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Stonehenge on right, traffic flow on the nearby A303  left
©
Mike Pitts
 
In his letter to The Times (Saturday, 16 September) Mike Pitts, Editor of the British Archaeological magazine, writes –
 

Sir, Tom Holland (letter September 13) notes that archaeologists have found ancient remains across the Stonehenge world heritage site, and implies that a road tunnel would threaten more. He is correct, but this is a red herring. Any works close to Stonehenge must be preceded by an archaeological survey. In the latest announcement the proposed route has been adjusted to avoid newly discovered sites. It is inevitable, however, that not everything can be saved in this way, and then excavation must occur. Remains will be disturbed, scientific studies will be conducted and finds will go to the local museum. We will learn more about Stonehenge. The process – turning loss into enlightenment – is exactly the same for all excavations, including those that have impressed Holland. All archaeological excavation is both destructive and creative.

If there is a problem, it is that the two excavating sides – one led by pure inquiry, one by development – do not talk to each other enough. In the years ahead, it is vital that all organizations work together for the benefit of Stonehenge and the public.

Mike Pitts
Editor, British Archaeology

Photo and letter published with the kind permission of Mike Pitts. See also Mike’s What would Trump do with Stonehenge?
A thought… by Moss.
 
 
 
Stonehenge by Hesketh David Bell (1849 – 1872)
 
Can one ever imagine  Stonehenge as peaceful and open as this painting, the clawed hand of industrial farming is still not to be seen, as are also the trees. Sometimes romantic versions of what we want and not what we have are just flights of fancy, as I am sure this painting is, though obviously painted when the dreaded car was yet to be seen.  I have seen elsewhere discussion about the rocks in the foreground, not to be seen today, but I think a certain artistic licence is granted to  artists, and Bell’s other work features dramatic rocky landscapes.  Strangely it reminds me of the North York moors, featureless except for the open space but coloured by the vegetation of its underlying stone. Subject matter contrasts our lowly ‘peasant’ with his two cows and smattering of sheep against the far off prehistoric stones. Judge against the ‘horror’ of the traffic laden road which is the subject of  controversy today and weep.
 
 
 
Stonehenge today. Image credit BBC News

 

See also Mike Pitts’ feature, What did the world heritage site mean to people who built Stonehenge? Nothing, here.
 

Twilight at Stonehenge (circa 1840). Watercolour by William Turner of Oxford
Image credit Wikimedia Commons

 

Stonehenge in Winter by Walter Williams (1834-1906)

 

Season’s Greetings to all our Readers
 
 
 
The Cove, Avebury
©
Moss
 
This year Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site is celebrating 30 years since its inscription on to the World Heritage list in 1986. A number of events are taking place throughout this year.
 
The Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Coordination Unit, with the support of their partners, is holding a 30th anniversary conference on 19 and 20 November 2016 to celebrate the many aspects of the World Heritage Site and the gains made over the past 30 years.
 
On Saturday 19 November in the Ceres Hall, the Corn Exchange, Devizes [England], a number of speakers including Dr Serge Cassen (University of Nantes), Dr Alison Sheridan (National Museums of Scotland), Dr Heather Sebire (English Heritage), Prof Tim Darvill (University of Bournemouth), Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton), Prof Vince Gaffney(University of Bradford) will be joining us to examine developments in conservation, changes in our knowledge through research and archaeology, the impact on culture and how Stonehenge fits into the European and British culture at that time.
 
More here.
 
 
First impressions can be deceptive. This is just a scale model of Stonehenge created for the fifth Transformers movie
Image credit Salisbury Journal
 
Writing on his blog Digging Deeper, archaeologist and editor of the British Archaeology magazine Mike Pitts, puts to bed some of the fears and fantasies surrounding the proposed tunnel near Stonehenge. Mike reports that the –
 
Stonehenge Alliance went ballistic on Twitter and Facebook, looking like the archaeological wing of Donald Trump’s social media campaign. They even got Tom Holland in a photo holding up their new leaflet… which features misleading imagery worthy of Putin-supporting trolls. Please, Tom, tell me this was a set-up job?
 
Full article here.
 
 
 
 A dog tooth unearthed near Stonehenge and dating to around 5,000bce
 
The tooth, above, was found at Blick Mead in Wiltshire, southern England, and is believed to be evidence of the earliest journey in British history; so claims archaeologist David Jacques. The tooth is thought to be from a pet Alsatian-type dog that travelled 250 miles from present-day York, in northern England, to Wiltshire in the south. Blick Mead is close to Stonehenge, although Stonehenge as we know it today would not have existed.
 
According to BBC News, David Jacques is reported as saying –
 
“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” Mr Jacques said.
 
“Discoveries like this give us a completely new understanding of the establishment of the ritual landscape and make Stonehenge even more special than we thought we knew it was.”
 
It has also been suggested that the dog was a trade item, though no evidence for that theory has been advanced.
 

One of the five Stonehenge land trains
©
The Heritage Trust

Just over a year ago we ran a feature here entitled End of the line for the Stonehenge land trains? Then it was a question, now it’s a fact (see Friday’s Western Daily Press’ article here).

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?

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Stonehenge as it appears today

Throughout the UK, to many people, there are dozens of equally important sites if you happen to live in their areas, but they are, on the whole, totally overlooked compared to Stonehenge. Funding for research and excavation is always a problem with them it would seem, while, on the surface, the impression is that anything within five miles of Stonehenge has archaeologists crawling all over them. Sure it pays for itself and is the UK’s premier cash cow, but is the sheer hype and constant publicity it draws to the detriment of serious archaeology. Year in and year out, last year’s claims of what it was and what it was used for are swept aside as yet another fantastic claim is made and ‘proof’ provided for it. And year in and year out we have to ask ourselves what happened to the previous year’s ideas and proof that countless media articles covered and often sensationalised?
 
It’s been a Temple to worship the Gods; an Astronomical Observatory; a Prehistoric Calendar; a Centre for Healing; a Site for Ritual Feasting; a Circular Graveyard for the Elite and recently a Monument of Unification, bringing together people from across the many parts of Britain and just about anything else that had the slightest whiff of possibility about it.
 
It has been roofed by some; totally rejected of ever being so by others… and yes, you guessed it… they were all experts! Oh and I mustn’t forget, it was also claimed to have been a Mecca on Stilts!
 
It was considered a place of healing in certain quarters because the bluestones were seen as having therapeutic qualities. The buried remains of the so-called Amesbury Archer discovered in 2002 was lauded about to bolster up that belief by the media because the poor chap had a kneecap missing and had such an apparent serious bone infection that it became his reason for being there. It was speculated he was a pilgrim making his way to Stonehenge to be healed. Well if he ever did make it to the henge then his journey was in vain it would seem as no healing was evident!
 
The whole landscape around Stonehenge was then dragged into this media frenzy that it really was a place of healing because many of the other poor devils buried around and about also showed signs of life-threatening ailments, wounds or injuries. But you see that just about everywhere in Bronze-Age burials and not just near Stonehenge! It was, as is often the case when it comes to Stonehenge, pure over-reaction and speculation but a great story nevertheless!
 
We have got to accept these days that next year another theory provided by yet another expert will come to light and in all probability the following year yet another, so, is Stonehenge in danger of burning itself out, or to finally become a Centre of Ridicule?
 
That will hardly be surprising after the claim was made that Mesolithic Wiltshire men and woman dined out on ‘frogs’ legs after the charred remains of a single 8,000 year-old toad were discovered at Blick Mead near Amesbury just a mile from Stonehenge. Yes that’s right, a single toad, not a vast pile of their bones discovered in a midden heap or buried in a ditch. Even Sherlock Holmes would have required more proof than that before reaching that conclusion surely!
 
Recently reported would you believe, is a suggestion that ‘Stonehenge’ was once built in Wales but moved to Wiltshire 500 years later making the Stonehenge we all know and love, second-hand! No actual solid proof mind you just speculation again, but before long and until shown to be otherwise, will become yet another ‘fact’.
 
We’ve already had the ‘roofed’ idea but now here’s another which I rather like, having a background in the construction industry. Architect Sarah Ewbank believes that the stones could have possibly once been the supports for a two-storey timber built roundhouse, a venue for feasting, speakers and musicians, and gives a good account of herself with some well thought out ideas and excellent scaled plans and drawings which the following two links amply demonstrate here and here.  
 
All of this just goes to prove that even after all these years we are still fishing in the dark and to be honest, often making fools of ourselves along the way. The words ‘enough is enough’ spring to mind as the cost of all these studies, investigations and excavations over the years must have mounted up into multi-millions of pounds, yet the dozens of other sites of equal interest to others in various parts of the UK are simply waved aside when it comes to funding for research and excavations. While we are supposedly finding out everything there is to know within a five mile radius of Stonehenge, those other parts of the country, with a few notable exceptions, remain a complete mystery in comparison. This can’t be right surely.
 
‘Firsts’ are claimed every other month, thus making the area appear to be even more special than it already is, but we have no idea if that is true or not because those other areas are not being investigated with such fervour. A false picture could quite easily be building up!
 
When visitors from all over ask what Stonehenge was built for, they are, on the whole, asking what was the monument we see stood before us today built for, not the first of the three accepted stages of build in total starting around 3000bce. As there was then a 500 year gap before the second stage was started, shouldn’t the first build be seen as the most important and the one we should be concentrating our thoughts on and not what followed which is an entirely different thing altogether in my opinion?
 
To be considered a ‘stage’ it suggests there was a blueprint in use taking it through to what we see today. If the second stage had followed the first almost immediately, then I can well see the builders working to a blueprint, but not after a 500 year gap I can’t.
 
According to English Heritage, the first ‘structure’ consisted simply of a circular ditch and bank …the earliest known major event was the construction of a circular ditch with an inner and outer bank, built about 3000 BC. This enclosed an area about 100 metres in diameter, and had two entrances. It was an early form of henge monument.
 
Within the bank and ditch were possibly some timber structures and set just inside the bank were 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes. There has been much debate about what stood in these holes: the consensus for many years has been that they held upright timber posts, but recently the idea has re-emerged that some of them may have held stones. Within and around the Aubrey Holes, and also in the ditch, people buried cremations. About 64 cremations have been found, and perhaps as many as 150 individuals were originally buried at Stonehenge, making it the largest Late Neolithic cemetery in the British Isles.
 
I personally doubt the theory that some stones may have once stood in the Aubrey holes as packing stones would most certainly have been found in them but the words ‘Late Neolithic’ give you a clue as to why the ‘second stage’ and the introduction of a proven stone structure then appeared …and it had nothing to do with a continuance of the first stage or its use which would appear to have been purely for funeral practices being a graveyard.
 
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Stage 1
 
This was the ‘crossover’ period leading into the Bronze-Age and life and beliefs began to change in the southern part of Great Britain from a more nomadic way of life to a more settled and peaceful time with the arrival of the Beaker people from the Near East. We were on the cusp of leaving the Late Neolithic and entering the Bronze-Age and all that came with it. With their arrival the newcomers not only brought their way of life with them but also their beliefs. The meaning and use of the original ‘Stonehenge’ which, without a shadow of a doubt must have been a very, very special place and highly venerated was brushed aside just as the church was to later build over Pagan sites to Christianise them, so Stage 1 suffered the same fate!
 
Something similar was happening at Avebury just 20 miles away to the north. The West Kennet Long Barrow was closed down and the enigmatic Silbury Hill was rising up to challenge its influence from the valley below. One belief was being swept aside to make way for another.
 
The times they were a changing…and fast. Different time, different people, different purpose. Stonehenge as we see it today was on its way with just one main question remaining for that time …why was Stage 1 sited where it was?
 
Seek and you will find.
Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865
Coursing at Stonehenge in 1865. The Illustrated London News
 
In a recent BBC regional news report, Stonehenge manager Kate Davies is reported as saying an alcohol ban at Stonehenge would, “…help everyone to have a better experience of solstice.” In what way, Ms Davies, would such a ban help people have a better experience? Are you saying that by presently allowing a moderate degree of drinking at solstice time that is somehow adversely affecting people’s enjoyment of the overall solstice event there? If so, do you have details and the statistics to support such a claim? No-one, of course, wants to see drunkenness and rowdiness at Stonehenge but aren’t you perhaps taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here? Perhaps this is an opportune time to remind you that, just over thirty years ago, a hard-won battle was fought to allow –
 
The Peace Convoy, a convoy of several hundred New Age travellers, from setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival in Wiltshire, England. The police were enforcing a High Court injunction obtained by the authorities prohibiting the 1985 festival from taking place. Around 1300 police officers took part in the operation against approximately 600 travellers.
 
Dozens of travellers were injured, 8 police officers and 16 travellers were hospitalised. 537 travellers were eventually arrested. This represents one of the largest mass arrest of civilians since at least the Second World War, possibly one of the biggest in English legal history.
 
Two years after the event, a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of Actual Bodily Harm as a consequence of injuries incurred by a member of the convoy during the Battle of the Beanfield. Source: the Wikipedia entry on The Battle of the Beanfield.
 
In the same BBC report, Senior Druid King Arthur Pendragon is reported as saying English Heritage was, “…looking for confrontation [and that he will fight] “…the total ban on alcohol. It’s a celebration – not to be sanitized. It does not matter how they dress it up, we will not Pay to Pray.”
 
Well, is there a possible middleway here? The problem really comes down to a minority who spoil the event for everyone else. Would it not be more sensible, therefore, to control the amount of alcohol taken on site (as is now the case) and to restrict access to the actual stones; meanwhile allowing people the freedom to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the event from the perimeter?
 
If King Arthur were to bend just a little, and if English Heritage were to think a little more laterally, could we possibly achieve the best of both worlds? Last year 23,000 people attended the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. If each were to pay just £1 that would achieve £23,000 and would probably cover the cost of providing portaloos, litter pickups etc. Actually, why not go a little further and give people rubbish bags as they arrive on site with, Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site and sacred to many. Please take your litter home with you, printed on them. Why not try to persuade people to be considerate rather than employing what might be seen as profit-motivated, strong-arm tactics against them. Stonehenge has, after all, been a gathering place of one sort or another from the beginning. Let’s not relegate that fact to the rubbish bin through lack of compromise and creative thinking.
 
Heritage, after all, is not just about stones, architecture and artefacts; it’s also about real-time cultural awareness and real-time human interaction.
 
Published by the Sketch 1896 an open-air concert
An open-air concert at Stonehenge. Published by the Sketch 1896
 

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.

 

Excavations at Carn Goedog (photo Mike Pitts)

Source: Have archaeologists found Stonehenge quarries?

 

Video impression of how Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape would look without traffic
 
Alex Rennie, for the Salisbury Journal, reports on a film that’s been released by three public bodies which are promoting a tunnel for Stonehenge –
 
A YEAR after the Government announced plans to build a 2.9km tunnel under Stonehenge three public bodies have released a film promoting the benefits of burying the A303. Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage hope that construction of the tunnel will improve wildlife and nature at the World Heritage Site.
 
Ian Wilson, Assistant Director of Operations for the National Trust in Dorset and Wiltshire, said: “We really hope the film brings to life the very real benefits that a tunnel could bring to the Stonehenge Landscape, for people and for wildlife.”
 
More here.
 
Traffic flowing along the A303 in the right of the photo. Clearly visible and audible from the monument
©
The Heritage Trust
 
BBC News Wiltshire reports today that a team of experts from UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites are to assess the Stonehenge A303 tunnel proposal –
 
The officials were invited for a four-day visit by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and will be given a tour by the National Trust and English Heritage. Ian Wilson, assistant director for the National Trust, said: “This is about getting to know all the changes that have happened in and around the area since the last scheme because we know an awful lot more about the landscape.”
 
More here.

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. ________

MADAM,

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.

Colin Coulson

 

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