James Bridges at Stonehenge

Salisbury Museum
Salisbury Museum

Is anyone watching out for early depictions of Stonehenge? Like illustrations of Easter Island, they come and go through salerooms, and every so often something pops up that can help us understand part of the story. My friend Paul Stamper has directed me to a new catalogue from RG Watkins Books & Prints in Somerset. Among the lots are an early photo of Stonehenge, and two little sepia and wash sketches.

The latter (no 132, £250 the pair) are described as “Signed, titled and dated ‘S. Wilson R.M. Academy 5 April 1845 and 16 Nov 1845”. Sylvester Wilson, says Watkins, was appointed cadet at the Royal Military Academy in 1843, but was “discharged at the request of his friends” in July 1846. So he would have been in the army when he drew Stonehenge, based in Woolwich, London. “It is scarce”, says Watkins, “to find early dated drawings which were obviously made from direct observation of the monument.” Yet all may not be what it seems.

Chris Chippindale was thoroughly on the Stonehenge trail in the 1980s. He published two paintings by James Bridges (1802-65) that were clearly the models for Wilson’s works.

RG Watkins
RG Watkins

Wilson’s wider scene, above (November 1845), is a copy of a watercolour by Bridges which Chippindale (1983, Pl IV) dates to early-mid 19th century, private collection (below).

Bridges sunset
Chippindale 1983

Wilson’s interior view (April 1845) is a simplified copy of Bridges’ watercolour in the collection of Devizes Museum, which Chippindale (1986) dates to c 1820.

RG Watkins
RG Watkins
Devizes Museum
Devizes Museum

Devizes has other paintings attributed to Bridges, including this one below.

Devizes Museum
Devizes Museum

And Salisbury Museum has a nice view with barrows (at top).

Chippindale (1983, Pl V) illustrated a further interior view by Bridges, also in a (the same?) private collection.

Devizes Museum
Devizes Museum


James Bridges’s Stonehenge, by C Chippindale, Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 80 (1986), 230–32

Stonehenge Complete, by C Chippindale (Thames & Hudson 1983)


15 thoughts on “James Bridges at Stonehenge

  1. Do you know the Dutch drawings of Stonehenge from 1662 by Willem Schellinks? Published by J.A. Bakker in 1999:

    BAKKER, J. A. (1999) Two Drawings of Stonehenge from 1662 by Willem Schellinks. IN SARFATIJ, H., VERWERS, W. J. H. & WOLTERING, P. J. (Eds.) In Discussion with the Past. Archaeological studies presented to W.A. van Es. Zwolle/Amersfoort, Foundation for Promoting Archaeology.

  2. Very interesting Mike – always good to see lesser-known images of sites. Stonehenge must be the most illustrated site anywhere in the world – from paintings to postcards! There’s a couple of early postcards here – http://theheritagetrust.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/stonehenge-two-early-postcards/ Have often wondered about those vertical stripes on the lintels in the second photo. There’s also a French postcard (circa 1916) depicting a Bristol Monoplane flying over Stonehenge here – http://theheritagetrust.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/ancien-et-moderne-or-ancient-and-ancient/

  3. Marvellous selling device! An immediate call to Richard Watkins established that both lots were available and I bought them.
    RW was surprised that the response was so quick since he had only posted his catalogue a couple of days ago.

  4. This goes to commenter above: The Heritage Trust, re: the lintel stripes.
    Lintels 130, 101, 102 and 107 were lifted away by William Hawley in 1921.
    The painted stripes indicated balance-points on the stones, where the crane’s cable would be attached.
    Once they were down the 5 leaning uprights were excavated, straightened, then set in concrete beds.
    A footnote here is that when L-130 was being returned, it struck Stone 30 and a small chip was detached, seen today in the lower right corner of the exterior.
    ND Wiseman

  5. Thanks Tim, your last two photos make your point well. And as we know, the marks continued for some time as differential lichen growth, as has happened spectacularly elsewhere on the site with painted graffiti that was cleaned off with chemicals or abrasives

  6. Well, I guess when you’re wrong you’re just plain wrong.

    I’ve been singing about painted stripes on the 5 lintels (and uprights) for a long time, and even had myself persuaded that my above comment here last week prompted Mike’s latest post on the subject.

    While the interior vertical stripes on L-102 do look like paint, I had never seen the one Tim posted of S-56 after re-erection – and it clearly shows the ‘after-image’ of the baulking cradles.

    The marks ain’t paint, but dead lichen.

    Nice catch, Tim – as usual.

    ND Wiseman

  7. I was indeed responding to your comment. We still don’t really know exactly what caused those marks, though they were clearly related to the engineering works. Martyn Barber, my colleague at English Heritage, has been working on a comprehensive study of the restoration of Stonehenge in the decades around 1900, which promises to reveal much (though doubtless not all!). I understand his report will be published later this year.

  8. As a retired carpenter/joiner I see no possibility that the white markings were made by the timber cradle. The timber would have only touched the stone on its high points, of which there would have been many, yet the white has penetrated into every tiny crevice. Blowing the photograph up I believe reveals a packing of sorts to the upright timbers on the cradle but I doubt that would be responsible for it either. It only leaves you with the conclusion that the white markings have been painted on to either show the point of balance or to protect the surface somehow.

    1. “The timber would have only touched the stone on its high points, of which there would have been many, yet the white has penetrated into every tiny crevice.”

      My thoughts exactly. Looking at the indentations in the stones the white ‘staining’ appears, as you say, to penetrate them. The staining seems too uniform to be made by the pressure of the cradle alone. I can’t see the packing material you mention but that also crossed my mind. The cradle would have needed to have been positioned very accurately in order to prevent the lintel breaking so, if a packing martial was used, why not attach it to the lintel first; that would serve both as a buffer between the stone and the cradle as well as acting as a guide for those attaching the cradle.

      What might have been available as a packing material that could have affected the lichen? Canvas, sacking, leather or felt perhaps. Rope or rubber might also have been used. Most of those (including any adhesives used) would have contained chemicals (bleach and tannins among them). If a primed canvas was used (though I can’t see why it would have) the priming (gesso) would have consisted of chalk (calcium carbonate) and a glue binder. I’d need to look into how calcium carbonated might affect lichen before saying that it would be the primary agent for killing it but we can be fairly sure that any transfer of the gesso to the stone would have appeared quite dramatic in its whiteness.

      This is all getting a bit hypothetical isn’t it (interesting though 🙂 Perhaps there’s mention in the repair records of the time, Mike, as to the methods and materials used?


      Chief Conservation Officer (retired) British Museum.

  9. Well, based on a re-review of many applicable photos, I have given this matter some more thought. Today when we look at the stones, it may be difficult to imagine them shrouded in a ‘fur coat’ of lichen. This is because from the ground to arms-reach high they have been scrubbed away by a hundred years of incessant traffic. The fascinating lichens at Stonehenge could probably generate their own niche-study, but sufficient here is that though interior visits are thoroughly managed today, one need only look at photos from a month ago to see that it merely takes one or two days a year to keep the stones spiffy clean!

    However, 95 years ago there was far less traffic, and the lintels exist at an inaccessible altitude – high above any clamoring masses. Therefore, the lichens would be in much better health, and any missing stripes would be far more obvious, and – certainly in my case – have clearly been mistaken for paint.

    The lintels in the Sarsen Circle weigh about 9-tons, are 11-feet, 6-inches long, and are 3 feet thick. In short, a fairly cumbersome block of stone. In order to collar these with timber for lifting, there would have been staging and scaffolding erected for the process, and so I suspect there was varying degrees of chafing involved – more than enough to scrape the lichens clean as they cinched down those turn-buckles.

    When we look at close-ups of the vertical baulks used by Gowland in 1901, we see slender shims slipped between the wood and irregularities in the stone. After the stone was righted, the results appear in the form of thin vacancies along the ‘after-image’. These verticals are very apparent on the 4 aperture stones, which are far more irregular in texture than S-56.

    The lintels were carefully squared and shaped, so the vacancies left by the timbers would be far more linear.

    We have a good idea how long it takes for the lichens to grow back. A quick glance of any 1960 photo of the lifted West Trilithon will show its exterior surfaces as clean as a baby’s bottom, having lain prone for 165 years. But only in the last 2-odd decades have the lichens begun to return. Unlike more recently, paint products from the 1920s would never have survived into the 1940s or 50s, yet we still see those stripes in pictures 25 and 30 years later.

    As is generally the case, being wrong about something to do with Stonehenge always seems to lead down a much more interesting path!

    Best wishes,

    (PS – Mike – look on your welcome page. I left a note for you.)

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