Stonehenge is unique, one of the wonders of the world, which over 750,000 tourists per annum make a point of visiting each year.
The monument stands on approximately 250 feet of solid chalk, of which only 12 inches have been eroded over the past 4,000 years. Unfortunately the monument has been robbed of stone over the centuries.
The first stage of building started around 3,000 BC. This was the formation of the ditch and bank, 6 feet high, and a 300 feet circle. Today the height of the bank is just 2 feet and there is an entrance which faces north east. In this direction stands the Heel Stone which is 300 feet from the centre of the circle.
The Man who Bought Stonehenge
On September 21st 1915 a man walked into a property sale in the Palace Theatre in Salisbury Wiltshire and came out later £6,600 the poorer but the owner of Stonehenge.
He was to be the last man to own Stonehenge in a line of owners stretching back to the nuns of Amesbury Abbey and even beyond.
In December 1540 Henry VIII took the Abbey and its land, some 20,000 acres including Stonehenge, and gave them to Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford and later Duke of Somerset, to Lord Carleton and then to the Marquis of Queensbury, patron of John Gay who wrote The Beggar’s Opera at Amesbury.
The Antrobus Family bought the estate in 1824. In the opening months of the Great War Edmund Antrobus, the heir to the baronetcy, was killed serving in the Grenadier Guards and his father, Sir Cosmo, decided to sell the estate.
The sale was put in the hands of Messrs Knight, Frank and Rutley and in the catalogue there appeared –
“Lot 15. Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland”
It was to be the first and last occasion on which the monument would be up for auction, although in 1901 an earlier Antrobus, Sir Edmund, had offered it to the Government for £50,000, an offer that was rejected.
The new owner was Mr. Cecil Chubb of Bemerton Lodge, near Salisbury. Although now a wealthy man, he was of humble origin. He was born on March 14th 1876 in Shrewton, a village four miles west of Stonehenge, where his father was the village saddler.
He learned his “3 Rs” (Reading Writing and Arithmetic) at the village school and continued his education at Bishop Wordworth’s School in Salisbury. After a brief period as a student teacher at that school he went to Christ’s College in Cambridge and took a double first in Science and Law, leaving with Master of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees. In 1902 he married Mary Finch whose uncle, Dr Corbin Finch, owned Fisherton House Asylum in Salisbury, now the Old Manor Hospital.
Cecil Chubb became the proprietor of the Asylum and widened his interest to become a successful racehorse owner and breeder of Shorthorn cattle.
It was his interest in Stonehenge as a local boy that led him to attend the sale. He had no intention of bidding “but while I was in the room I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it and that is how it was done”. He remained its owner for three years and then, on October the 26th 1918, he formally handed it over to Sir Alfred Mond the First Commissioner of Works, who received it as a gift on behalf of the nation. In handing it over Cecil Chubb made two conditions.
One was that the gate money, about £360 a year, should go to the Red Cross for the rest of the war. The second was that there should be free admission during normal opening hours for the residents of Shrewton (his native parish), Netheravon (his father’s birthplace), Durrington (whence his mother came) and Amesbury in which parish Stonehenge stands. This privilege was later widened to include all the parishes of the former Amesbury Rural District and still in force today.
The son of the Shrewton saddler became Sir Cecil Chubb, Baronet, in 1919, and his Arms feature a trilithon representing Stonehenge. He died on September 22nd 1934.
The function of Stonehenge
This has for a long time been a matter of some conjecture. In 1964 the astronomer G. S. Hawkins using a computer, measurements taken at Stonehenge together with astronomical information based on celestial positions in 1,500BC when Stonehenge was thought to be in use. According to G. S. Hawkins Stonehenge could have been used to predict the Summer and Winter Solstice and eclipses of both the Sun and Moon. A variety of other information pertaining to the Sun and Moon could also be predicted.
At the present day the Druids and others assemble at the monument to celebrate the Summer and Winter Solstice.
If we look back to Victorian times it is quite evident that the monument was firmly established as a favourite destination for local people to visit on their day off in pleasant weather, with the more wealthy travelling by carriage from further afield. The coming of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century put Stonehenge within the range of more distant places, including London, thus generating a steady stream of tourists that has never really diminished since those times.
Contemporary accounts described how litter, graffiti and noisy crowds of people dominated the area, together with the continuous sound of hammers chipping stone as they all attempted to acquire pieces of the monument for their souvenir collections!
After an initial tidying up and an investigative programme in 1901, a determined attempt to restore the area commenced in 1919 and for the next seven years this was combined with an exploratory dig which yielded only a limited amount of archaeological information, since the project was sadly underfunded.
A&A.E.E; To the Rescue
By 1958 it was decided that the erstwhile Ministry of Works would tackle the job of raising those stones that had fallen in 1797 and 1900, the only problem being the acquisition of the necessary heavy lifting gear. After a lengthy search, the ideal equipment was discovered right on their doorstep, at the then Armament and Aeroplane Experimental Establishment (now called QinetiQ MoD Boscombe Down) and they agreed to provide the necessary cranes and associated manpower. The estimated cost of the whole ambitious operation was the princely sum of £8,500!
The operation commenced in the spring of 1958. The convoy that left Boscombe Down that day consisted of one of the two 60 ton Curran cranes (which had originally been intended for use with the ill-fated ‘Brabazon’ aircraft) the Lorraine 7.25 ton crane, the Tugmaster tractor and finally, Boscombe Down’s ubiquitous yellow Scammell, then in it’s first flush of youth and a trailer.
Mr D. Telfer was the crane chargehand, supervising the movements of the cranes in liaison with Ministry of Works staff. The limited space between the standing stones made manoeuvring the cranes very difficult. The record books tell us that felt linings were provided to cushion the stones during the lifting and replacing process. The whole operation lasted well into the summer, with long hours of work for everyone involved.