At solstice-tide, what could be more fitting than some thoughts about Stonehenge? (Well, probably a lot of things, but please humour me…)
Apart from the seasonality of the theme, my interest in the topic was initially piqued when I stumbled across a book about the monument by Inigo Jones, published posthumously by John Webb in 1655. I had no idea that Jones had moved into architectural pursuits after his career as a theatrical designer, so I was intrigued to see what he had to say about it.
Very briefly, in the book he revisits some of the wonderful legends about Merlin bringing the stones over from Ireland by magical means (by which he was not convinced), and concludes that the Ancient Britons could not have built such a structure, ascribing it to the Romans instead.
Quite apart from the content, I was also somewhat sidetracked by our copy as an object itself – it has been very beautifully type-set, but omissions have been inserted on so many pages I wonder if it was some kind of proof edition.
Our next book on the subject was written by John Smith, published in 1771. This has the rather grand title “Choir Gaur; the grand orrery of the ancient druids, commonly called Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, astronomically explained, and mathematically proved to be a temple erected in the earliest ages, for observing the motions of the heavenly bodies.”
Smith also considers the history of the monument, and then spends some time describing its present appearance in order to demonstrate how the theorems of his predecessors (Jones, Wood and Stukeley) were wrong.
In 1880, W.M. Flinders Petrie surveyed Stonehenge, considered the arguments of those who had gone before him, and concluded that further investigation was needed. He also asserted that “[a]nother work, very urgently needed, is securing the great trilithon upright” (p.33) and proposed a strategy for so doing.
Rather neatly, a further publication in our collection, William Gowland’s “Recent excavations at Stonehenge”, contains (amongst other things) some wonderful photographs of that very stone being reset:
There are clearly very many more things to say on this subject, which leaves the floor clear for future solstice posts – let us know in the comments if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about, and we’ll see if our collections can oblige!