and lengthy review of When There Were Birds in The Spectator, written by the renowned writer Horatio Clare. It is the issue for 8th January 2022, pages 42 to 43 (and also online). He starts with the words: “Unusually for a book about nature, the species in question in this lucid story of the relationship between birds and humans, is ours”, summing up exactly what we wanted to convey




The latest issue of Quarterdeck is for winter 2021-2, and on pages 16 to 19 we have a feature called ‘Birds Over the Seas’. The entire issue can be downloaded here free-of-charge, courtesy of McBooks, a must-have for anyone interested in maritime fiction and the sea generally. Back numbers are also available.



Flying High

Here’s our book in one branch of Waterstones. Having the surname Adkins means that we’re always on the top shelf, out of reach for most of us. This branch in Exeter kindly moved them to a table and got us to sign them as well. Much better!




Jack Tar in Best ‘Age of Sail’ books

Julian Stockwin is well known for his popular Age of Sail Kydd novels, which have now reached 20 in number (congratulations! the latest is Thunderer) and still going strong. We are very pleased to see that Jack Tar was chosen as one of his five best Age of Sail books, which you can see on the ‘’ book website here (while details of the Kydd books can be found here).


Church Times

We have another lovely review, 26th November, this time by Richard Greatrex in the Church Times, who ends with the words: “With its wide-ranging, informative text, extensive notes, and commendably comprehensive index, When There Were Birds makes its own vital contribution to our perception of our relationship with creation, providing further stimulus for us to achieve an environmental renaissance.”

Devon Life

The January 2022 issue of the glossy magazine Devon Life has an attractive two-page book review section, including When There Were Birds. We met the books editor, Annette Shaw, a few weeks ago to chat about our book, and she kindly starts her review: “I’ve had some remarkable coffee meetings talking about books, but this one stands out as awesome”. Thank you! We enjoyed it as well, a reminder of what we have been missing with so many book talks having been cancelled.


Gibraltar Heritage Journal

We have a small article that has just been published in Gibraltar Heritage Journal 27 (2021), on pages 114-15, on a previously unknown photograph of John Jones, who is buried at the North Front Cemetery, a victim of the sinking of HMS Britannia in Word War One.




Daily Mail Book of the Week

We were delighted that When There Were Birds was Book of the Week in the Daily Mail, with a lengthy review by Christopher Hart, who said that it was “a marvellously original slice of social history, a portrait of our ever-conflicted relationship with the natural world which we so abuse and which we cannot live without; a book beautifully balanced between wonder and warning”.


Sunday Times review

Roland White in the Sunday Times did a very long review (a whole page!) of When There Were Birds (in the Culture section), saying that “The facts and folklore of birdlife, and man’s equivocal relationship with birds, are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome new book.”.


Stephen Moss 2021 Round-Up

We are pleased to be included in Stephen Moss’s 2021 Round-up of Nature books, which is posted on Mark Avery’s website. You can read it here.

Jack Tar audiobook

Really good news, as our book Jack Tar is now available as an audiobook, published by Hachette Audio and beautifully narrated by John Telfer.You can obtain it both in the UK and in the United States, through the normal audiobook sources. The ISBN is 9781405550253




Trafalgar audiobook in the US

More good news for the audiobook of Trafalgar narrated by John Telfer, as it is now available in the United States, published there by Tantor under the title Nelson’s Trafalgar, which matches the title of the book there. You can obtain it through the normal audiobook sources, including Audible on Amazon here. You can find more details on Tantor’s own website here.




Gibraltar blog

Sam Benady on Gibraltar runs a wonderful website (The Keys of the City blog), and he has featured books on the Great Siege, including our own book. Take a look here. In other posts, he ranges far and wide, from a piece on Cookery Books and Ophthamology (there is a connection!), to a whole series of pieces on epidemics and a beautiful (true) tale called ‘Sarita Wants to see the World’ (dated May 23rd). Take a look: each window reveals a fascinating story.

A lovely piece has just been added about our book Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, along with a discussion of his and Mary Chiappe’s detective novels of that era, thoughts on Jane Austen and a mention of When There Were Birds. Take a look here.

Trafalgar audiobook

Excellent news for all you audiobook listeners (or would-be listeners) – Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle has been released for the first time as an audiobook (on 22nd October 2020), to coincide with the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (and death of Nelson) that took place on 21st October 1805. We are delighted that the narrator for Trafalgar is John Telfer, who did such a brilliant recording for Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History. He is an acclaimed actor, and will be known especially to fans of The Archers in his role as Alan Franks, vicar of St Stephen’s church. The audiobook is of the full-length book, not abridged, about 13 hours in length, and is available to download via all the normal channels. The ASIN is B08HJ874FT. You can see details here. It will also be released in the United States by Tantor, though we’re not sure if they will change the title to Nelson’s Trafalgar, which is the book’s title there.



Sinking of the Royal George

Our article ‘Royal George: The Sinking of the Royal Navy’s Greatest Warship’ was published in the summer 2020 issue of the online magazine Quarterdeck. This was the disastrous accidental sinking of the Royal George warship at Spithead, off Portsmouth, in August 1782. As well as the loss of over 900 lives, it was also the loss of the flagship that was about to lead a relief convoy to the besieged Rock of Gibraltar. The delay caused by the sinking and its aftermath almost led to Gibraltar being captured by the French and Spanish, but the garrison of the Rock held out. It was an important incident for British, American and Gibraltarian history, which we feature in our latest book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History. The editor of Quarterdeck, George Jepson, found some beautiful images to accompany our article, which can be found on pages 18–22 of Quarterdeck, which can be downloaded as a free PDF here.

Saucy Sailor

We had an article called ‘The Saucy Sailor’published in Folklife West for May 2020. It is a song that is known from ballad sheets sold by Victorian street ballad performers. It probably dates from much earlier, possibly the late 18th century, but once it was adopted by Sabine Baring Gould in the late 19th century, it became a popular item in local concerts and was used in radio broadcasts to schools.Because of the current pandemic, the May edition of Folklife West appeared as an online rather than print magazine, and our article can be downloaded as a PDF here.

An Introduction to the Romans

We wrote this book ages ago, and it has appeared in many different formats as well as foreign editions. We came across a 2007 paperback in a charity shop the other day, an edition we never knew about, so couldn’t resist buying it as it has a different jacket design. We used to earn a decent amount of Public Lending Right money for this book from library loans, as it was very popular. That wouldn’t happen nowadays, as the amount of books that libraries buy has plummeted, while many branches have closed. PLR is pointless when libraries are in such a bad way after all the austerity cuts, something that should never have been allowed to happen.


Gibraltar Heritage Journal anniversary

The Gibraltar Heritage Trust has been publishing the Gibraltar Heritage Journal for 25 years. The Trust itself was formed a few years before the journal was launched. Each journal contains a range of articles connected with Gibraltar, and many have a social history theme. We have an article in the latest volume, called “The British Salamanders”, on a contemporary ballad relating to the Great Siege of Gibraltar. This year, 2019, has been the 240th anniversary of the start of the Great Siege.


Our newsletters are back

A while ago we suspended our occasional newsletters owing to the new General Data Protection Regulation. We have since resumed the newsletters, so if you would like to subscribe (they are free), then please sign up on our Newsletter page. All past newsletters (60+) are listed here as well. Email subscribers get the chance (now and again) to enter a competition.Our latest newsletter is for April 2023.



Boz in Oz

The annual journal for 2019 (vol. 15) of the New South Wales Dickens Society, Boz in Oz, has a piece by us on ‘Mile End Cottage, Alphington’. This is about the cottage Charles Dickens rented for his parents in what was then a rural spot near Exeter. We have included a shortened piece of that article in our December 2019 newsletter.




Jane Austen in Chinese

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England has been translated into simplified Chinese and was published in 2019 by the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, ISBN 9787532162055.




The Week’s ‘Best books’

The Week is (unsurprisingly) a weekly magazine that describes itself as ‘the best of the British and international media’. It is actually much more than that and has become a ‘must-read’ publication. Issue 1236 (for 20th July 2019) has a striking sci-fi cover design by McBill, and on the page called ‘The List’, the ‘Best Books’ section is by Roy, on books connected to Gibraltar to coincide with the 240th anniversary of the start of the Great Siege. In case you’re wondering, they are: Brothers at Arms by Larrie D. Ferreiro, The Royal Navy at Gibraltar by Tito Benady, Mary Celeste: The Greatest Mystery of the Sea by Paul Begg, Deadly Visitations in Dark Time: A Social History of Gibraltar by L.A. Sawchuk, Defending the Rock: How Gibraltar Defeated Hitler by Nicholas Rankin and, finally, a detective novel set in the time of the Great Siege: Fall of a Sparrow by Sam Benady and Mary Chiappe.

Friends of Gibraltar talk

On 1st April 2019, we launched the paperback of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History at Gibraltar House in London, a perfect venue where we gave a talk to the Friends of Gibraltar. This year, 2019, is the 240th anniversary of the start of the Great Siege. The talk was really well attended, and it was very pleasing to see many new faces, as well as a handful of familiar ones from Gibraltar itself. Tim Lawson-Cruttenden was a brilliant host for the evening, and we greatly enjoyed his company and that of his wife Lorna. It was therefore a complete shock to hear that he died in Gibraltar just before Easter, and our heartfelt sympathy is extended to his family.


Gibraltar reviews

We are increasingly told that paperback books receive very little attention these days, as newspapers and magazines hardly bother with them, which is a shame, considering that most bookbuyers prefer to have a paperback! We are therefore fortunate in having picked up a few reviews, including one under ‘Must Read paperbacks’ in the Daily Mail, which you can read here. Please see our Gibraltar page for review excerpts.

American Revolution paperback

The paperback of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History was published in the United States by Penguin in March 2019. It is available in all good bookshops and online, and the ISBN is 9780735221642. The book is also available as a hardback, paperback, audiobook and e-book. See our Gibraltar page for further details.

A lovely review in Military History magazine starts:   “It may surprise students of American history to learn that one of the most strategically important campaigns of the Revolutionary War was conducted on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean—in fact, in the Mediterranean Sea. British authors and archaeologists Roy and Lesley Adkins relate the story of that extraordinary campaign in their book.”


Gibraltar Heritage Journal

Towards the end of 2018, Gibraltar Heritage Journal 24 was published. In it was an article we had written called ‘The Centenary of the Sinking of HMS Britannia‘ (pages 133 to 136). The focus was on John Jones, who was from Irlam in Lancashire and became a stoker on board HMS Britannia, which was sunk on 9th November 1918 by the German submarine UB-50 just off Cape Trafalgar. John Jones was rescued but died on Gibraltar on 11th November 1918, Armistice Day.

Also in the same journal is a review by Sam Benady of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, in which he says that ‘the book is difficult to put down. It reads like a thriller … This is a book which you will read and read again’. This is generous praise, as the reviewer is co-author (with Mary Chiappe) of the Bresciano murder mysteries’, set in 18th- and 19th-century Gibraltar, Morocco and Spain.


Selling Wives

In Folklife West 60 (January 2019), we had published an article called ‘Selling Wives’, which was once an informal method of divorce. You can read more about the topic in our book Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England. Folklife West 61 (May 2019) featured our article ‘The Sailor’s Dream’, a ballad about the Franklin expedition, Other Folklife West articles can be seen on our Articles and features website page.



Who Do You Think You Are?

BBC 1 recently aired the first of a new series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which the ancestors of various celebrities are traced. This episode featured the actress Michelle Keegan, and we did some of the initial research, because one side of the family came from Gibraltar and can be traced back to Genoa in Italy. In our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, we talk about the Genoese who lived on Gibraltar, many of whom were fishermen or market gardeners. We were thrilled to see Richard Garcia explaining her ancestors to Michelle Keegan inside the lovely Garrison Library at Gibraltar. Richard very expertly chaired our talk at the 2017 Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival, in the very same venue. Jennifer Ballantine, its wonderful librarian, also took Michelle to places where the family had once lived, in what proved to be a fascinating programme.

Our Blog

Now and again we put features on our blog. The latest ones are: Bridge over the River Lune (on Lancaster’s canal aqueduct); Oranges and Treasure (on Captain Philemon Pownoll and Sharpham House); London’s Great Beer Flood (of October 1814); Reading Matters (a summary of our ‘readable’ books); Henry Ince and Soldier-Artificers (on the very first tunnel created at Gibraltar); The Prudential and the Rock (why an American insurance company uses a symbol and slogan related to Gibraltar); Early Flight (on ballooning); The Gibraltar Stone (a piece of Gibraltar rock on Woodbury Common, commemorating the marines), and the Gibraltar Literary Festival.

Gibraltar Audiobook Award

The acclaimed actor John Telfer brilliantly narrates an unabridged downloadable audiobook of Gibraltar produced by Hachette Audio (UK) and Penguin Audio (US). The AudioFile Magazine has just awarded it an AudioFile Earphones Award, and their reviewer said: “John Telfer’s masterful reading of Roy and Lesley Adkins’s history of the 1779-83 Spanish siege of British-held Gibraltar is a model of audiobook technique … The effect is singular, and the story he tells is itself amazing, filled with action and human drama, a tale of genuine consequence … Telfer’s expert reading captures the heat and uncertainty of unfolding events, and leaves listeners with something to think about.”

Gibraltar in America

Our latest book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, was published in hardback in the United States and Canada in March 2018, and it is also available there as an e-book and audiobook. There have already been some great reviews, including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times. It was published in paperback in March 2019 to coincide with the 240th anniversary of the start of the Great Siege. See our Gibraltar page for more details and see The Prudential and the Rock for surprising links between America and Gibraltar.


Military History Monthly

Our article ‘Gibraltar 1782’ was published in Military History Monthly 91 for April 2018, a splendidly designed seven-page article on the floating battery attack during the Great Siege. You can find details of this magazine and how to subscribe here.



Daily Mail Double-Page Feature

October 2017:  We were thrilled to have had a double-page digest feature on our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History in the Daily Mail. It appeared on Friday 13th October (2017), and we wonder if the date was chosen because the huge floating battery attack on Gibraltar in 1782 also took place on a Friday 13th (which turned out to be unlucky for one side!). You can see the Daily Mail piece online here, which attracted a lot of comments.

Eavesdropping in paperback

The year 2017 was the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. It was also the 200th anniversary of her posthumously published novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Our book Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England was published in paperback in the UK by Abacus, giving the background to the way of life at the time, enabling readers to better understand the Austen novels. The Daily Mail described the paperback as a ‘must for anyone who wants a peek under Mr Darcy’s wet shirt’! The paperback is also available in the US and Canada, as Jane Austen’s England, where it published by Penguin, with an equally gorgeous jacket.

Jane Austen’s Naval Novels

Persuasion (published in 1817) and Mansfield Park are considered to be Jane Austen’s ‘naval novels’. For an insight into her connection with the Royal Navy, check out a guest blog we did a while ago on Julian Stockwin’s website called ‘Why Jane Austen Loves a Sailor’.

Reasons for not living in Jane Austen’s England!

We have a slideshow here in the Huffington Post, giving 13 reasons why you would NOT want to live in Jane Austens England … it’s safest to read books about the era instead!

Chinese Greek and Roman

Our books The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome and The Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece are now published in Chinese in hardcover by The Commercial Press in Beijing (ISBN 978-7-100-11480-6 and 978-7-100-12037-1). Their website can be viewed here.