Archaeologist, broadcaster and writer Julian Richards, takes us through his personal collection of historical Stonehenge memorabilia which, along with featured objects on loan from Wiltshire Museum and The Salisbury Museum, form the ‘Wish You Were Here’ exhibition currently on display at Stonehenge
I have been involved with Stonehenge for 35 years and during that time, in which I have witnessed many changes to the ways in which people can experience this prehistoric monument, I have also been collecting what has come to be known as ‘Stonehengiana’.
This started, like most obsessions, in a comparatively small way, but by 2008 the collection had grown to such an extent that I could fill the temporary galleries of a series of Wiltshire museums with what my son kindly referred to as ‘Dad’s Stonehenge tat’, an eclectic mix of guide books, souvenir china, record covers, hundreds of post cards, Japanese phone cards, tee shirts and a toasting fork.
Fast forward seven years and the much enlarged collection, part of it now donated to Salisbury Museum and enhanced by choice items from the Wiltshire Museum, is displayed in what must surely be its spiritual home, the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre. ‘Wish You Were Here’ welcomes visitors to the wonderful world of Stonehenge, charting the changing visitor experience over 200 years and showing just why Stonehenge is a true global icon.
The guidebooks show how our understanding of Stonehenge has changed over time. William Browne’s 1824 effort considers that Stonehenge was solid enough to have survived Noah’s flood while by 1893 William Judd was firmly of the opinion that it was a ‘Druidical erection’. For me there is also something satisfying about having written the latest in what is nearly two centuries of endeavours to explain this most enigmatic of monuments.
I am often asked to nominate my favourite Stonehenge souvenir but this is a difficult choice. Is it the tasteful Wedgwood box, the Great Trilithon toasting fork or the image of Stonehenge on a ceramic chicken? I love them all, along with the bizarre stamps. What possible reason is there to have Disney characters at Stonehenge on a stamp issued by the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan?
But perhaps it is the display of a century of postcards, starting in 1902, that provides the most immediate connection to the visitor of today. For here are the scribbled notes that record the experience of visiting Stonehenge, voices commenting on the weather (often raining) and marvelling. ‘you have to see it to appreciate the wonder of it’.
Experience it for yourself:
The 'Wish You Were Here' exhibition will be running to the end of the year. Anyone visiting Stonehenge may like to add their voice to the many on the postcard wall by sharing their experience using the hashtag #stonehengewishyouwerehere.
Plan your visit to Stonehenge today.[ssba]