STONEHENGE and the MAN WHO BOUGHT IT

We’ve had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge a couple of times.  The first time was quite a few years ago when Stonehenge was not the massive tourist attraction it is today.  Yes, there was a modest entrance fee, but the site was quite accessible.  A small fence, which you could easily step over, surrounded the stones and there was a path which circled the stones for walking.  You could spend an entire afternoon just enjoying the beauty of the area with its grassy knolls and meadows.

Today, however, a visit to Stonehenge is quite different. Tickets to England’s most popular tourist attractions must be booked in advance … and the cost for a family of four is a hefty £54.90.  There is a new and impressive Visitor’s Center with a ticket office, museum, gift shop and coffee shop.  The museum has changing exhibits featuring contemporary art, photographs, and treasures from museums around the world.

Just outside the Visitor’s Center is a fascinating new exhibit of neolithic, or stone age, houses.  These yurt-style homes with their thatched roofs are based on houses found during the 2006 excavations in this area.  Carbon dating showed that the original buildings were built around 2,500 BC, the same time period the stones were being erected.  This fascinating addition to Stonehenge is one which I can’t wait to see.

Stonehenge has been a curiosity since the beginning of recorded time.  Studies and surveys have led researchers to speculate that this circle of stones could have been anything from a Roman fort to a Druid monument.  What we have learned is that the people who built Stonehenge were farmers and knowing the changing of the seasons would be very important to them.  The layout of Stonehenge is positioned in relation to the solstices, or the sun’s movement.  In addition to knowing what to expect with the changing seasons, Stonehenge also played an important part in the lives of these early people spiritually.  The cremated remains of over 150 people have been found buried here.

Today, this ancient monument is a registered UNESCO World Heritage site and is managed by the English Heritage, a registered charity that manages over 400 of England’s historic buildings and monuments.  But, did you know that at one time these ancient stones were privately owned?

King Henry VIII

In 1540 King Henry VIII took ownership of Stonehenge and the surrounding land from the monks at Amesbury Abbey.  Many names and transfers of ownership occurred over the next 300 years until the Antrobus family of Cheshire bought the estate in 1824.  Always curious, souvenir hunters plagued these prehistoric stones, chiseling chips out of the blocks, etching their names into the stones, digging holes in the ground, until one day in 1901 one of the enormous uprights and its lintel crashed to the ground.

Edmund Antrobus was forced to fence off approximately 20 acres around the monument, hire a guard, and prop up the other stones with wooden planks and poles.  Meanwhile, the construction of a new railway and roads brought many new visitors to the area.  Continued concern for the safety of the visitors grew until Edmund, with the help of the Society of Antiquaries, organized a restoration of the neglected ruins, causing him to charge a one-shilling admission fee.

Edmund’s son, the last heir to the Antrobus family, was killed fighting in France during World War I.  And when Edmund died a few months later, the family decided to put the estate, which included Stonehenge, up for sale.

Cecil and his daughter, Mary, on board RMS Aquitania, May 1926

Now let’s meet Cecil Chubb.  Cecil was born to a leathersmith in 1876 in a small village not far from Stonehenge.  Cecil studied hard, worked hard and became a school teacher at the age of 14.  Chubb continued his studies and eventually became a lawyer, opening his own law firm.  In 1902 Chubb married Mary Finch.  When Mary’s uncle, Dr. Corbin Finch, died in 1910, he left the Fisherton House Asylum, a psychiatric hospital near Salisbury, which had been in the family for years, to his daughter.  But she wasn’t capable of managing it, so she employed the help of Cecil.  Chubb then decided to give up his law firm, and he and Mary moved back to Salisbury to run the hospital.

An astute businessman, Cecil made the hospital a great success, growing it to the largest private hospital in all of England.  He introduced new treatments, made the patients lives better and easier, returning most to their homes.  He also worked closely with military casualties, using his own home when necessary to accommodate soldiers returning from the war.

On September 21, 1915, a local auction was set to take place in Salisbury. The auction by Knight Frank & Rutley estate agents included Lot 15. Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland.”   In the catalogue, Lot 15 was also described as “a place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun”.  Bidding began at  £5000, but there seemed to be little interest.  The auctioneer, Sir Howard Frank, was not at all impressed and temporarily stopped the bidding.  He voiced his disappointment and started again.  Although Cecil had no intention of bidding, in his own words: “while I was in the room I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it and that is how it was done”.  The highest bid was a mere £6600 and it was from Sir Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb.

Lot 15 – Stonehenge, with a marginal note recording the price it sold for.

Legend says Cecil was sent by his wife to buy some household items, dining chairs, curtains, etc.  Legend also says Cecil was looking for a birthday gift for Mary.  We’ll never know if either of these are true.  But Cecil did buy Lot 15 and Stonehenge.  There were many, however, who accused Chubb of snatching up this land with its tourist-attracting monument as another money-making business venture, which he vehemently denied.  He told The Times on October 7, 1915:

“Before the sale I never discussed Stonehenge with a view to purchase with anyone, and at the time of going to the sale I did not even know any figures as the receipts. I think I said before that when I went into the sale-room, I had no intention of buying, and I certainly did not look upon it as an investment”

 

Chubb purchased the land on a whim, unaware that he would become involved in a number of political arguments about public access, entrance fees, and abuse of the land.  Cecil owned the land for three years and then in 1918, he contacted the government department ‘Office of Works’ interested in antiquities and offered the land and the monument to the country as a gift.  But . . . he had three provisions.  The first was that local residents should continue to have free access to it.  The second was that entrance fee should never be more than a shilling.  Lastly, that the stones remain in their present condition and no building be erected within 400 yards of the stones themselves.

In his letter announcing the donation of Stonehenge, Chubb wrote:

“Stonehenge is perhaps the best known and the most interesting of our national monuments and has always appealed strongly to the British imagination.  To me, who was born close to it and during my boyhood and youth visited it at all hours of the day and night, under every conceivable condition of weather—in driving tempests of hail, rain and snow, fierce thunderstorms, glorious moonlight and beautiful sunshine, it always has had an inexpressible charm. I became owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure, and had contemplated that it might remain a cherished possession of my family for long years to come. It has, however, been pressed upon me that the nation would like to have it for its own, and would prize it most highly.”

For his generous gift to the nation, Cecil was rewarded with a Knighthood.  Ultimately, perhaps Cecil was relieved to step out of the quagmire of arguments and debates as to who shall own this world heritage site.  The government took possession and in 1919 launched the first of many extensive renovations of Stonehenge, which began with straightening the stones and re-setting them in concrete.  Now over a century later, the work continues with the new visitor’s center and neolithic houses.

Stonehenge may be the best known prehistoric site in the world.  Although the entrance fee is considerably more than a shilling, I hope some day you get the opportunity to visit.  This “place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun” will be a memorable experience.

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References:  Freemasons, Ancient Origins, Wikipedia, English Heritage, Stonehenge Tours, History, Stonehenge Monument, Daily Telegraph

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Pubs and Their Signs

I LOVE pub signs!  From the unimaginative to the incredibly creative, a pub sign gives you a glimpse into what lies behind the door.  All across the U.K. pub signs abound.  They beckon you to enter, to relax, make yourself comfortable and enjoy a pint.   From the U.K. pub signs crossed the Atlantic and made their way to the U.S. and throughout all (of what were and some still are) British territories.  How did pubs (or public houses) get such interesting names?  Where did these names come from?

The Pony and Trap  .  The Bird in Hand  .  The Fighting Cocks
The Adam and Eve  .  The Blind Beggar  .  The Hare and Hounds
The Bricklayers Arms

Let’s start at the beginning.  Public houses (pubs) originated almost 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Roman occupation of Great Britain.  To  make it easier for their armies to travel across the country, the Romans began building roads and creating infrastructure throughout the land … and people began to travel in greater numbers.  Whether walking, on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage, travel was tiring and difficult.  A weary traveler needed a place to rest.  By the 12th century, monasteries provided travelers with these services, but after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, travelers were at a loss.  Seeing the opportunity to make a few guineas, enterprising women (of course) opened their homes and welcomed travelers with food, home brewed ale, and often times a place to sleep.

"The Alehouse Door" by Henry Singleton 1790

“The Alehouse Door” by Henry Singleton 1790

The literacy rate at this time in Great Britain was very low.  Most people couldn’t read.  Education was for the upper classes only.  To advertise and ‘signify’ their services, tradesmen began to hang pictorial siblacksmith-signgns outside their shop or home, something that could easily be identified.  A blacksmith might hang the sign of an anvil.  A joiner (carpenter) might hang a hammer.  If a home was open to the “public”, some foliage or a green bush was hung outside the door to signify that ale was served.

Public homes had very distinct categories … an “ale” house served ale and cider.  A “tavern” served wine.  And if an ale house or tavern also provided sleeping arrangements, they became known as an “inn”.  Eventually all public homes, ale houses, taverns and inns melded into being called “pubs”.

In an effort to control what was fast becoming a growing industry, and to make these public “pub” homes more visible, King Richard II ruled in 1393 that outdoor signs were mandatory, stating “Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale.”  

A sign for a pub?  What kind of sign?  Where should the image come from?  Simply painted on wooden boards, the first signs came from the inspiration and images of the church … angels, demons, saints.  From there, inspiration came from the monarchy and landowners … kings, queens, lords and ladies.  Many public house owners paid homage to the monarchy and aristocracy by naming their establishments “The King’s Arms” , “Lord Crewe”, and more.

The king was an avid sportsman so signs began to be created honoring his favorite pastime or his pets … “Fox and Hounds”, “The Dog and Duck”.  Sometimes signs were to associate the establishment with a local trades group, such as “The Carpenter’s Arms” where local carpenters would meet in the hopes of finding work, or “The Golden Fleece” for wool traders.  The symbol of an ark or a ship became widely popular in coastal communities, not to mention “The Mermaid”.

thegeorgesouthwarksignAlong with the church, pubs became the hub of social activity.  Villagers would meet to share stories, exchange ideas, relax and enjoy a home-brewed pint. With many people not knowing how to read, you simply mentioned the sign of the public house, such as “The Pig and Fiddle” and it was very easy to find. Lettering on signs didn’t come for quite some time.

Pubs became an outlet for not only sharing the news of the day, but where locals would play and be entertained. Fiddlers sang and games were played … darts, cribbage, and dominoes are as popular today as they were 200 years ago.

By the 16th century, “pubs” were in every village and town.  They were so popular, town officials had to pass a law requiring a license in order to operate a “pub” and then they needed to limit the number of licenses that were issued.

There are so many romantic and sometimes frightening stories surrounding pubs from ghosts and highwaymen walking the halls at night to priests hiding in tunnels to avoid the King, objects moving about on their own, even a large black dog who guards the stoop.  The 750 year old “Ye Olde Man and Scythe” pub claims the 7th Earl of Derby, who originally owned the public house, causes mayhem at night when the pub is closed.  To have a resident ghost just adds to the charm … none of this,of course, keeps pub goers away.

the-swan

Original pub signs are highly collected works of art, commanding high price tags.  But should you want your own personalized pub sign, that’s not a problem at all.  Today there are many local artisans who specialize in creating hand-painted, high-quality pub signs.

Meanwhile, should you be walking down the street in any of the big cities or small villages in the U.K., be sure to look up.  You’ll get a brief glimpse into Great Britain, and the cultural and historic events of past times.   I’m hoping you now have a little better understanding of the significance of these treasures and will grow to LOVE them as I do.

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References:  History of Pubs, Great British Pub, Historic UK, Wikipedia, Antique Pub Signs,
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A Medieval Inn ….

We just returned from a trip to the U.K. where we had the opportunity to stay in a 14th century medieval inn, the Shaven Crown, for a couple of nights.  Overlooking the village green, the Shaven Crown Inn is located in a quaint little village called “Shipton-under-Wychwood” * in the picturesque Cotswold district of England.

The-Shaven-Crown 6When you approach the Shaven Crown Inn you are immediately transported back in time … to 14th century Medieval England with flashes of Excalibur, jousting knights and coats of armor.  The architecture is solid, heavy, grey … made of timber, adobe, stone and slate.  And as you step through the arch into the inner cobbled courtyard with its massive double wooden doors, original hand-forged hinges and bolts, you know this building has tales to tell.  The Great Hall is a magnificent beam-laden Tudor room with an impressive staircase leading off to the bedrooms on either side. I’m certain the large central fireplace provided the only heating source for this great room at one time, and was also the cooking center where heavy, cast-iron cauldrons were hung with soups, where bread was baked, and game was roasted.

Intrigued by the uniqueness of this building, of course, I had to do a little research.  Little did we know that the Shaven Crown was one of the ten oldest inns in all of Great Britain, and has been documented as having been built by Bruern monks in 1384, specifically for what it is now, an Inn. No Inn could be complete without, of course, its resident ghost; and this one is no exception. From its monastic days, Brother Sebastian is said to be the ghost that haunts this venerable old hostelry.

Originally called ‘the Church of St. Mary’, Bruern Abbey was founded in 1147 by the Monks of Waverly in a remote, bucolic area just outside of Wychwood Forest.   The name, Bruern, comes from a French and Latin word meaning ‘heath’, a large, uncultivated track of land.  The monks, who then became known as the Bruern monks, built a small monastery to live and worship, to farm the land and raise sheep. Over the next hundred and more years the monastery grew and flourished, providing employment for hundreds of lay workers.  After the monastery, came a grand Abbey, then a chapel for the lay people.  A school was built, as well as a manor house, a convent for women, a mill, a tannery and many out buildings.  The farm provided not only for the monks, but for the surrounding villages.

Rendering of a Medieval Monastery Village

Rendering of a Medieval Monastic Village

Then in 1384 the monks of Bruern Abbey constructed their last building, the Shaven Crown Inn, specifically as an Inn to house poor pilgrims and travelers.  During these Medieval times, monasteries were not only part of the religious, economic and social fabric for the villages, they provided important centers for the poor and the needy, as well as resting places for travelers.

The Church of England, at that time, was very rich and very powerful.   Enter King Henry VIII. (I’ve written about him before … see “From the Wine Trail to the Whisky Trail“.)  Henry was a man of many appetites, not only food, but women as well.  Henry was first married to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and a powerful woman in her own right.  Their marriage produced one child, a girl, named Mary.  Henry was desperate to have a son who would be heir to the throne. He became infatuated with Catherine’s hand-maiden, Anne Boleyn (perhaps you’ve heard of her), and they began an affair, from which she became pregnant.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Hoping for a son, Henry appealed to the most powerful ruler of all Europe, the Pope, to get an annulment from his marriage to Catherine in order to wed Anne**.  He was refused.  Despite the Pope’s rulings, Henry and Anne wed in a secret ceremony and the Pope retaliated by excommunicating them both.  This angered Henry so much he decided to break England away from the church completely … and in 1538 King Henry VIII began what was to become the “Dissolution of the Monasteries”.

Now with a vendetta against the church, King Henry VIII began his strategy to break that powerful relationship between Rome and England.  The Church held large, valuable tracts of land and buildings, paying little or no taxes to the landholders or the government.  Henry started slowly so as not to cause an uproar among the local townspeople and began crossing the country, confiscating the property and buildings of the smaller, less powerful monasteries.  Then he began taking larger, more important houses and holdings, systematically closing, selling or dismantling monastery after monastery.

King-Henry-VIII-Dissolution-Monasteries

King Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries

This was devastating to the villagers and to the travelers and pilgrims who depended upon these community centers.  Not only was there the great loss of the monastery as the center of the social and economic life of the village, monasteries housed great libraries with invaluable collections of manuscripts and paintings.  Henry didn’t care.  He may have begun this destruction as a way to control the Church and its holdings, but now greed took over and he wasn’t about to stop.

It took over four years, but during that time more than 800 monasteries were destroyed, home to more than 10,000 monks, nuns and friars, and their lands and treasures taken for the crown. King Henry VIII, now the self-declared Head of the Church of England, took control and sold the monastic lands for such bargain prices that if you could afford it, you found a way to buy it.   Not everyone was against this.  The wealthy were able to grow their own estates by purchasing large tracks of land.  The middle class merchants, eager to become wealthy landowners, purchased the smaller tracks of land.

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in October 1536, Bruern Abbey and its buildings were destroyed.  Today there are no visible remains of the original Abbey.  The Shaven Crown, however, was not destroyed and remained under ownership of the Crown.  In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I (King Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn) used it as a royal hunting lodge, but then decided to give it back to the village, with the condition that it be turned back to an inn; the proceeds being used to help the poor.

Over the years, the Inn fell into disrepair, but in the early part of the 20th century the Inn was sold into private ownership.  The new owners purchased the Inn just two years ago and have returned it to its original grandeur.  The Bruern monks would be very proud of the Shaven Crown Inn if they could see it today.  Bold, gracious and grand, the Inn remains to welcome all for many more centuries to come.

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* With a population of 1244
**Anne gave birth to a little girl, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I.  But, Henry got tired of Anne as well, and with trumped up charges of adultery against her, he had her publicly beheaded at the Tower of London.

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References:  Shipton-under-Wychwood, Abbeys of England, Britain Express, Victoria County History, The Shaven Crown Inn, Wikipedia