For decades the
official Stonehenge guidebooks have been full of fascinating facts and figures
and theories surrounding the world's greatest prehistoric monument. What the
glossy brochures do not mention, however, is the systematic rebuilding of the
4,000 year old stone circle throughout the 20th Century.
This is one of the dark
secrets of history archaeologists don't talk about: The day they had the
builders in at Stonehenge to recreate the most famous ancient monument in
Britain as they thought it ought to look.
picture shows workers on the site in 1901 in a restoration which caused
outrage at the time but which is rarely referred to in official guidebooks.
For it means that Stonehenge, jewel in the crown of Britain's heritage
industry, is not all it seems. Much of what the ancient site's millions of
visitors see in fact dates back less than 50 years.
From 1901 to 1964,
the majority of the stone circle was restored in a series of makeovers which
have left it, in the words of one archaeologist, as 'a product of the 20th
century heritage industry'. But the information is markedly absent from the
guidebooks, brochures and info-phones used by tourists at the site. Coming in the wake of
the news that the nearby Avebury stone circle was almost totally rebuilt in the
1920s, the revelation about Stonehenge has caused embarrassment among
archaelogists. English Heritage, the guardian of the monument, is to rewrite the
official guide, which dismisses the Henge's recent history in a few words. Dave
Batchelor, English Heritage's senior archaeologist said he would personally
rewrite the official guide. 'The detail was dropped in the Sixties', he
admitted. 'But times have changed and we now believe this is an important
piece of the Stonehenge story and must be told'.
archeological archivist and leading Stonehenge author Christopher Chippindale
admitted: 'Not much of what we see at Stonehenge hasn't been touched in some
way'. And historical research student Brian Edwards, who recently revealed
that the nearby Avebury Monument had been totally rebuilt, has found rare
pictures of Stonehenge being restored. He said: 'It has been as if Stonehenge
had been historically cleansed'. 'For too long people have been kept in the dark
over the Stonehenge restoration work. I am astonished by how few people know
about it. It is wonderful the guide book is going to tell the full story in the
A million visitors a year
are awe-struck as they look back in time into another age and marvel at the
primitive technology and muscle-power which must have been employed transporting
the huge monoliths and raising them on Salisbury Plain. They gasp as they are
told about this strangely spiritual site.... mankind's first computer, its
standing stones and precise lintels, lining up magically and mysteriously with
the heavens above and the solstice suns.
But now, as if to head
off a potential great archaeological controversy - and following interest
displayed by historical researcher Brian Edwards and a local newspaper, the
brochures will be re-written, to include the 'forgotten years'. The years when
teams of navvies sat aboard the greatest cranes in the British Empire to hoist
stones upright; drag leaning trilithons into position, replace fallen lintels
which once sat atop the huge sarsens. As Mr Edwards - the erstwhile enfant
terrible of British archaeology following revelations that nearby Avebury was a
total 20s and 30s rebuild by marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller - says:
'What we have been looking at is a 20th Century landscape, which is reminiscent
of what Stonehenge MIGHT have been like thousands of years ago. It has been
created by the heritage industry and is NOT the creation of prehistoric people.
What we saw at the Millennium is less than 50 years old.'
In archaeological terms
the re-writing of the guidebooks is dynamite. English Heritage run Stonehenge on
behalf of the nation, and an English Heritage insider revealed: 'Dark forces
were at work in the 70s, when a decision was taken to drop the information about
the restorations Now that is about to change.'
Restoration and Rebuild
restoration of Stonehenge was launched 100 years ago this year.
And, in 1901, as the
builders went to work, The Times letters column was full of bucolic missives of
complaint. But the first stage of 'restoration' thundered ahead regardless and
the style guru of the day, John Ruskin, released the maxim which was to outlive
him.... 'Restoration is a lie,' he stormed. Nevertheless the Stonehenge
makeover was to gather momentum and more work was carried out in 1919, 1920,
1958, 1959 and 1964. Christopher Chippindale, curator at the Cambridge
University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Anthropology, and author
of Stonehenge Complete, admits: 'Nearly all the stones have been moved in
some way and are standing in concrete.'
A stone was straightened
and set in concrete in 1901, six further stones in 1919 and 1920, three more in
1959 and four in 1964. There was also the excavation of the Altar stone and
re-erection of the Trilithon in 1958.
The guide book
'Stonehenge and Neighbouring Monuments' , and the audio tour of the Henge
omit any comprehensive mention of the rebuilding in the 20th Century. Only on
page 18 is there a slight reference...'A number of the leaning and fallen
stones have been straightened and re-erected.' But even that official guide
book does contain clues to the large scale restoration, which was not deemed
worth a full entry.
Romancing the stones: The tumble-down stones
as painted by John Constable in 1835 (top), and
the very different landscape that greets today's
Stonehenge visitor (bottom).
Why does John Constable's
1835 painting of the Henge on pages 18 and 19 look so vastly different from the
latter-day pristine photograph across pages 28 and 29? REASON: A lot of
restoration work had taken place in between the two images being recorded. And,
during long hot summers it would be possible - if one could get near to the
stones - to see the turf peeling back to reveal the concrete boots into which
the majority of the stones are now set. A dead give-away, but difficult to spot
now as proximity to the Henge is limited.
Raising an upright of
trilithon in 1958
pictures clearly show the rebuilding in progress. Some were discovered by Mr
Chippendale and were used in a revised edition of his book. Many of those
have since been lost. Others were found by Mr Edwards who unearthed guide
books from the time when Stonehenge was not ashamed of its past and featured
photographs and stories of the resorations.
'The news is sensational,' said Mr Edwards, a decorate student at the
University of the West of England. 'Once I realised how much work had
been carried out, I was amazed to discover that practically no-one outside
of the henge know of its reconstruction in the last 100 years. I have always
thought that if people are bothering to make a trip to Stonehenge, from home
or abroad, then the least they should expect is a true story.'
Part of this article was
written by Roger Taverner and originally featured in 'The Western Daily Press'
8/1/2001. Pictures appear courtesy of The Wiltshire Archeological Society and
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