Recent history of Stonehenge

Recent history of Stonehenge

The recent history of Stonehenge is the period from the nineteenth century onwards when widespread literacy, affordable mass travel and a growing body of archaeological knowledge propelled the site towards its role as an internationally famous, public monument that has been studied, adopted and exploited by numerous different groups.

Stonehenge is a place of pilgrimage for neo-druids and those following pagan or neo-pagan beliefs. The midsummer sunrise began attracting modern visitors in 1870s, with the first record of recreated Druidic practices dating to 1905 when the Ancient Order of Druids enacted a ceremony. Later the sun-worshipping Church of the Universal Bond adopted the site for their neo-Druidic rituals from 1912 until 1932 when their plans to scatter the ashes of cremated former members at the site were refused. Despite efforts by archaeologists to stress the differences among the Iron Age Druidic religion, the much older monument and modern Druidry, Stonehenge has become increasingly associated with abstruse rituals practised by white-robed wizards.


By the beginning of the 20th century many of the bluestones were leaning precariously, probably due to the increase in curious visitors clambering on them during the nineteenth century. Additionally two of the trilithons had fallen over during the modern era. Three phases of conservation work were undertaken which righted unstable or fallen stones and carefully replaced them in their original positions using information from antiquarian drawings. According to historical researcher Brian Edwards, "What we have been looking at is a 20th Century landscape, which is reminiscent of what Stonehenge MIGHT have been like thousands of years ago. It has been created by the heritage industry and is NOT the creation of prehistoric people. What we saw at the Millennium is less than 50 years old." [ [ Stonehenge rebuilt] ] If nothing else, this means that Stonehenge is not quite as timeless as its tourist publicity would suggest and that as with most historic monuments, conservation work has been undertaken.

The first of the significant excavations at Stonehenge was led by Colonel William Hawley and his assistant Robert Newall after the site had come into state hands in 1911. He excavated portions of most of the features at Stonehenge and was the first to establish that it was a multi-phase site.

After the Second World War, the Universal Bond was permitted to re-commence its ceremonies although archaeologists such as Glyn Daniel and Stuart Piggott continued to campaign against what they saw as bogus Druidry throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

In 1950 the Society of Antiquaries commissioned Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott and John FS Stone to carry out further excavations. They recovered many cremations and developed the phasing that still dominates much of what is written about Stonehenge. More recent minor excavations have been held to mitigate the effects of electrical cables, sewage pipes, and a footpath through the

In 2005, excavations as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project uncovered the remains of what may have been a village for workers or festival-goers near Stonehenge. The site, next to Durrington Walls, about two miles from Stonehenge is also the location of a large timber monument. The floors of several homes have since been discovered, as well as tools, animal bones, arrowheads and several more monuments. The head of the project - Mike Parker Pearson - speculates that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls may have been connected by the nearby River Avon, as both monuments have Avenues which lead to the river. " [ Remains of Village Found Near Stonehenge] ". Associated Press, January 31, 2007.] He further considers it possible that the area around Stonehenge may have been the burial area for people living around Durrington Walls, and would have made up a 'Domain of the dead', whilst the village was in the 'Domain of the living'.

tonehenge Roundtable Access

Including the year of the Battle of the Beanfield (1985) no access was allowed into the stones at Stonehenge for any religious reason. This 'exclusion zone' policy continued for almost fifteen years and until just before the arrival of the twenty-first century, visitors were not allowed to go into the stones at times of religious significance: the two Solstices (Winter and Summer) and two Equinoxes (Vernal and Autumnal).

However, now due to the "Roundtable" process and the 'Court of Human Rights' rulings gained by multiple arrests of campaigners such as 'King Arthur' some access had been gained four times a year. The 'Court of Human Rights' rulings recognises that members of any genuine religion have a right to worship in their own church, and Stonehenge is a place of worship to Neo-Druids, Pagans and other 'Earth based' or 'old' religions.

The Roundtable meetings include members of the Wiltshire Police force, National Trust, English Heritage, Pagans, Druids, Spiritualists and others.

At the Summer Solstice 2003 which fell over a weekend over 30,000 people attended a gathering at and in the stones. The 2004 gathering was smaller (around 21,000 people).

The earlier rituals were augmented by the Stonehenge free festival, held between 1972 and 1984, and loosely organised by the Politantric Circle. However, in 1985 the site was closed to festivalgoers by English Heritage and the National Trust by which time the number of midsummer visitors had risen from 500 to 30,000. A consequence of the end of the festival was the violent confrontation between the police and new age travellers that became known as the Battle of the Beanfield when police blockaded a convoy of travellers to prevent them from approaching Stonehenge. There was then no midsummer access for almost fifteen years until limited opening was negotiated in

Development controversies

In more recent years, the setting of the monument has been affected by the proximity of the A303 road between Amesbury and Winterbourne Stoke, and the A344. Projects for moving the road or placing it in a tunnel under the site have been proposed in the past, but these have often been opposed, as they are either too expensive or too destructive. In early 2003 the Department for Transport announced that the A303 would be upgraded, including the construction of the Stonehenge road tunnel.

Also announced was a new heritage centre, which was intended to be open in 2006. Current provision for visitors has often been criticised; in 1993 Stonehenge's presentation was condemned by the Public Accounts Committee of the British House of Commons as 'a national disgrace'. Even so, the plans for the new centre had aroused significant controversy especially from nearby landowners and residents. English Heritage proposed a new purpose-built facility 3km from the stones at Countess Road in Amesbury, on the edge of the World Heritage Site boundary. Visitors would be ferried to and from drop-off points near the monument by land trains. They would then approach the stones themselves on foot for the final kilometre.

Locals in Amesbury have complained that the scheme would shift traffic congestion from Stonehenge to their own town. They have also suggested that the necessary time that the public would now have to spend travelling to and from Stonehenge would likely dissuade many visitors, especially American and Japanese tourists on whistle-stop tours of England, to visit at all.

The plans were, however, cancelled in September 2007.Fact|date=September 2008

ee also

*Stonehenge road tunnel


*cite book | first=Christopher | last=Chippendale | authorlink=Christopher Chippendale | title=Stonehenge Complete | publisher=Thames and Hudson | location=London | year=2004 | id=ISBN 0-500-28467-9
*cite journal | author=Ronald Hutton | authorlink=Ronald Hutton | title=From Universal Bond to Public Free-For-All | journal=British Archaeology | date=July–August 2005 | volume=83 | pages=11 | url= | format=subscription required

External links

* [ 'Stonehenge Campaign']
* [ Pagan Rights and Services - including Stonehenge info]

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