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Stonehenge – the gift and 100 years of care

Posted:
3 January 2018
Posted By:
Susan Greaney
Categories:
History Uncovered

2018 marks an important anniversary for Stonehenge. It’s 100 years since local barrister Cecil Chubb and his wife Mary gifted the monument to the nation. This was a major turning point in the way Stonehenge was cared for. It set in train a programme of care and conservation for the monument and the surrounding landscape which continues to this day.

The need for care

Stonehenge had been privately owned since the 12th century. Cecil and Mary Chubb became its last private owners after buying the monument at auction in 1915. Prior to the sale, the Antrobus family had owned Stonehenge and taken steps to protect it since the early 19th century. They had appointed its first warden in 1822 and by the end of the 19th century instructions existed to protect the stones and surrounding ground from damage, and to stop visitors from lighting fires, chipping the stones for souvenirs, littering and scratching their names on the monument. In 1871 one visitor stated that the sound of the constant chipping of stone broke the solitude of the place.

Ten years later timber supports were needed to shore up those stones considered in danger of collapse. In 1883 Stonehenge was included in the list of monuments to be protected by the new Ancient Monuments Protection Act. However, this needed the permission of the landowner, and as Sir Edmund Antrobus was an outspoken opponent of the new act, he refused to place the monument in guardianship.

In December 1900 an upright sarsen stone fell, and the massive horizontal lintel it held in place snapped in two. This collapse, and the public outcry about it, marked a change in attitude towards Stonehenge. A fence was erected around the stones, an entrance fee introduced and a police constable appointed to oversee visitors to the site.

Professor William Gowland’s excavation at Stonehenge, September 1901. © Historic England

A gift for the nation

When the Antrobus family sold off their estates at auction in 1915, Stonehenge was purchased by a local couple, Cecil and Mary Chubb.

Three years later Cecil, apparently influenced by the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913, wrote to Sir Alfred Mond, the First Commissioner of Works, offering ‘this unique possession …to you…as a gift to be held for the nation.’

Sir Alfred accepted with great pleasure what he described as a monument of ‘unique importance’. He passed the news on to the King and the Prime Minister, who expressed his ‘deep appreciation’.

A deed of gift was signed at an official presentation ceremony at Stonehenge on 26 October 1918. Thanks to the Chubbs’ generosity, Stonehenge was saved for future generations.

The Office of Works (English Heritage’s predecessor) then began major conservation at monument. They restored many of the fallen stones and carried out surveys and excavations.

Cecil Chubb (right) and Alfred Mond (left) at Stonehenge in 1918. © Salisbury Museum

A century of care and conservation begins

After the First World War the Office of Works carried out a detailed survey of the monument. The first engineers’ report was a lengthy tome and provided a detailed account of each and every stone and the angles at which they stood. A programme of restoration began in 1919. The Inspector of Ancient Monuments Charles Peers stated:

‘the repair of a prehistoric monument is always a difficult matter… This is I think, the extent of repair that should be undertaken: stones that are merely leaning but not dangerously so, should be left as they are, and anything that could be possibly be considered as ‘smartening up’ of this venerable monument carefully avoided.’

Restoration began with the stones that were leaning the most, starting with Stones 6 and 7 of the outer sarsen circle. One leaned inward and the other outward, causing the lintel on top to be twisted out of position. The lintel was wrapped in felt, cased in a wooden frame and then lifted off the uprights. The uprights were cased up, supported on joists and jacked back to the vertical. Three successive lintels and uprights were straightened in the same way.

The restorers also wanted to re-erect one of the trilithons which had fallen in in 1797, but the money had run out. Excavations began around the same time and were directed by Lieutenant Colonel William Hawley. The Office of Works also began to consider the setting of the ancient monument. They diverted the road that ran through the bank and ditch, which had caused a lot of damage during the First World War.

Today, the ancient monument is looked after by English Heritage on behalf of the nation. Throughout 2018 we will be telling the story, decade by decade, of a century of care and conservation at Stonehenge since the incredible gift 100 years ago.

Read more about the history of Stonehenge

Download Sebastian Fry’s report about Stonehenge from Historic England

Repairs to Stonehenge in 1919 -1920 © Historic England

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  • About the Author

    Susan Greaney
    Susan is an archaeologist in the Properties Research team at English Heritage, working mostly on prehistoric sites and monuments.

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  1. It would be nice to acknowledge William Gowland in more than just a photo caption. After all, he was the person who invented the idea of gridding an archaeological trench in order to be able to record the precise position in three dimensions of any finds uncovered. As Gowland wasn’t an archaeologist, this is even more remarkably prescient of him. He published his reports in a detailed and timely fashion, straightening up Stone 56 (the tallest stone on site) to prevent its collapse, and deserves enormous credit for doing an astonishingly difficult and controversial job with extreme care and a high degree of precision.

  2. We – the Construction History Society – would like to use these photographs for the front cover of our next membership magazine. Who do I speak to for permission ?

    Mike Heaton
    01985 847791

  3. Hi Mike. The images used in the post are property of our friends at Historic England and Salisbury Museum, as captioned below the photographs. If you speak to them, they may be able to help.