The Curious Modern History Of Stonehenge

And by modern we mean since the days of Henry VIII, because Stonehenge dates back to at least 3100 BC.


Built over thousands of years, Stonehenge has survived through the ages as Europe's most iconic prehistoric monument. You might be surprised at its history over the past half-century, though.


Stonehenge may be old, but older still is Amesbury, the local area which has been officially named as the oldest continuously occupied part of the United Kingdom - people have been living here since way back in 8820 BC. Stonehenge itself was once officially part of the grounds of Amesbury Abbey, but that changed in the 16th Century when Henry VIII embarked on the Dissolution of the Monasteries in a show of force against Catholics. Confiscating the land, the King kindly handed it all over to Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford and brother of Henry's third wife Jane Seymour.

Watch the Clip


Stonehenge was passed from owner to owner over the generations. A certain "Mr Newdick" owned Stonehenge in 1620 and clearly liked it, since the Duke of Buckingham took a fancy to the monument and, according to records, was ready to "offer any rate for it, but he would not accept it". It later fell into the hands of a certain Lawrence Washington, ancestor of US President George Washington. The great architect Inigo Jones also paid a visit, and was less than impressed by its name - he published an essay titled "The Most Notable Antiquity of Great Britain, Vulgarly Called Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain".


More owners followed, and then in the 19th Century it became the property of the wealthy Antrobus dynasty. It was this aristocratic family which turned Stonehenge into a proper tourist attraction for the first time, complete with entry fee and security guards. But when the Antrobuses decided to forbid religious ceremonies taking place at Stonehenge, local druids weren't happy. At a protest meeting, a druid leader announced "In grief and sorrow I call down the curse of Almighty God and of his Spirit Messengers" upon the landlord's head.


Two years after the druid's curse, the male heir of the Antrobus estate was killed while fighting in Belgium in World War One. Months later, his father, the elder Antrobus, also died. This meant that Stonehenge, an iconic monument of Europe's Neolithic past, was put up for sale to the highest bidder. It was a huge matter of concern for some patriotic Brits who feared a rich American might snap Stonehenge up and have it moved to the United States. This was a very real possibility - after all, just a few decades later London Bridge would be purchased, dismantled, shipped across the Atlantic and rebuilt in Arizona...


In 1915, a wealthy barrister named Cecil Chubb attended an auction - he was apparently after some curtains. Instead, he ended up buying Stonehenge for £6,600. He described the purchase of "Lot 15: Stonehenge with 30 aces of adjoining land" as a mere whim on his part, though it's also been speculated he thought it would be a nice gift for his wife, who was the owner of a pioneering mental hospital. It was a little later, in 1918, that the Chubbs decided to give Stonehenge to the nation. He was made a baron for his troubles, and Stonehenge finally became a truly national treasure.