On this day in history….21st September 1915

On this day in history : 21st September 1915 – Stonehenge is sold at public auction….to a Mr Chubb – who bought it as a surprise gift for his wife, at a cost of £6,600….

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Image credit : Momentum Dash via Flickr

It is hard to think that one of our most treasured national monuments was, only just over 100 years ago, actually put up for auction…. The then neglected stone circle was sold at Salisbury’s Palace Theatre; it featured as Lot No.15 in the sale’s published catalogue….

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Image credit : thegarethwiscombe via Flickr

Cecil Chubb came from a very ordinary background; his father was a saddle and harness maker in Shrewton, a village near to Stonehenge…. Cecil was obviously a bright child, he earned a place at grammar school and later went on to Cambridge University – enabling him to eventually train as a barrister, which he was very successful at and became comfortably wealthy….

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Sir Cecil Chubb, May 1926 – Bain News Service (publisher) – Public domain

It is rumoured Cecil’s wife sent him to the auction in order to purchase a set of dining chairs….and was none too impressed by her husband’s romantic gesture of bestowing upon her a pile of mouldy old stones…. However, it is more likely that Cecil was keen to see a piece of British history remain part of the Country’s heritage – his fear being that Stonehenge may be bought by purchasers from overseas…. In his words – “I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done”…. Three years later he gifted the 4,500-year-old monument to the Nation – his condition being the public should not have to ever pay more than a shilling to visit it – and local people should have access for free….img_3877

Stonehenge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, managed by English Heritage…. Over one million visitors visit the stones every year; an adult entrance ticket currently costs £19.50 (£17.50 if pre-booked), which is a bit more than a shilling – although some 30,000 local people are still entitled to visit for free….img_3878

On this day in history….1st June 1985

On this day in history : 1st June 1985 – The ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ takes place, near to Stonehenge…. More than 500 arrests are made as travellers attempt to reach the stones to hold an illegal festival….

The Stonehenge Free Festival ran from 1974 to 1984 – it is estimated attendance had grown to about 100,000 annually…. In 1984 the Department of the Environment passed the management of Stonehenge to English Heritage – and because of damage incurred to the stone circle and its surrounding area a High Court injunction was imposed to prevent the 1985 festival from taking place….

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Stonehenge Free Festival 1984 – Salix aiba at en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The New Age Traveller culture had developed in the 1970s as an alternative lifestyle…. Some 140 vehicles, mostly buses and vans converted to living space and accommodating around 600 travellers, had spent the night at Savernake Forest…. The following morning they had set off in convoy for Stonehenge – and managed to avoid a first roadblock on the A303 by diverting down a side road…. However, 7 miles from their destination they encountered a second roadblock; 500 police officers, council vehicles and 15 tons of gravel dumped on the road barred their way….

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Photo credit : Alan Lodge – fair use

What actually happened next is somewhat disputed…. The police claimed their vehicles were rammed; stones, lumps of wood and even petrol bombs were hurled…. Whereas those in the convoy described how they were ambushed; the windows of their vehicles smashed, they were beaten with truncheons and women were dragged along by their hair….

Some 200 fled into a nearby field, many were women and young children…. The police told of how a stand-off commenced…. Through negotiation some of the travellers left peacefully around 4 hours later…. However, at around 7pm a second police attack took place as some travellers tried to escape by driving across the fields…. It is claimed the police threw truncheons, shields, stones and even fire extinguishers to try and prevent them….

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Photo credit : Tim Malyon – fair use

This was the first test of English Heritage’s ban on Midsummer festivals at Stonehenge…. Around 1,300 police from 6 different forces took part…. In total 537 arrests were made and 24 people needed hospital treatment; 16 travellers and 8 police officers…. A carnage of damaged vehicles and fires were left behind….

Two years later a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of causing actual bodily harm…. In February 1991 Winchester Crown Court awarded £24,000 to 24 travellers who had sued the police for wrongful arrest and damage to property…. The police were cleared of wrongful arrest….and the £24,000 awarded was swallowed up by the legal bill of the travellers, as legal costs had not been awarded…. In 2000 English Heritage lifted the ban that had been imposed on festivals at Stonehenge…. Druids and revellers now enjoy limited access….

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Photo credit : Simon.Wakefield via flickr