The other day Vinci project manager Simon Clark very kindly showed me around the works at the emerging new visitor centre at Airman’s Cross. It’s well on it’s way, though even looking at it like this it’s still difficult to believe it’s really happening, so complex has been the route. Here is what it looked like, with, first, a couple of shots of the old (present) site. There are subtle changes here if you know what to look out for, like this hedge cut down:
Here is a view in the new Denton Corker Marshall building, looking out from the ticket booth:
Inside it’s very spacious, from the top below, retail area and then part of the museum:
Here are some views of the undulating roof:
And a view from the roof (you can just see some of the Winterbourne barrows in the distance):
The front wall, with its forest of erratically aligned supports:
And then there are the plant rooms, bus park ticket office, stores, offices and so on – not to mention the huge landscaped parking areas – that will help to make this a completely different experience from the old facilities for everyone who works there or visits:
And soon this will be history, the A344:
Adding a couple of photos May 20 (see comment below). This shows works at Airman’s Corner (on the same day as the above photos). The first gives an idea of how much ground has been moved in an area that looks flat (look for the old surface below the road sign), and the second part of an old concrete road surface unexpectedly revealed beneath the modern road, removing which added to the time the works took.
Perhaps not (though no obvious other candidates spring to mind) but it’s worth asking. What it certainly is, is quite different from any Stonehenge film you will see made today. In fact it’s so different, the very comparison is an object lesson in thinking and communicating about the past, and in broadcasting history.
I’ve just watched Paul Johnstone’s 30-minute 1954 film for the BBC TV series Buried Treasure, called, simply, Stonehenge. It’s in black and white, of course, and it mixes studio talk with outdoor film sequences. It’s powerfully different from a modern film.
Now, we get ordered to believe – to the accompaniment of dramatic but stale film sequences and lots of noise, as if someone had opened the Stonehenge cupboard and everything had fallen out on us – that a new film will change the way we think about Stonehenge; that it shows a new explanation that kills dead everything else.
Then, we got a Cambridge don in a bow tie – not a sunset or megalith in sight! – saying, in immaculate diction, “Good evening. Our programme tonight is about a monument which is one of the wonders of the prehistoric world of western Europe – Stonehenge.”
Not “the”, but “a monument”… not “the”, but “one of the wonders”… not “the world”, not even “Europe”, but “western Europe”… No sensationalism here, as the programme strikes out confidently in a style that blends a Cambridge tutorial with the darker recesses of Radio 3.
It’s quite wonderful! For the “ordinary viewer”, as presenter Glyn Daniel used to call us, the film gives something that no other film about Stonehenge I’ve ever watched does: that is quite simply, an idea of what Stonehenge is. Not a health spa, a celebration of ancestors, an astronomical computer, a monumental lichen-spattered vagina – but Stonehenge. We get to see the way the stones are carved, with details of joints and faces, models showing how it was built, experiments in moving stones, all for no reason other than these are things we might like to know about. It’s extraordinary.
Imagine this was a natural history film, made in 1954. Not an inappropriate thing to do, as David Attenborough was even then helping to make Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?, an archaeological quiz show also presented by Glyn Daniel. In the same year, Attenborough presented the first Zoo Quest films. These too mixed outdoor filming and studio talk. When we watch Attenborough today, the sounds and pictures around him are radically different, and breathtaking – but otherwise, the films are really quite similar. They show a distinguished communicator describe the world with knowledge and enthusiasm. Somewhere since 1954 television ceased to trust its audience to find ancient worlds, in their own rights, interesting.
To be fair, Johnstone’s film has its moments of longeur. We see Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggott talk to Daniel. None of them is quite sure how they should behave in a studio, they look nervous and self conscious. Daniel plays the eager but ignorant presenter, but you never quite believe it when he says, in effect, golly, professor, I didn’t know that – you suspect that actually he did (as he did).
For archaeologists who know Stonehenge well, or knew these men when they looked less youthful, or indeed didn’t know them at all, this film has many moments to treasure.
In the outdoor sequences, we get several glimpses of the excavations that Atkinson and Piggott were directing, and of which we still know less than we should.
We see the newly discovered dagger carving, looking so fresh we wonder how on earth noone had seen it before?
We see Stonehenge in the round before the major restoration work that began in 1958. We see a boggling piece of experimental archaeology, in which – I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it, and now I can watch it over and over I still wonder if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing – a man takes a prehistoric stone maul excavated at Stonehenge, and with it bashes a fallen sarsen megalith, at Stonehenge, to show us what a lot of effort it takes to create a pool of stone dust. And look, there is the newly powdered white dust.
And, to confirm our modern prejudices about British archaeology in the 1950s, the question “Why?” – “Why was Stonehenge constructed?” – is asked 24 minutes into a 30-minute film. Piggott takes exactly two minutes to answer, and back to the don. But really, in his succinct, clear way, Piggott says just about all we still say today. Not forgetting, of course, that it had nothing to do with modern Druids.
On the dust jacket of Paul Johnstone’s book of the series, Buried Treasure (Phoenix House 1957: does anyone know who the man above on the left is, in the book’s frontispiece?), it says: “Most television programmes are here and – it is their nature – are gone. A few deserve the permanence of book form. Buried Treasure is one of these…” But thanks to the BBC, the Stonehenge film is also preserved, and we can watch it, along with many other delights, on their archive pages, gone no more.
Stonehenge just featured on TV in the first film in The Flying Archaeologist series, “Stonehenge: The Missing Link” (online till May 27) . The series is presented by Ben Robinson, who’s a proper archaeologist – he’s a principal heritage at risk adviser at English Heritage (you might have noticed lots of other EH staff on screen, he lets his friends in too). Sometimes his enthusiasm carries him away with the significance of what he’s describing (are ploughed out long barrows really so special?). It’s nice to see all the sights, though, including in this film, the recent Marden dig and the source of the river Avon, even if the flying conceit begins to wear thin after a while. Air photography has told us very little specifically about the Stonehenge landscape in recent years, where it’s been overtaken by newer technologies including geophysics and lidar.
The “missing link” in the title is the dig down by the Avon below Vespasian’s Camp, not far from Stonehenge (see clip above). Here is a wonderfully important site, and all credit to those who found it and are researching it. Yet one of the extraordinary things about the site (I’ll say straight away I haven’t yet seen it) is that its real significance has been understated. You don’t often get that these days.
It’s a spring with copious remains of hunter-gatherer activity (mesolithic) from around 8–7,000 years ago. Partly because of the wet conditions, bone seems to be common, and really well preserved. The likelihood of there being preserved houses in the area is strong. This is extremely rare for this era, and so important to help us understand that world.
Yet whenever the site is mentioned, it seems, it’s linked to Stonehenge, as if it needs the prop. The Times ran a piece last year titled “Tracing the origins of Stonehenge”. Here’s one in the Independent in 2011, subtitled “How students found evidence to change the way we think about Stonehenge”. “Now evidence is emerging”, it says, “that the Stonehenge area could have been an important centre for prehistoric people several thousand years before the giant stone circle was actually built.”
Well, anyone who’s been shown the white painted disks on the surface of the Stonehenge car park (you can see one of them above, photographed a couple of days ago) knows that such evidence has been around for decades, and unlike the site by the river, it’s evidence that can at least be argued to have some relevance to the stones – it consists of pits that held enormous pine posts, that could hardly have had any practical use, 9–10,000 years ago. There is a bone from Stonehenge itself with a carbon date that suggests it’s probably mesolithic (see my blog here); and more recently Darvill and Wainwright’s 2008 dig found pine charcoal which was dated to around 9,000 years ago, in the centre of Stonehenge. We know there were people on Salisbury Plain, and on the future site of Stonehenge, in the mesolithic. We don’t need Vespasian’s Camp to tell us that.
What we do need is to find out more about what was going on at Vespasian’s Camp in the mesolithic. That’s a story potentially of international significance, not important just to a bunch of stones over the hill. It doesn’t need Stonehenge.
What did Stonehenge look like? How did it begin? The new Antiquity features an article by Tim Darvill, Pete Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson & Geoff Wainwright called “Stonehenge remodelled”. It’s designed to be the definitive summary of the current rethinking about the monument’s construction history. You can see an abstract here, though you need to subscribe to read the paper. There is a much fuller study published by English Heritage available online (though not live as I write).
Mike Parker Pearson has already published much of this (see my earlier blog), though every time it’s described, some detail has changed, and that’s true of this version. I’ve summarised their Stages in this table, which is based on one by the authors. Radiocarbon dates on the right are mostly actual dates, calibrated at 95% confidenceThis is a substantial advance on where we were until recently, and overall it’s a history that feels truer to the spirit of the place than earlier versions. But the depressing thing is that in some respects little has changed since the last definitive version published in 1995. This is because the archaeology, in particular the poor quality of the excavations and doubts about precise contexts of many of the radiocarbon samples, just cannot stand up to much more precision, much as we’d desperately like it to.
That’s not to say it’s all over. One thing that struck me as we considered this new phasing, is that Stonehenge seems to have a history that pre-dates the main ditch and bank enclosure that is traditionally (as effectively here by Darvill et al) taken to be the start of it all, at around 3000BC.
As is now clear, the Aubrey Holes, or maybe just some of the cremation burials, might slightly predate the ditch circuit. There are several other radiocarbon dates that are older than the ditch construction: some of them from bones in the ditch, where they are ascribed to older, “curated” remains that were carefully placed there when the ditch was dug; and others from contexts that make less obvious sense, where the finds are simply dismissed as “residual”.
But if cremation burial at Stonehenge began before 3000BC, might other remains come from features or activities on site that are contemporary, i.e. also pre-3000BC?
In January this year I went through the date lists and tabulated all the samples with older dates, listing them in rough order from older to younger (see chart). These are mostly samples we have traditionally labelled “structured”, “curated”, “residual” or “rejected” – in other words, we’ve labelled them out of the picture. There are also three antler samples that have been included with the others used to date the first ditch excavation.
There are arguably three chronological groups here (indicated by the lines in the stage column), but what’s most interesting is that we have a bunch of dates that suggest a story:
1. All the ditch samples are near terminals in the circuit, ie by the entrances
2. Of these, older samples are at the south, younger at the north-east.
This might indicate that these “structured” remains are in fact dating early features with which they are contemporary, i.e. Hawley’s “craters” at what later became ditch terminals. In that respect, the primary burial of distinctive cattle bones (look at all those ox jaws) at a “pre-ditch stage” at the same time as some cremation burials has obvious long barrow analogues. A number of neolithic long barrows on Salisbury Plain have large cattle bones where in other cases we might have found human remains. These ox bones might be telling us that Stonehenge was already a place where death was celebrated, before it became Stonehenge.
But suppose the bones in the ditch had been taken from somewhere else? Where might that have been?
One area of the site that remains stubbornly difficult to integrate, is that between the main entrance and out beyond the Heelstone. This plan is from Cleal et al, I’ve just removed all the excavation trenches and labels to make it easier to read.
Many of those features, including stone pits D and E, Stone 95, the rash of postholes across the ditch causeway, the stone or post pits B and C and the row of postholes at A – even the Heelstone and Stone 97 (the latter could be the former in an earlier position) – could be parts of what elsewhere might be interpreted as a large “mortuary house” defined by parallel ditches:
Who knows? My point is that the story is far from over. The only way to make significant new progress now is to combine re-examination of old excavation records (particularly Hawley’s) with new excavation at the site on a scale commensurate with the problems.
At last, after all these years, we’ve got the very first comprehensive study of the actual stones at Stonehenge. As part of its research into Stonehenge and its landscape that will feed into displays at the new visitor centre, English Heritage commissioned Greenhatch Group surveyors to produce the first complete, high resolution 3D digital model of Stonehenge and its immediate landscape, using lasers and a bit of photogrammetry. Then Marcus Abbott (ArcHeritage) and Hugo Anderson-Whymark (freelance lithics specialist) analysed the data, created new digital images and news ways of seeing them, added some of their own photos and spent time amongst the real stones.
In one sense the results are not surprising: it was obvious to anyone with eyes that that we could learn a lot about Stonehenge with a proper study of the stones. And yes, we have learnt a lot. But just about all the details are revelatory.
There are four different areas where new things are really going to change the way we think about the monument:
- how the stones were dressed and what the original monument looked like
- prehistoric carvings – difficult to see and unknown to visitors: the new discoveries have doubled the number of such carvings known in the whole of Britain
- damage by tourists: the scale of damage done by souvenir collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries had not been recognised before
- graffiti: dates range between 1721 and 1866, though most were carved 1800–1850 – and they’re almost everywhere.
And this must be just the beginning. There are more details yet to see (there is still scope for new and higher resolution survey), and new things to think about in the vast data set.
Marcus and Hugo have written a full report on it all for the new British Archaeology, and the feature comes with further comment from Paul Bryan and Susan Greaney at English Heritage.
Some of the new insights into the original monument are illustrated In this diagram we prepared for the magazine.
If you know Stonehenge, from this alone you can see at once how much new information has been revealed. Amongst other things, it seems fair to draw from this (and other new data) that the sarsen circle probably WAS complete; and that the whole thing was designed to be seen from the north-east, approaching up the Avenue – so the implication follows that the setting midwinter sun you’d be facing to the south-west was the key alignment.
Tom Goskar and colleagues from Wessex Archaeology and Archaeoptics experimented with scanning on three stone faces, and discovered a few new axehead carvings.
Down at Stonehenge today, mostly a chill drab day, but the river Avon (here near the “Bluehenge” site in West Amesbury) is always gorgeous and quiet.
And this is how the Airman’s Cross site looked (see earlier views here):
Two videos of Sacrilege have gone online today, made by Jared Schiller: Welsh kids having fun and an archaeologist getting half serious. The former at least is well worth watching! They were filmed on the first day of the UK tour, and now 30 venues later they’re on the Mayor of London’s website – with only Stoke-on-Trent and Preston to go. Perhaps they were really made for the next tour.
I wrote about last Christmas’s John Lewis ad, and here’s another work of commercial genius, from BBH (to the sound of London Calling by The Clash): the British Airways “Don’t Fly. Support Team GB and ParalympicsGB” advert (it seems to be working). The world was ready for a clever ad that tells you not to use what it’s trying to sell. And the best bit (thanks, Nick Grey) is the interactive “Take a plane down your street”. Go to http://taxi.ba.com/ and type in SP4 7DE. I defy you not to laugh.
Here’s another little video, a nice piece on Sacrilege in London from Jordan Wade for CBC.
That’s not a lost novel, or even a short story: it’s true. It’s one of the surprising stories (courtesy of Edward Biddulph) featured in the new British Archaeology. Many regular readers of this blog will be getting their magazine in the post (mine came this morning), but if you’re not one of those you can find it in Smiths on Friday (in the UK), or online now or on iTunes within a day or so. You can figure it all out on the much improved new look (in progress) Council for British Archaeology website. And here are more tasters.
I was at Stonehenge a few weeks ago early in the morning, when it was unusually clear and sunny – so great for looking at the stones. There’s always something new to see. Here are some.
This is sarsen lintel 130, one of those raised and replaced when the stones below were straightened and set in concrete in 1920. That flake scar on the bottom edge near the right end looks recent. Did they knock a bit off?
This is very odd. Does anyone know anything about it? We found two modern screws, just a bit corroded, in two of the sarsens. This is the small upright no. 11. Mike Parker Pearson’s index finger is almost touching the screw (detail inset). How do you get a screw into sarsen? And here are some more souvenirs left behind.
At the end of July I took the photo below at the biannual Boxford Masques near Newbury. I don’t usually do this, but the photo interests me so much I’m going to give a little technical detail.
This year the masque was held at the lovely – and immaculately maintained – Welford Park. (Curiously my young daughter took her first turn on stage – star turn, naturally! – in a play that featured an archaeologist: Harold Peake and his wife Charlotte Peake, who first staged the masques with OGS Crawford in attendance early in the last century, as described in Kitty Hauser’s engaging book.)
It was completely dark, except for a little electric light straying in from the left from the outdoor stage lighting. I noticed the moon glowing through the clouds over a white horse, and took a few photos – the horse and moon, silhouetted trees and land and a little fencing were almost all I could see. I had no support, just my elbows on a picnic table, so I was surprised how well they came out. The camera was a Nikon D700 set at ISO 6400, with a 135mm AF-DC Nikkor lens at f2, with a half second exposure. I miss Kodachrome, but I could never have done that so casually with film.
And here for good measure is Mike’s new book, contentious and very entertaining.
Like summer solstice but with gentility – the Stonehenge Fire Garden. The stones close and personal and erratically wrapped in flames and paraffin smells in the growing darkness, thousands of people politely queuing, one man making gentle electronic music surrounded by a quiet crowd, a comfortable friendly gathering with no manic focus and no camera-hunger fancy dress artists being chased by the press. Soft, arty French eccentricity from La Compagnie Carabosse (I think someone at the Express got the wrong end of the stick when they sent their online gardening editor to report on it). And it didn’t even rain.
There should have been three nights, but tonight – the last – Salisbury International Arts Festival stopped it: “With heavy hearts, we regret that tonight’s Fire Garden at Stonehenge is cancelled due to the torrential rain and high winds forecast. After discussion with our Health and Safety advisors and the Wiltshire Police, we have decided that the exceptional weather conditions forecast for this evening mean that we cannot guarantee a safe event for audience and artists.”
Earlier this morning, the sun rose in a miraculously clear sky for Michael Johnson to parade the Olympic torch for journalists, accompanied by local athlete Amelia Clifford. Good little video at the Telegraph, and a good report at ITV.
And funnily enough English Heritage chose now to make an official announcement about the start of construction at the visitor centre, when Vinci Construction UK yesterday took possession of the site at Airman’s Corner.
And to conclude with something just weird… I’m sure the kids from Greentrees Primary School in Salisbury had a great time, but exactly what did English Heritage think it was doing?
Early this morning 100 years ago, flying from Larkhill just north of Stonehenge, Captain Loraine crashed his Nieuport monoplane during a failed turn. Both he and his passenger Staff-Sergeant Wilson were killed. I’ve written about this before, and the recent removal of the memorial at Airman’s Cross. Here are some further notes and sources.
The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has three photos:
I saw this photo of Loraine’s coffin procession in Bulford on eBay (but didn’t buy it!):
Here is another photo of this procession, posted here:
This is the most detailed description of the incident, from the Journal of the Royal Air Force Historical Society 16 (1996), 104–110, by Air Vice-Marshall Barry Newton. The whole journal is available here.
Numerous documents linked to the planning application to move the cross can be found here, on the Wiltshire Council website.
And so as not to forget Sergeant Wilson, here is a photo of his grave in Andover, posted here on the Aviation Forum; Loraine was buried in Suffolk.
Sacrilege! Here is a guide to some of the things you may not know about Stonehenge and Jeremy Deller’s touring “recreational bouncer”, as it’s known in the trade.
My headline was inspired by Mitch Benn’s must-hear song “Bouncy, bouncy druids”, so let’s start with that. Apparently he wrote it during the interval at Leeds City Varieties on April 19. According to jugglerjaf, he asked the audience for three news stories, and was given the issue of an elected Mayor for Leeds, the Bahrain Grand Prix controversy and Sacrilege (pitched as “Inflatable Stonehenge”). They all appear in the song, along with blow up sheep and foam rubber torches. Benn gave another performance on the Radio 4 Now Show on June 23 – more formal, but the recording’s better!
Sacrilege is a full scale Stonehenge bouncy castle created by Turner-prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller. It was launched in April 2012 at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, as a joint commission between the festival and the Mayor of London. It’s now touring the UK as part of London 2012 Festival, having started on June 21 at the National Botanic Garden in Carmarthenshire (see my earlier blogs here and here). It arrives in London at Central Park, Greenwich on July 21.
June 21 was midsummer day, so as is the tradition other Stonehenge events popped up: amongst those this year we saw a book launch (Mike Parker Pearson’s Stonehenge – “The midwinter solstice”, he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, was “a kind of neolithic Christmas”); a sort of Stonehenge made of cars by “self-taught artist Tommy Gun”, and set up in central London to promote a new fully recyclable Skoda; and the solstice party at Stonehenge itself (so wet, without a clock it was impossible to tell when the day began).
The bouncer was designed and made earlier this year in Bingham, Nottinghamshire. Deller and Inflatable World’s designer and MD, Paul Walkden, went undercover to examine Stonehenge from the inside (the project was carefully guarded in advance of the Glasgow launch). Walkden replicated the shapes and detailing of the standing sarsens in Nylon PVC, with the textures and lichens painted on by hand. It was damp and overcast when they were they, so the stones’ colours are grey and dark (in the sun they can be gloriously golden). It’s engineered to take 180 bouncers at once on a circular floor 40m across.
It has all the upright sarsens – the large stones that probably came from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles or so north of Stonehenge (the smaller Welsh bluestones and the fallen sarsens are not there). All the stones are easily recognisable: it’s a thought that while in Sacrilege they sway in the wind, and lean and wobble as people bounce around them, at Stonehenge they are almost all set in concrete.
Sacrilege is huge, but there is a smaller, remarkably similar bouncy castle that also went on tour – in Ireland. California-born artist Jim Ricks launched the Poulnabrone Bouncy Dolmen on August 8 2010. It’s a twice-scale replica of the megalithic portal tomb in the Burren, Co Clare. In the words of the Galway Advertiser, “The artist… combined an icon of ancient Ireland with an icon of contemporary Ireland, playfully re-presenting elements of Irish culture, often over-used commercially to attract tourism, in an accessible, witty, and visually arresting way.”
The concepts of bouncy dolmen and bouncy Stonehenge are so similar, you’d think there was a connection. Not so, apparently. Deller says he found out about the dolmen when researching how to make Sacrilege. Ricks saw Sacrilege in Glasgow, and the two artists got on well, and there is talk of the dolmen making an appearance when Sacrilege goes to Belfast.
Is Sacrilege sacrilegious? You might think so if you somehow imagine it is the real Stonehenge – bouncing up and down on a prehistoric cemetery might upset more than extreme Pagans. But it’s not, any more than Stonehenge itself is the site that existed four or five thousand years ago.
We take heritage seriously. We curate obsessively, we stage po-face re-enactments, we tell people they must participate and enjoy it. Sacrilege is huge fun – you don’t see a glum face anywhere near it, and of course kids love it. A good laugh strips away the undergrowth and allows us to see more clearly. It’s a focus, if you want it, for discussions about heritage values and meanings. And it’s an “engagement” project that works. You get to bounce around in the parts that most people never see in the real thing, if they see it at all, and it’s so huge and realistic that the curious are often going to want to know more. I asked a group of swaying primary school children in Marlborough, how old they thought the real thing was? We narrowed it down to between a million years and 30 years. Now, that’s a great start.
Don’t miss it! It’s wonderful, especially if you are a child or have children. It’s huge fun, and for many will be their first introduction to Stonehenge, and even the idea of prehistory. On the tour’s first day at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, Jeremy Deller and I were sheltering in a little tent from the rain. A party of school children suddenly stormed in and – clearly well prepared by their teachers – received an impromptu class in contemporary art and neolithic technology. I would never have forgotten something like that. The model is so huge, so real, and so bouncy, everyone will remember it.
I’m particularly excited that it’s coming to Marlborough: it will be on the Common on Friday (June 29, 10am–6pm). As everywhere, that will be just for the one day and it will be free. And its next stop, appropriately, will be the archaeological park at Flag Fen. You can see a detailed press release from the Mayor of London’s office here (as Boris Johnson puts it, it’s “a wonderfully witty, quite literal leap into that history and a fantastic example of the irreverence that are hallmarks of our great British humour and our incomparable artists”), and further tour details here.
The locations are:
Thursday 21 June
National Botanic Garden, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Sunday 24 June
Heartlands, Redruth, Cornwall
Tuesday 26 June
Belmont Park, Exeter
Friday 29 June
Marlborough Common, Wiltshire
Wednesday 4 July
Saturday 7 July
Flag Fen, Peterborough
Wednesday 11 July
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Sunday 15 July
Saltwell Park, Gateshead
Friday 20 July
Saturday 21 July – Sunday 12 August … it will be at 14 different sites around London
Saturday 18 August
College Green, Bristol
Sunday 26 August
Sunday 9 September
Preston Guild, Preston
Work on the Stonehenge visitor centre starts in a couple of weeks when Vinci Construction take possession of the Airman’s Corner site. That’s the formal line. But for me it began yesterday, when the Royal Engineers, watched by Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage, released the memorial from its concrete. The site takes its name from this granite cross, commemorating the deaths of Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson a century ago on July 5. The hardest job seemed to be extracting the plaque set in 1996. It will all be looked after at Tidworth barracks for the next year, then returned to a more accessible, safer and attractive location – and just a little closer to the actual crash site.
And here’s how it all looked, with contractors fencing out the site. The Muddy patch in the field left by the solstice parking is where the visitor centre will be, and the road access site is near the future car park.
Meanwhile at Stonehenge, a strawberry vendor makes the most of Byway 12 and the gate from the car park offering access to the Cursus barrows.
And just to prove the cross was moved, here a couple of photos kindly provided by Martin Harvey of English Heritage, taken later in the day.
A funny thing happened before Stonehenge: Monumental Journey opened (as I write it has two weeks to go). We used a photo previously published twice by English Heritage (Richards 2004, 2007) as purporting to show a protest at Stonehenge by the residents of Amesbury against the fencing of the monument in 1901. I knew nothing about this protest, but I duly wrote the caption, and a copy of the original print owned by Wiltshire County Council was hung in the gallery.
The evening before the press launch of the exhibition, quite by chance I saw a very similar image undoubtedly shot by the same photographer, on eBay – on a page from the Sketch published in 1896. Out went the local protest: in came “the popping of corks” at “an open-air concert”. Within a few days, I’d been able to solve the mystery, and we changed the caption.
Both photos had to date from 1896 or earlier, so where had the 1901 protest idea come from? And could we find out more about the concert? It’s a great story.
Janis Packham at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre answered my query, and told me that there was an undated handwritten text on the back of their print (ref P8425), which reads:
“The opening of new facilities at Stonehenge today (9th July) recalls the occasion in 1901 when the monument was enclosed and the public charged for admission. This old photograph, taken in 1901, shows the villagers of Amesbury who massed at Stonehenge in protest against the charge.”
The print is stamped “T.L. Fuller, Press and Commercial Photographer, Amesbury, Established 1911”. It was acquired from Yeovil Library in 1983.
So clearly, the caption was added some time after the photo was taken. The clue lay in “opening of new facilities at Stonehenge today (9th July)”.
The only appropriately significant “new facilities” event I could think of, was the opening of the pedestrian underpass. Helpfully, another of the photos in the exhibition at the Wellington Arch shows the underpass opening ceremony – dated July 9 1968! So someone wrote that caption in 1968.
TL Fuller was an active Amesbury photographer from around 1910. He died in 1962, so the inscription would appear to have been written by someone else. But it seems not unlikely that Fuller might have sold, and stamped, copies of an original photo by a different photographer. The Sketch cutting tells us that photographer was employed by Russell and Sons of Baker St, London. James Russell and Sons was a commercial photographic firm established in 1852. From 1889 it was based at 17 Baker Street, and in the late 19th century also had studios in Windsor and Southsea.
So, what of the concert? Chris Chippindale reproduced the print in Stonehenge Complete, a more cropped version than English Heritage’s yet showing a little more on the left side:
Curiously, he captions it “village outing”, and the credit reads “Photo c 1895 Wiltshire County Council”. How did he avoid the mistake of saying it was a protest in 1901? One explanation could be that WCC has (or had) two prints, the other with more correct (but incomplete) information. Stonehenge Complete was first published in 1983. Could Thames & Hudson have been able to use a print the council acquired from Yeovil in the same year? Might WCC already have had a different one?
On the page opposite the reproduction of the print, Chippindale reproduced a poster for a concert at Stonehenge on September 18 1896 – 12 days before the publication of the Sketch photo (the original poster is in the collection of Devizes Museum). He didn’t know it, but this must be advertising the concert featured in the photos. It tells us all we need to know, including the name of the photographer: Messrs J Russell & Sons of Baker St.
So who are these Magpie Musicians from the Crystal Palace, and what did they play? From online regional press archives, we can see they were a troupe of five or six players who toured the country with a comedic mix of song, dance and music. They did, as the poster says, feature at the Crystal Palace (they were there in 1896 on at least August 19–22, a month before their appearance at Stonehenge), but they were as likely to be seen on the Isle of Wight or in Aberdeen. They performed in black and white costume, and one of their songs (“She’s a lubly gal”, composed by stalwart Miss Stanhope) is described as a “coon song”, so perhaps the Magpie Musicians were an early precursor of the 1960s UK television Black and White Minstrel Show, which was also popular on tour.
There were changes in line-up, but at a typical performance around 1896 you might have seen Mr A Collard (the leader, on flute, playing perhaps “Hush a bye” or “Sing, sweet bird”), Miss Allington (soprano), Miss Gwendolyn (on Indian clubs and piano), Miss Erroll Stanhope (siffleuse, comedienne, with “Little Miss Primm” in her repertoire) and Mr Malcolm Scott (singer, eccentric dancer, comedian, giving “She’s a lubly gal” a turn); Mr Sidney Vincent (on banjo) might also have made an appearance.
Press reports confirm their Stonehenge event, at which 1,000 people are said to have been present and a spaniel called Nick was mislaid:
This report describing a performance at Southampton in 1895 gives a flavour of the occasion:
What next? We can probably reconstruct more details of this extraordinary event – at least from today’s perspective – at Stonehenge. It offers an insight into the sort of thing that could happen there before the private owner took full control by fencing the site and charging admission. It’s worth noting how, despite the undoubted objections Lord Antrobus had to face at enclosing the site, he would have had support as well, not least (with a familiar modern ring) from someone in London who hadn’t actually been there. This is what the Sketch writer said to accompany the photo:
The H Eyres on the side of the cart (did he bring a piano to Stonehenge?) was an Amesbury carrier; perhaps the same vehicle can be seen in this photo in Salisbury market place in 1889, also in the county collection; the business was running a bus service in the 1930s.
Local people can surely add to my account. Are there more prints around, and has WCC got more than one? Is there a more detailed record of the concert – it would be surprising if no one had mentioned it in a postcard, letter or diary? What is the apparent signature reading L&E (?) in the bottom left corner of the Sketch print? Was Nick ever found? Please add your comments, information and corrections.
Chippindale, C, 1983. Stonehenge Complete
Richards, J 2004. Stonehenge: A History in Photographs
Richards J, 2007. Stonehenge: The Story So Far
The job spec for Head of Interpretation (Stonehenge). Not a huge salary in its context (starts at £43,103), but hopefully the profile and peculiar nature of the two-year job will attract exceptional applicants. Interviews in eight days.
And here’s another key archaeology job, perhaps a lifetime career, salary c £52k, “incredibly rewarding” and a very pretty brochure. Closing date tomorrow.
I’m stuck in the study, so if anyone is out there with more hands-on knowledge than me perhaps they’ll add to this. The first I saw of the Soane model in Stonehenge: Monumental Journey was when it appeared in the case; that is the one exhibit in the show that I had nothing to do with. But in response to a suggestion that the Soane model might be one of Henry Browne’s, I don’t think it’s likely.
Browne first arrived in Amesbury in 1822, and appointed himself the monument’s first custodian and guidebook writer. He was obsessed with the stones, and made several models. But the Soane model must have been made before 1797, which would be too early for Browne.
Compare them. There are photos of two of Browne’s “as is” models online. This is the Ashmolean Museum’s (“as is” on left”, “as was” on right):
And this is Haslemere Museum’s (courtesy megalithic.co.uk):
Devizes Museum has one too, in John Britton’s cabinet.
If you compare Haslemere’s with the Soane model, you can see clearly how in the former the trilithon 57/58 (left of the large, leaning stone 56) is fallen, while in the latter it is still upright: it fell in 1797.
Browne’s modelling work is best originally described in what William Long, quoting in his Stonehenge & its Barrows (Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society Magazine 16, 1876) called “an account… printed in a Wiltshire newspaper”. Below is the text, corrected from an online scan here; a lesser part of this was printed in The Religious Tract Society’s The Visitor, or Monthly Instructor (1851), with no source noted at all (scanned here).
“Mr. Browne, the author of a work on Stonehenge, was a man of limited means, but of respectable mental attainments, who had been early struck with the magnificence of the remains on Salisbury Plain, and had imbibed a passion for the temple at Stonehenge as absorbing and as powerful as that felt by the young Parisienne for the Belvidere Apollo, or as any one of the Pygmalion-like instances of which so many are recorded. To this, and to its illustrative remains in this neighbourhood, all his thoughts were devoted. He lived under its shadow, he dreamed of it, he endeavoured to trace out the hidden mystery of its existence, he lectured upon its many wonders, and he published a book about it. When engaged on his lectures to the members of the literary institutions that existed some years since in Salisbury, he used to bring his drawings and make his arrangements in the morning, return to Amesbury to dinner, come back with more materials in the afternoon, read his lecture in the evening, and then again walk on his solitary road to Amesbury at night after the conclusion of the meeting, having already walked five-and-twenty miles. But this persevering energy of his character was more particularly exemplified during the construction of his model of Stonehenge. Every stone was modelled on the spot, and the most minute variations in the original carefully noted in his copy. Day after day, and week after week, was he to be found among those memorials of old time – planning, measuring, modelling, painting, in the prosecution of his self-prescribed task and interrupted only by the necessity of sometimes visiting Salisbury for materials, which he bore home himself, and on foot. The difficulty of making such a copy would not perhaps be great with proper assistance, but this man worked wholly by himself, and we can imagine his self-gratulation on the completion of his labours, when he could exclaim, like the victor of Corioli, “Alone I did it ! I!” From this model he made others on different scales, and the moulds being preserved, these were afterwards sold by his son, together with some of his own drawings equally accurate, to occasional visitors.
“Mr. Browne, though he had completed his work, had not yet found for it a resting-place, and he determined to present it to the British Museum. It was accepted by the trustees, with thanks, and the author chose to have the pleasure of placing it with his own hands in this great repository of the antiquities of the world. Unwilling to trust the model from his sight, and equally unwilling or unable to bear the expenses of the usual modes of travelling, he resolved to walk with it to London; and mounting his model on a wheel-barrow or hand-track he set off across the plain with his charge. After a toilsome and almost continuous march of two days and nights (for he only slept for a short time in the day), he arrived on the morning of the third day at the British Museum, showed the letter of the trustees to the porter, wheeled his load into the court-yard, and saw his model safely deposited in the house. He left without staying to be questioned, and was soon on his way home again; but was detained some days on the road by illness brought on by his exertions.”
He died [adds Long] at Winchester, April 17th, 1839, aged 70 years, while journeying on foot to deliver a course of lectures at Chichester. He wrote, in 1809, a pamphlet entitled “The real State of England;” in 1810, “A brief arrangement of the Apocalypse;” and in 1830, “The critical state of England at the present time.” He styles himself “Lecturer on History.”
Chris Evans has written about the context of Soane’s archaeological models in two similar papers, “Megalithic follies: Soane’s ‘Druidic Remains’ & the display of monuments” (Journal of Material Culture, Nov 2000, 347–66) and “Modelling monuments & excavations” (in eds S de Chadarevian & N Hopwood, 2004, Models: The Third Dimension of Science, 109–37). He tells us that Soane probably bought his Stonehenge model in 1832 from another collection in London. But no one, as far as I am aware, has examined the model for what it may tell us about Stonehenge.
To help make sense of it, I’ve labelled a few stones and included part of John Wood’s plan that was surveyed in 1740. Stone 14 fell soon after 1800, though it’s not immediately clear if the model shows that upright or stone 16, which still stands. It does, however, have the trilithon stones 57/58 and lintel 158 prominently upright. These fell in 1797, so the model must predate that year. The stubby sarsen 11 is missing from the model, but was there, and is perhaps in a drawer somewhere in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
What’s interesting, and I hadn’t expected, is to see that the ground has been modelled as well as the stones. It’s not just a flat board, but a gently rolling, crumpled surface. And what jumps out is what can only be the hollow left by an excavation, apparently by someone in search of buried stones, near the feet of the leaning trilithon stone 56. Did anyone know about that before? And if we didn’t, how many other furtive old hollows might have disturbed what we think of as ancient, pristine ground?
So here it is, the gem of an exhibition inside the extraordinary, massive arch that groans under the weight of the Quadriga bronze at Hyde Park Corner. It opened on Wednesday and continues until June 24. I’ll be talking about it at an English Heritage members event on Monday May 14 (“suitable for adults”, apparently), and I’m giving a public lecture on June 7. You can read about the exhibition here, and more about the arch here.
We’ve told a story about visitors, about how people have approached the stones over the centuries, and what they have come away with. It’s not a story you often hear about, unless it’s to do with the exceptional – Druids, Travellers or archaeologists. We’re interested in the more everyday, the millions of visitors who have made Stonehenge what it is, a story about all of us. And there are some fascinating things in the show.
I discussed it with Tom Holland on Radio 4’s Making History, which you’ll be able to listen to for a few more days here (or download a podcast).
The magazine cover, incidentally (photographed just after we had excavated along that very verge), has a wonderful caption. “Some of the smaller ‘Blue Stones’… were transported from as far as Wales by some unknown form of ancient transport – doubtless very much slower that the ultramodern, 110 bhp Pearl Metallic Scirocco GLi!”. They don’t write em like they used to.
Here are a few photos I took in 2002. I was an archaeological consultant for the English Heritage Stonehenge project, which was then at its most grandiose – the proposed visitor centre north of Amesbury, linked to the tunnelling of the A303 and other major road changes. The sandwich board was for a little exhibition in a tent about the proposed changes.
And it’s not every day we get an archaeologist in the Google doodle…
I was at the real Stonehenge yesterday, in warm sunshine that came from nowhere to talk to Tom Holland for the Radio 4 Making History programme (listen out on May 8). Work will start on the new centre before long, and already I’m getting little niggles of nostalgia for all the tarmac, signs and mess. The sun helps.
And here’s a nice little sketch from somebody else’s notebook, of the real thing. It’s in Abbott & Holder’s May list, where it’s described as a sketchbook page 5×14 inches, dated “Sept.3, 1826”, anon, £275.
There’s something odd about this view, until you see the figure in the air with his head down and you realise it’s Jeremy Deller’s blow up version. It’s a nice sketch by Will Freeborn up in Glasgow, and testament to both his draughtmanship and the accuracy of the full scale model. Down here in Wiltshire, I’m hoping it can stop off in Marlborough on its summer travels.
So here it is, Jeremy Deller’s bouncyhenge. Or balloonhenge, or wobblyhenge (thought I’d get in first with those three as a starter). The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art has opened, and down on Glasgow Green is a full-scale inflatable replica of Stonehenge as it looks now (less the fallen stones, apparently for reasons of cost). Unlike the original, it’s free to enter and you can bounce around amongst the stones. It comes down to London for the 2012 Olympics, then goes on tour (I think to as yet undecided locations). Click on these images to watch a great BBC video, and more here.
Deller calls the work Sacrilege, reflecting his sense that archaeologists, at least, as he told me earlier, might be offended by it (he later emailed me details, in case “it might come as [a] shock to hear about it out of the blue”). I’m not so sure. It certainly looks to to be popular with the public, and my guess is most archaeologists would love it.
It’s very Deller. He’s known for his ambitious historical re-enactment projects, especially The Battle of Orgreave (the clash between police and miners that occurred during the miners’ strike). There’s always an unexpected side that makes you see something differently. In Acid Brass, working with others, he got the Williams Fairey Brass Band to play arrangements of acid house and Detroit techno.
Children running around a full scale inflatable Stonehenge has this sense of a humorous twist on historical re-enactments. At Stonehenge in particular, these tend to be brown, slow, quiet and humourless, but for the odd flame or strangled trumpet – quite unlike anything I imagine that might have occurred thousands of years ago. Sacrilege certainly offers the opportunity to address Stonehenge from a new angle.
There’s an industry of Stonehenge replicas. I was the archaeologist in a team that made a full-scale painted polystyrene Stonehenge for Channel 5 in 2005. It was done to look how it would have been when new, and was extraordinarily realistic, and came to be called Foamhenge. What we didn’t know at the time was that Mark Cline had made a full scale Foamhenge in Virginia the year before, looking like Stonehenge does now. Good places to start to see some of these are at Wikipedia and – best of all – Clonehenge.
Here’s another acoustic study of Stonehenge that just arrived on my desktop. I haven’t read the full study, but judging from the press release, which I’ve reproduced in full below, it’s got more going for it than some of the others. Phrases I like:
“The present day Stonehenge shows a few weak echoes and no noticeable reverberation, but because of its derelict state these results cannot be considered as representative of the original building.”
“The data gathered does not unequivocally reveal whether the site was designed with acoustics in mind… [but] shows that the space reacted to acoustic activity in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man.”
Compare and contrast…
And here are the links:
The photo shows what Stonehenge sounded like by the A303 today.