Monday, October 12, 2015

HOW STONEHENGE CAME TO BE PART OF THE BRITISH NATION

Amesbury in Wiltshire (England) is the oldest continuously inhabited site in the UK, dating back to approximately 8,800 BCE. In 1824 the Antrobus family bought the vast Amesbury Abbey Estate and administered it until October 1914 when the last remaining heir, Sir Edmund Antrobus, was killed in battle in Belgium in one of the first actions of World War I. There was no option but to put the whole estate up for sale. Part of the estate was the area surrounding and including Stonehenge.

Although this ancient site had been placed under the protection of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1883, it had not prevented one of the sarson stones from falling over or one of the lintels from breaking in two, so despite a fence being erected to protect it, there was still deep concern about its future.

On 21 September 1915 the entire Antrobus estate was put under the hammer at an auction at the New Theatre, Salisbury. Present at that auction was a local man, Cecil Chubb. He had been born in the nearby village of Shrewton and had, through his own efforts, risen from a lowly background to become a wealthy barrister. Legend has it that Cecil's wife Mary had sent her husband to the auction to buy some curtains. Instead he bid £6,600 (£680,000 in today's money, or around 923,000 euros) to purchase the stones, in his own words "on a whim".

Three years later, in October 1918, he gave the monument to the Nation as 'a deed of gift'. The rest, as they say, is history. Chubb's generosity was recognized by the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and he was created Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge.

Few people now remember Chubb and his generosity (although there is a plaque to his memory in his native village) one person who does is Heather Sebire, curator of Stonehenge. She believes that Chubb's impulse purchase and subsequent generous donation to the Nation is "as mysterious as Stonehenge itself".

Edited from The Guardian, BBC News (21 September 2015)
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As the co-author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone in Cambridge U. Press' "Digging for the Past" Series, published in 2002, I wish we had known this amazing tale of how the British came to make this a national monument! Nancy Bernard

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