How the Magpie Musicians came to stand for free Stonehenge
Four years ago (time, even immemorial, flies) I was working on an exhibition about Stonehenge for English Heritage, and I wrote a blog about a frequently reproduced photo of the stones. The image shows a crowd of people, bicycles and carts and horses, and had been commonly said to show a protest in 1901 against an admission charge. In fact the photo was taken in 1896 (along with at least one similar shot), on the occasion of a visit from a travelling musical troupe called the Magpie Musicians.
To my delight Jim Fuller recently got in touch with me through this blog, and supplied information and photos that tie up the story of these remarkable images. He sent me several photos, which he has kindly allowed me to publish here. One of the two prints I described, at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre (WSHC), is stamped “T.L. Fuller, Press and Commercial Photographer, Amesbury, Established 1911”. Jim is Thomas Lionel Fuller’s grandson. He has what remains of his grandfather’s collection of prints and negatives; all those reproduced here are his copyright.
As you can read on my earlier blog, the photo of Victorian festivities in the WHSC had been said, on the occasion of the opening of a pedestrian road underpass in 1968, to show “the villagers of Amesbury who massed at Stonehenge in protest against the charge” for entry introduced in 1901. Whoever wrote that could not have been TL Fuller, as he died in 1962. Neither did he take the photo, which was the work of James Russell & Sons from London. So how it came to be linked with an imaginary 1901 protest, and what Fuller’s connection was, remained unanswered. Until now.
At the top is an albumen print TL Fuller had in his collection of the more commonly reproduced image, showing a couple with two children standing by the Slaughter Stone (in the other, they are seated). The inscription shows the print was mounted by Russell & Sons. Someone has added a pencilled caption (partly inked over), and pencilled lines around the stones. The caption reads:
“THE RIGHT of FREE ACCESS enjoyed by THE BRITISH PUBLIC from TIME IMMEMORIAL” (above), and below:
ENCLOSED with barbed wire and a charge made for ADMISSION. 1901.
Jim Fuller has teased out what is going on. First let’s consider a pair of glass negatives, stored together with a handwritten note by his grandfather. Jim has transcribed the note (above), which is stamped with TL Fuller’s name and address and dated August 17 1938.
Copied from an old Photo given to me by Mr J. Soul (Shep[h]erd of Stonehenge) / this might be saleable to some of the weekly’s
Taken 68 Years ago /
Also see closing the gates Neg. taken June 1936. when the New Pay Turnstile was used first/
I understand a large number are being charged @ Salisbury Court last week concerning damage etc at Stonehenge some time ago –
the second party who visited Stonehenge during the night –
the Office of Works probably can do with plenty publicity concerning these places.
As Jim says, this seems to suggest that TL Fuller submitted a couple of images (as above) to a press agency (“this might be saleable to some of the weekly’s“) when arrests at the stones were in the news. The incident caused quite a stir at the time.
On the morning of June 16 1938 it was discovered that the Heelstone and four other stones, along with some nearby signposts, had been daubed with green paint. As well as this, as Time Magazine put it in its Foreign News section when the culprits were in court in August, “Atop great menhirs sat shining chamber pots.”
“Sixty Army officers” were asked “as officers and gentlemen to own to daubing part of Stonehenge”. Four came forward. It emerged that the “prank” began “after a rowdy guest night at nearby Larkhill Artillery School”.
The four men, all aged 20, having completed their course at Larkhill, were due to leave the following day. William Laurence Sherrard and William Howard Skinner, of the School of Anti-Aircraft Defence, Biggin Hill; John Edward Passingham Pierce, of the 22nd Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery Experimental Camp, Watchet; and John Lambert Shearne, of the Coast Artillery School, Shoeburyness: left the Mess about 10.30pm and got into Peirce’s car. They drove around, and, as you do, “decided to paint Stonehenge”.
“We collected some paint and a brush from the tennis court”, read their statement to the Salisbury court, where they pleaded guilty, “and went over to Stonehenge. Mr. Peirce and Mr. Sherrard each brought a piece of china. We parked the car by the fork road, got out, climbed the fence, and went over to the stones. We painted four stones in the group with green paint, climbed the stones and placed the pieces of china on the top of the stones. We came back towards the fence and painted a part of one side of the Hele stone.”
As a departing flourish they “added a letter” to “Exeter” on the road sign by the car park.
“It will take perhaps a thousand years for the stones to weather,” said the prosecution, referring to the cleansed sarsens. They were each fined £1, and charged £20 for court costs and repairs. The Larkhill commander, said Time, promised an “official reprimand”, while “keeping a straight face”.
I’ve put this together from online local press reports, so details may need correcting, and perhaps someone has some photos or drawings. But it would seem that TL Fuller, in the absence of photos of the actual event, rummaged in his archive and found something suitable for the press, which he copied (pencilling around the stones to make them clearer) and posted; Jim says he has a buff envelope, addressed to his grandfather and postmarked London 1938, which could have been how they were returned.
When Fuller wrote that one of the negatives was copied from a photo given him by J Soul, he was referring to John Soul (1866–1942), an eccentric family grocer who had a shop in Amesbury. Soul sounds like a latter day Henry Browne, obsessed with Stonehenge, writing guidebooks, popular with locals and visitors, dressing up as a shepherd and a Druid, and no doubt spinning remarkable stories. He was also, says Jim, a champion for the right of free, public access to Stonehenge.
It was Soul, thinks Jim, who wrote on the mount of the 1868 Russell print. That it was owned by him is confirmed by stamps on the back:
The Stonehenge Bureau, “antiques and curios”, must have been a sideline to the bread and camp requisites – the same stamp is over this trade postcard (putting an entirely new slant on Soul Brothers):
So the idea that the Magpie Musicians’ visit was actually a protest against the privatisation of Stonehenge originated with John Soul’s proselytising: he used the 1868 image to represent unfettered public access, in contrast to the 20th century fences and gates. There’s no evidence here that either Soul or Fuller argued that the image actually showed a protest, and both acknowledged its Victorian date (they thought 1870). The notion of a 1901 rally seems to have arisen later, through over-casual reading of Soul’s (or Fuller’s) caption.
This also allows us to see the photo of the man at the turnstile (higher up) in a new light. Usually imagined to be an unknown rambling visitor, we can now see it was John Soul, presumably posing deliberately by the new gates in a continuing fight for free public access.
Thank you Jim Fuller!