Stonehenge in England is one of the world’s biggest archeological puzzles today. Its construction and purpose are topics of intensive debate, but nobody has proved anything concrete as to why it is there or what it meant to ancient peoples. Who knows why civilizations felt the need to construct these circular rings of stone. However, based on the amount of effort it took to construct over more than a thousand years, this place held great significance. (Source: Historic mysteries, Image: Goodfreephotos.com. Public domain)
Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument. It was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, built about 5,000 years ago, and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. In the early Bronze Age many burial mounds were built nearby. Today, along with Avebury, it forms the heart of a World Heritage Site, with a unique concentration of prehistoric monuments. (English Heritage)
Stonehenge original appearance (Credit: salisburymuseum.org.uk)
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. It is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.
Archaeologists believe it was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggested that the first stones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, whilst another theory suggests that bluestones may have been raised at the site as early as 3000 BC.
The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned bythe Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust. (heritagedaily.com)
Several of the stones have been broken up and been used in the houses of the village, until the importance of the monument was recognised and this practice stopped.
WHY WAS STONEHENGE BUILT AND WHAT ITS PURPOSE?
No-one is exactly sure why – or how – Stonehenge was built.
Experts have suggested it was a temple, parliament and a graveyard.
Some people think the stones have healing powers, while others think they have musical properties when struck with a stone.
They could have acted as a giant musical instrument to call ancient people to the monument.
What is clear, is that the stones were aligned with phases of the sun.
People were buried there and skeletal evidence shows that people travelled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge – for whatever reason.
Now, experts think that the route was a busy one and that Stonehenge could be viewed differently from different positions. (Daily Mail)
Brief History of Stonehenge
There is evidence of human activity around Stonehenge in around 7,000BC
Earth started to be moved for the moment in approximately 3,100BC, but it wasn’t until 1,300 BC that the stones were dragged into place.
It’s thought they came from north Wiltshire, but no-one is exactly sure how they were moved, with the largest chunk of rock weighing around 50 tonnes.
The stones were arranged in the circular shape in 1,500 BC.
No-one is sure of their significance, with theories ranging from a royal burial ground and temple to an observatory or simply a meeting place.
Stonehenge has been privately owned since it was confiscated from a nearby abbey during Henry VIII’s reign.
Cecil Chubb was its last private owner, gifting the monument to the nation on 26 October 1918. (dailymail.co.uk)
One major feature of the Stonehenge site are the rings. And there are more than one ring. The circle of stones near the center are called trilithons. Outside the trilithons are a circular series of bluestones that were erected between 2400-2200 BC. Scholars have now decided that the blue stones originated in the Preseli Mountains in Wales. Somehow they were transported 150 miles to the Salisbury Plain (about 90 miles west of London) where the henge now stands. Each stone weighed several tons, and there were approximately 60 stones in the circle. A prevalent theory is that the bluestones were transported by ship and over land by several hundreds of men. Many bluestones are gone now, and it isn’t known for certain where the missing ones are located.
The outer ring is much more famous and the focus of numerous studies and the subject of thousands of photographs. These are divided into two groups: the vertical stones, known as sarsen, and horizontal stones called lintel stones, which were placed atop the sarsen. Each sarsen stone weighs around 40 tons and there are currently 17 sarsen still standing in the circle.(Historic Mysteries)
Stonehenge Aerial 1928 showing rings and carved circular ditch surrounding the site. (Credit: Megalitic Portal nd Megalith Map)
WADING THROUGH STONEHENGE THEORIES
Some academics have claimed that the site of the henge was originally an earth monument carved out of the ground with animal bones as tools. It was several thousands of years later that the first stones were placed in those grooves and patterns.
While there are only a few theories of how the henge was constructed, there are various suggestions and outright misinterpretations of who built the structure that spanned many generations of workers.
ON THE FRINGES OF BELIEF
Most people with only a passing amount of information may be familiar with the theory of the stones being placed by the supernatural powers of ancient druids. Writers of the first century BCE, including Julius Caesar, made this claim. But, in fact, Stonehenge had stood at least 2,000 years before druids lived in the area. Indeed, digs that unearthed flint and bone and pottery indicate that the area was inhabited by ancient peoples long before the giant stones were brought there.
A mid-14th-century manuscript illustration showing the wizard Merlin building Stonehenge. This idea, explained by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ in 1136, was widely accepted until as late as the 16th century © British Library Board (Egerton MS 3028 fol 30) (Credit: English Heritage)
Another educated guess concludes that a group now called the Beaker Folk (because they used pottery for many household containers) may have built the structure.
And the Arthurian legends proclaim that the wizard Merlin put the henge together in the 5th century CE, from stones in Ireland in recognition of the soldiers who had fallen in battle. He was able to lift the heavy stones because he had transformed himself into being more than twenty feet tall.
Whoever made Stonehenge did a remarkable job. Over the years stones have fallen and broken (known tumblings of upright stones occurred in 1797, 1900 and 1963), but the remains give a clear picture of how it would have looked when it was newly completed.
No date for this postcard – however, the stones appear to be rather more higgledy-piggledy than they are now so perhaps some restoration work was carried out at some stage. (oldstratforduponavon.com)
Another large question remains: what was it used for? Theories have come out postulating that it was an astronomical tool, a calendar, or a holy place for sacred worship. Other guesses include the stones being used as a musical instrument or a way to communicate with distant peoples.
O’Connell, Professor of Astronomy at University of Virginia has this to say about Stonehenge:
Solsticial Alignments: A line from the monument center to the “Heelstone”, which lies on the centerline of the Avenue, points to sunrise at the summer solstice (the northernmost sunrise of the year and the longest day of the year). The reverse points to sunset at the winter solstice. The Heelstone is a large, isolated stone lying outside the circular structures between two parallel banks.
Another natural idea would be that Stonehenge and the surrounding area was used as some form of cemetery. Relics and burial mounds from long-buried people have been found in the ground surrounding the henge. However, there is no evidence of the area being used as a burial place for more than a few people. There was certainly mass grave there.
And Stonehenge is not alone. Sites that once contained bluestones and wooden posts have come to light, as has a chalk circle carved in neighboring farmland, two miles away from Stonehenge. In 2015, a group of diggers discovered a buried series of standing stones formed into the shape of a “C” and facing the River Avon. The purposes of all these monuments is similarly unknown, although some feel that the site facing the Avon could have been some kind of public arena. (Historic Mysteries)
STONEHENGE: A MONUMENTAL AUCTION
A copy of the original auction catalogue from 1915, in front of the historic stone circle © Sam Frost / English Heritage
Stonehenge had been owned by the Antrobus family since the early 1800s but after the heir to the baronetcy was killed in action in the opening months of the First World War and Sir Edmund died shortly after, the whole Antrobus estate, including Stonehenge, was divided up into lots and put up for auction. The stage was set for a monumental auction.
According to reports in the local Salisbury and Winchester Journal (now the Salisbury Journal) the Palace Theatre on 21 September 2015 was “filled with an interested audience, intending purchasers and spectators”.
Interest increased when lot 15 was announced. The particulars of sale were given in the auction catalogue with a description of the monument written by the Royal Archaeological Institute.
The Winchester and Salisbury Journal reported that “any doubts as to its future safety were set at rest by a reminder that Stonehenge has been scheduled under the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913. While a note to the particulars set forth the condition that the purchaser of the lot would be required to erect to the satisfaction of the vendor’s solicitors and maintain a fence on the western boundary of the lot so far as no fence exists at present.”
“Surely someone will bid me £5000 to start with” urged the auctioneer, Sir Howard Frank. A hand from a gentleman in the stalls was held up, and in calm, business like tones it was announced that the first £5000 bid had been received.
Bidding increased by £100 increments from £6,000 until the figure of £6,500 was reached by local man Isaac Crook, whose grandson Richard still farms the fields around Stonehenge today. Another bid was received. “The hammer remained aloft for an instant; there was no further offer and it descended with a sharp rap.” Stonehenge had been sold for £6,600 to Mr. Cecil Chubb.
Chubb remarked to a local reporter that he had not intended to acquire the ancient stones “but while I was in the room, I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done.” Asked if he had any plans for the stones, Chubb replied that he had not yet had time to think about it but wanted to assure the public that every means of “protecting Stonehenge…would be taken.” (English Heritage)
Cecil Chubb bought Stonehenge for £6,600 at auction as present for his wife 100 years ago | Daily Mail Online
- Sailsbury resident and barrister Cecil Chubb snapped up Stonehenge at auction in 1915.
- He paid £6,600 – worth around £600,000 today – for the iconic monument
- His wife hand sent him to buy dining chairs but he bought Stonehenge for her, although he may have wanted to keep the monument in British hands
- Chubb gifted it to the nation 16 days before the end of World War One (dailymail.co.uk)
WHO WAS CECIL CHUBB?
Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb came from Shrewton, a village to the west of Stonehenge. From humble origins he gained a place at Christ’s College Cambridge where he was awarded a double first in Science and Law. He married well and by 1911 was living with his wife, two children and eight servants at Bemerton Lodge, Salisbury where his occupation was given as barrister and owner of a Lunatic Asylum.( english-heritage.org.com)
One hundred years ago, Wiltshire-born Cecil Chubb walked into an auction house in Salisbury and walked out as the new owner of Stonehenge. His impulse buy marked a turning point, not just in the ownership of the ancient stones but in the story of how Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape has been cared for and preserved over the last century. (Source: english heritage.org.uk .. Image: Stonehenge News and Information)
Image: English Heritage
Salisbury resident and barrister Cecil Chubb snapped up the then-neglected ruin of Stonehenge 100 years ago today, for the sum of £6,600, only to gift it to the nation three years later.
Legend has it he purchase the monument as a spontaneous gift for his wife Mary, but she was less than enamoured with the jumbled collection of stones. (dailymail.co.uk)
Image: JIST.NEWS .. Sir Chubb and wife, Mary
When the wife of an English barrister sent her husband to buy a set of dining room chairs, she was understandably surprised when he returned as the owner of Britain’s most iconic monument. (dailymail.co.uk)
How Mrs Chubb reacted when her husband returned not with dining chairs but with the deeds for a world-famous ancient monument is not recorded. But Stonehenge was apparently intended as a gift for Mrs Chubb; certainly both of their names appear on all subsequent documentation relating to the site. (english heritage.org.uk)
Stonehenge had been in private ownership since the 12th century, and Cecil Chubb was to be the monument’s last private owner. Three years after purchasing Stonehenge at auction, Chubb donated it to the nation, writing:
“Stonehenge is perhaps the best known and the most interesting of our national monuments and has always appealed strongly to the British imagination. To me, who was born close to it and during my boyhood and youth visited it at all hours of the day and night, under every conceivable condition of weather – in driving tempests of hail, rain and snow, fierce thunderstorms, glorious moonlight and beautiful sunshine, it always has had an inexpressible charm. I became the owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure…[but] it has…been pressed upon me that the nation would like to have it for its own.”
A special handing-over ceremony took place in October 1918 and Chubb received a knighthood, gaining the local nickname ‘Viscount Stonehenge’. Chubb’s coat of arms featured a trilithon representing Stonehenge.
Sir Cecil lived at Bemerton Lodge, where Bertie, the future King George VI, was a regular guest. He liked the estate because it was small, secluded and away from London. Chubb died of heart disease in London on 22 September 1934 aged 58, leaving behind his wife and only daughter. A plaque commemorating his birth was erected in the late 1980s on the house in Shrewton where he was born. (english heritage.org.uk)
In 1893 Augustus Pitt Rivers, the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, reported that most of the stones at Stonehenge were in a state of collapse.
Two stones fell in late 1900 and the first restoration, the straightening of perilously leaning Stone 56, took place in 1901. Stonehenge was fenced in that year and an admission change levied for the first time, covering some of the costs of restoration and for a policeman to keep watch. But many of the leaning stones were held up with wooden ‘props’. (English Heritage)
Kate Mavor, chief executive of the site’s current guardians English Heritage, said: ‘Cecil Chubb’s impulse buy marked a turning point in the story of how Stonehenge was transformed from neglected ruin to national treasure.
‘His winning bid set in train a programme of care and conservation for both the monument and the surrounding landscape, one that continues today and whose next major milestone will be the removal of the A303 from the Stonehenge landscape.’
Before the auction, the site was in a perilous condition, as by the 19th century tourists were regularly chipping bits off for souvenirs and carving their names into the stones, while wooden props had to be deployed in 1881 to shore up stones in danger of collapse.
In 1900 one of the upright stones fell and the huge horizontal lintel it supported snapped in two, prompting an outcry which led to the appointment of a police constable, the first organised excavation and introduction of a fence and admission charge to contribute to the upkeep of the monument. (dailymail.co.uk)
RESTORING STONEHENGE AND ITS LANDSCAPE
Restoration and engineering work taking place in 1958 (English Heritage)
Major restoration at Stonehenge started in 1919. It was extensive, removing the wooden props that supported many stones, straightening them and re-setting them in concrete, effectively safeguarding many of the stones at Stonehenge from further collapse. The restoration was accompanied and followed by excavations carried out by Col William Hawley.
In parallel with this work, the 1920’s saw the start of a ‘tidying up’ of the surrounding landscape, with the demolition of old disused buildings such as the Stonehenge aerodome.
In 1927 a national appeal was launched to “restore and preserve the open surroundings of Stonehenge”. By 1929 the appeal had raised sufficient funds to purchase 1500 acres which were then presented to the National Trust.
The second major phase of restoration, carried out during the 1950’s and 60’s, resulted in the Stonehenge that we see today. In 1958 a trilithon that had collapsed in 1797 was raised.
This, above all the restoration works, radically changed the appearance of Stonehenge. More recently, the landscape has changed with arable fields replanted as permanent pasture and fences removed to recreate some of the atmosphere of the long vanished downland.
There is just a simple, low level rope around the monument – allowing visitors great views. In the surrounding area, woodland has been removed where it impinged on prehistoric monuments and greater access has been allowed to the Stonehenge landscape.
In 2013, a sense of dignity and wonder was restored to the monument by removing both the A344 road and the outdated visitor facilities that sat immediately beside it and re-uniting the monument with The Avenue, its original processional route. (English Heritage)
This photograph from 1914 shows one of the lintels being replaced during restoration work on the Stonehenge sarsen circle (english-heritage.org.uk)
William Hawley (third from right seated on stone) with Office of Works men in 1919 during early restoration work. They are gathered around the long-fallen fragments of stone 9. Behind them is the leaning stone 7, which has been clad in pitch-pine timbers ready for straightening; the lintel that joined this to stone 6 has been lifted off with the aid of the winch partly visible behind Hawley.(mikepitts.wordpress.com)
ANCIENT HISTORY PROTECTED
Stonehenge today is an archaeological highlight for scholars and amateur theorists around the world. While it is currently not accessible to tourists, a nearby encircling path makes the glorious monument up close nonetheless. And the site itself is occasionally open to modern followers of druidism and other similar religious beliefs.
Today, over one million people visit the site every year. Thus, it is now protected by its owners, the Natural Trust. As an enduring testament of our distant past, Stonehenge will remain a constant bundle of unanswered questions for future generations to marvel. (Historic Mysteries)