Stone­henge: a cen­tury as a na­tional trea­sure

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

If the weather is kind, around 30,000 druids, neo-pa­gans, hip­pies and oth­ers are ex­pected to gather at Stone­henge next Thursday to mark the sum­mer sol­stice, the only day of the year when the ris­ing sun shines on the cen­tral al­tar.

This year also marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the stones be­ing gifted to the na­tion. Be­fore 1918, and de­spite hav­ing brooded mys­te­ri­ously on Sal­is­bury Plain for more than 4,000 years to the de­light and cu­rios­ity of many, Stone­henge formed part of the Ames­bury Abbey es­tate in Wilt­shire, owned by the An­trobus fam­ily.

De­spite be­ing in pri­vate hands, it was a big tourist at­trac­tion, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the rail­way sta­tion was opened in Sal­is­bury in 1856. “From that time on­wards, en­ter­pris­ing car­riage driv­ers would often keep the shut­ters of the car­riages closed dur­ing the jour­ney to give vis­i­tors the great re­veal,” ex­plains Su­san Gre­aney, English Her­itage’s his­to­rian.

Thanks to Vic­to­rian tourists’ pen­chant for chip­ping off parts of the stones as sou­venirs, scratch­ing their names in them and us­ing Stone­henge as a pic­nic spot, by the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury the site was suf­fer­ing. Its owner, Sir Ed­mund An­trobus, erected a fence and in­tro­duced an en­trance fee of one shilling in 1901 – a move which would spark a law­suit which went all the way to the High Court, and which he won.

By 1915, how­ever, it had be­come some­thing of a ne­glected ruin. Sir Ed­mund’s only son and heir was killed in the first months of the First World War, and he died shortly af­ter, so the de­ci­sion was made to sell the en­tire es­tate, which extended to 6,420 acres. Stone­henge was put up for auc­tion as one of 89 lots, and ad­ver­tised in Coun­try Life mag­a­zine.

When lot 15, Stone­henge and its sur­round­ing 30 acres, went un­der the ham­mer, in­ter­est was lack­lus­tre. In the end, Ce­cil Chubb, a lo­cal bar­ris­ter, bought the mon­u­ment for a mere £6,600, equal to £474,000 in cur­rent money. Even ar­riv­ing at that sum was a strug­gle. “Gentle­men,” ad­mon­ished Sir Howard Frank, the auc­tion­eer, “it is im­pos­si­ble to value Stone­henge. £6,000 is poor bid­ding.”

Ev­i­dently this moved Chubb, who had no pre­vi­ous in­ten­tion of buy­ing Stone­henge (al­legedly he’d been sent to the sale by his wife to buy some chairs). “While I was in the room,” he later ex­plained, “I thought a Sal­is­bury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done.”

It did not re­main long in Chubb’s hands. In Oc­to­ber 1918, and in a move that would earn him a knight­hood (and, with it, the lo­cal moniker “Vis­count Stone­henge”), Chubb gifted Stone­henge to the na­tion. As part of the con­di­tions, he stip­u­lated the en­trance fee should re­main one shilling (which lasted un­til the Seven­ties – stan­dard adult tick­ets are now £17.50 – and that lo­cal res­i­dents should al­ways be able to visit the stones for free, which English Her­itage hon­ours to­day.

This marked the start of a ma­jor pe­riod of restora­tion that in­cluded lift­ing some of the stones and re-set­ting them in con­crete. Restora­tion gath­ered pace be­tween 1958 and 1964 when there was a ma­jor risk of stones fall­ing on peo­ple, so they cre­ated a safer site. What we see to­day repli­cates what they looked like in 1740, the ear­li­est his­tor­i­cal record in ex­is­tence.

Through­out the 20th cen­tury, two ar­eas of con­flict have dogged the site: traf­fic and ac­cess. In 1978, it was de­cided to close off the cen­tre from or­di­nary vis­i­tors, and eight years later it was named one of the first four UNESCO World Her­itage Sites in the Bri­tish Isles – on the con­di­tion that the A344 De­vizes road, which came up so close as to al­most clip the heel stone of the cir­cle, was closed.

That took un­til 2013 to achieve and there is still the press­ing is­sue of re­solv­ing the prob­lem of the traf­fic­clogged sin­gle-lane A303. The ques­tion over ac­cess reached its zenith af­ter the Stone­henge Free Fes­ti­val, which ran from 1978 un­til 1985, was shut down. From that time un­til 1999, there was no ac­cess to the site over sol­stice.

To­day’s sol­stice-go­ers have “man­aged ac­cess” (among the banned items are pets, du­vets, bar­be­cues and drones), and the event is watched over by peace stew­ards. But there are still con­flicts: ear­lier this year King Arthur Pen­dragon, a se­nior Druid, won the right to take English Her­itage to court, as he ar­gues that the £15 park­ing fee breaches his hu­man rights.

English Her­itage has to walk a fine line of preser­va­tion and ac­cess. “The past 100 years has seen a ma­jor amount of restora­tion and re­search. We know a huge amount more about the date and means that it was con­structed,” says Ms Gre­aney. “But ar­chae­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, Stone­henge is an in­cred­i­bly clean site and so the ques­tion about why and how it was used re­mains. In many ways, the fact that it re­mains a mys­tery is what keeps vis­i­tors com­ing.” English Her­itage is mark­ing the an­niver­sary with a se­ries of monthly lec­tures. Visit english-her­itage.org.uk

An aerial view of Stone­henge, left; the ad­vert in Coun­try Life when it was up for auc­tion, below left

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