Celebrations mark centenary of Stonehenge being donated to nation

Stonehenge is celebrating a century of belonging to the nation with music, art, an inflatable stone circle and an anniversary tea party.

English Heritage and artist Jeremy Deller are holding a day of events on Friday to mark 100 years since Cecil Chubb and his wife Mary donated the stone circle to the nation, beginning its transformation from neglect to national monument.

Local barrister Mr Chubb had purchased the site three years earlier at an auction on September 21 1915, in what is said to have been an “impulse buy” after he had been sent to the sale by his wife to bid for a set of dining chairs.

An early morning rehearsal at Stonehenge of musicians as English Heritage marks 100 years since the stone circle was gifted to the nation (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)
An early morning rehearsal at Stonehenge of musicians as English Heritage marks 100 years since the stone circle was gifted to the nation (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)

When Lot 15 at the auction in Salisbury came up – described as “Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland” – he bid because, he said: “I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done.”

Before the auction the site was in a perilous condition, as by the 19th century tourists were chipping bits off for souvenirs and carving their names into the stones, and wooden props were shoring up stones at risk of collapse.

In 1900 one of the upright stones fell and the huge horizontal lintel it supported snapped in two, prompting an outcry which led to the appointment of a police constable, the first organised excavation and introduction of a fence and admission charge to contribute to the upkeep of the monument.

Cecil and Mary Chubb donated the stones to the nation (Library of Congress/English Heritage/PA)
Cecil and Mary Chubb donated the stones to the nation (Library of Congress/English Heritage/PA)

But after Stonehenge was donated to the nation conservation work started, with English Heritage’s predecessors The Office of Works restoring falling stones and undertaking a major survey and programme of excavation.

The stone circle and surrounding landscape which is full of archaeological remains have been a World Heritage Site since 1986.

As part of the celebrations, Sacrilege, Mr Deller’s inflatable replica Stonehenge will be on display this weekend. Visitors on Friday will receive special tickets designed by the artist, while limited edition prints will also be on sale.

Stonehenge in Wiltshire is lit up by Finnish light artist Kari Kola to mark Unesco World Heritage Day and to mark 100 years of care and conservation (Ben Birchall/PA)
Stonehenge lit up by Finnish light artist Kari Kola to mark Unesco World Heritage Day (Ben Birchall/PA)

There will be a birthday tea party and a new piece of music – Of The Wonderful Nature Of Air, composed by Matt Rogers – will be performed within the stone circle.

The events at the stones are part of a series of celebrations which have also seen a number of individuals and families return to the Neolithic site they visited decades ago and recreate their photos from earlier trips.

The donation started a programme of conservation and care, such as this work in 1958 (PA)
The donation started a programme of conservation, such as this work in 1958 (PA)

Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s chief executive, said: “Stonehenge may be 4,500-years-old but all this month and all this year, we’re celebrating the monument’s last 100 years.

“Cecil and Mary Chubb’s generosity saved Stonehenge and transformed it from a neglected ruin to a national treasure.

“Their gift started a programme of care and conservation for the ancient stones and the surrounding landscape, one that continues today.”

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