21st June 1652 – The Mystery of Stonehenge.
Tess d’Urberville was discovered lying on the altar stone at Stonehenge after the murder of Alec d’Urberville
Rosemary Hill’s ‘Stonehenge’ says that it: ‘Satisfies our ‘desire for knowledge and our love of mystery’. Archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes has observed that: ‘Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves’. Gladstone’s Diaries after a visit in 1852 records as it: ‘Telling much, telling too that it conceals more’.(1)
The oldest known depiction shows how giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge, from a Manuscript of a verse history, ‘Roman de Brut’ by Wace, now in the British Library.
Today in 1652 the celebrated architect Inigo Jones, builder of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, died having been influential in the 1620s in changing public opinion about the origin of Stonehenge. He argued that it must have been constructed by the Romans as a temple built to the plan of a hexagon, rather than Saxon or Celt.
Inigo Jones’ notion however as chief surveyor to James I could have been an attempt to ‘fit a Platonic ideal to dignify architecture placing it among the arts’. He based his incorrect conclusion largely on the Romans’ ability to organise large groups of people for building projects. It has been estimated that erecting Stonehenge required something approaching thirty million man-hours.
It was as a result of Jones’ theory it was thought that the structure was originally built not as an astronomical observatory but as a circular venue for chariot races; the straight track leading out to Durrington being known as the cursus.
For later 18th century antiquarians, Stonehenge existed within a Biblical time scale; was a Druidic temple built just after the flood. Romantics such as Turner, Wordsworth and Blake all had different interpretations.
John Constable when exhibiting his freely-painted ’Stonehenge’ in 1836 appended a text: ‘The mysterious monument of Stonehenge standing remote on a bare and boundless heath’.
The fifty-six pits which surround the outside of Stonehenge were named in 1959 ‘The Aubrey Holes’ in memory of the antiquary, author and failed lawyer John Aubrey (1626-97), who also uncovered the region’s other megalithic structure Avebury in 1649.
The Duke of Buckingham also took an interest in 1600 of the site resulting in holes being dug and the antiquarian Stukely was an early advocate of the site being connected with the summer solstice.
On a broader front, monuments having a practical, allied to supernatural purpose were universal: the sun-priests of Egypt were able to unite the populace, under priestly governance, by professing to show an understanding of the seasonal calendar, useful to the tillers of the soil.
This along with an understanding of the heavenly bodies, to impress a superstitious people who would have supplied the physical labour, showing that the culture had reached a stage where Division of Labour had separated people into priests, warriors and herders and tillers.
Jumping millennia, to the 16th century and on a more mercenary note, Henry VIII had acquired Amesbury Abbey and estate on which Stonehenge was sited, at the Monastic Dissolution. In 1540 it went to the Earl of Hertford, then to Lord Carleton and then to the Marquis of Queensberry.
The Antrobus Family of Cheshire bought the estate in 1824, and when the heir died in World War I, Stonehenge was put up for sale by Sir Edmund in 1915. The sale at Salisbury described: ‘Lot 15 Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods and 37 perches of downland’. It was bought by a Mr Chubb for £6,600 and given to the Nation three years later.
Ref: Amazon.co.uk/stonehenge-Rosemary Hill.
Ref: Hawkes quoted in theguardian.com 22.9.2008 Riazat Butt. She was wife of J.B.Priestley the novelist.
Ref: Gladstone’s Diaries OUP.
Ref: Trevor Fisher History Today, vol 48, iss 5 1998.
Next Post looks at attempts to prove the truth of Biblical writings through excavation.