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Twilight at Stonehenge (circa 1840). Watercolour by William Turner of Oxford
Image credit Wikimedia Commons
One of the five Stonehenge land trains
The Heritage Trust
To quote from our earlier feature –
According to Historic England (formerly English Heritage), “They [the land trains] have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back. The land trains are being serviced and will be offsite for several weeks while we also take the opportunity to look at design improvements.”
According to the Western Daily Press article however (quoting an EH spokeswoman), “Over time it became clear that the land trains were unable to cope with the daily demands of a site as busy as Stonehenge and English Heritage now intends to find new homes for them at other English Heritage sites…”
The Heritage Trust contacted Historic England several times over the last year to ask when the land trains would be back in service, ony to be told, “We do not know.” It’s now patently obvious that when the trains were withdrawn last year Historic England knew full well that they would not be returning so why fob the public off with wishy-washy statements like these (we’ve seen enough of those recently with David Cameron’s statements on his tax affairs!). Such statements do not engender confidence in the public; indeed they generate mistrust and, specifically at Stonehenge with its proposed tunnel plans and new solstice celebration arrangements, plant seeds of doubt in the public’s mind that not all is as transparent as it should be.
What is really sad about the end of the line for the land trains is that, though totally inadequate when it came to transporting hundreds of people from the Visitor Centre to the Monument (and someone should have known that!), they were a load of fun. Children loved them, and the slow pace they travelled at gave people a chance to take in the surrounding landscape. So, why not have both conventional coaches for those in a hurry and the land trains for those who don’t mind waiting for the opportunity to ride them. Far from being a failure the land trains could become an added attraction to those visiting Stonehenge.
See also our feature, The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre: First impressions…
In the second feature in our mini-series on Stonehenge, Roy Goutté asks… Is the blatant over-publicising of anything remotely connected to Stonehenge justified, or making archaeologists look foolish?
Stonehenge as it appears today
Watercolour illustrating (bottom left) a fallen Stonehenge trilithon and lintel
In 1797…the large south-west trilithon (two upright stones supporting a lintel) at Stonehenge collapsed. The sound of the collapse was so loud that it was said to have been heard by people working in the surrounding fields. The collapse was blamed on a sudden thaw after a cold spell, or on burrowing rabbits. This trilithon was not reset back into position until 1958. One visitor to the scene was William Maton [William George Maton M.D. 1774–1835] a Fellow of the Linnean Society (our neighbours here at Burlington House). He was travelling in the region, collecting items of natural history and antiquity, and visited the site. He went on to write a report which was read at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London in June 1797, and by November he had obtained two drawings illustrating the fall of the trilithon before and after.
These drawings are now part of the Society’s collections.
Source: Society of Antiquaries of London.
Self-portrait by Francis Nicholson (1753-1844) Courtesy Martyn Gregory Gallery
Francis Nicholson is invariably regarded as ‘The Father of Watercolour Painting’. His ‘Stourhead’ series of paintings (1812 – c.1816) is renowned, and currently in the hands of the British Museum. The series seems to have been commissioned by Sir Richard Colt Hoare of ‘Stonehenge‘ fame. But until recently, it has been anything but clear how Sir Richard and Nicholson came to be acquainted.
The connexion seems to begin with Henrietta Anne Hoare, daughter of Sir Richard Hoare via his second marriage to Frances Anne Acland. Henrietta was born in 1765, the half-sister of Sir Richard Colt Hoare who, with William Cunningham, first excavated Stonehenge in 1798. There is a portrait of Henrietta here. She married her cousin Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of Killerton, Devon, in 1785. When Acland died in 1794, she remained at Killerton House, and a year later married Capt. Matthew Fortescue, R.N. of Filleigh, Devon.
Henrietta was no mean artist, and had the funds to take lessons from the fashionable Nicholson in London. We do not know exactly when Francis and Henrietta first met. The first hard evidence that they knew each other is from 1808, when Nicholson exhibited ‘View between Christiana and Konigsburg, in Norway, from a sketch by Sir T. Ackland’, Henrietta’s son. Nicholson exhibited two further Norwegian views from sketches by Acland in 1809, and in 1810 one of Italy “from a Sketch by Sir R. Hoare, Bart”. Between then and 1813, Nicholson exhibited several more Italian scenes from drawings by Sir Richard Hoare and Sir Richard Colt Hoare. It is possible that all of these were first shown to Nicholson by Henrietta – we cannot be sure. But in 1813, we find evidence that Nicholson had been in the south-west himself, and was almost certainly in personal touch with the main branch of the Hoare family; in 1813 he exhibited ‘Stonehenge’, which may still be seen at Stourhead today – see here. In 1813, he also exhibited ‘View at Stourhead, the seat of Sir R. C. Hoare’. Baronet, Alfred’s Tower in the Distance. Here is the beginning of Nicholson’s ‘Stourhead’ series, and it suggests that Sir Richard Colt Hoare and Nicholson had met, and had agreed a commission for the series, c.1812.
By 1820, it is clear that Nicholson and the Hoares were very good friends. That year, Nicholson published his ground-breaking book of instruction, The Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscape from Nature in Water Colours. It is dedicated to Henrietta and mentions the whole Hoare family. The dedication reads:
TO THE HONOURABLE MRS. FORTESCUE. ________
In dedicating this Work to you, I consult alike my inclination and duty: The first, in consequence of the great proficiency you have attained in the Art of which it treats, as your Performances sufficiently evince; and the latter, in the most grateful recollection of the numerous Favours and acts of kindness which I have on every occasion received from you, and from every branch of your family.
I am, with the greatest respect, MADAM, Your most obliged servant, FRANCIS NICHOLSON.
Henrietta and Francis remained good friends until her death at Killerton in 1841. Nicholson himself died three years later, in London, aged 90.
And that was the end of the story… until now. Today, Killerton House and estate is in the hands of The National Trust. This year, Henrietta’s 250th, Killerton House is to hold its first ever historical art exhibition, entitled Framing the View. Francis Nicholson, The Killerton Drawing Master. The Guest Curator is Professor Gordon Bell, a veteran curator of three previous Nicholson exhibitions. The exhibition will feature work by both Nicholson and Henrietta Anne Fortescue and will, I think, be most interesting to see. It runs from 16th May until 15th September 2015.
You can learn more about Francis Nicholson here.