'Restoring' Stonehenge 1881-1939

Book'Restoring' Stonehenge 1881-1939

'Restoring' Stonehenge 1881-1939

Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project

Research Reports


June 15th, 2014





Stonehenge was transformed considerably during the 20th century, the monument itself being subjected to more intervention and alteration from 1901 than at any time since the Bronze Age. Some of the most important episodes of excavation at Stonehenge during the 20th century were driven by a desire to interfere with the monument’s physical appearance, often but not always due to concerns about stability. The romantic ruin of previous generations – leaning monoliths, twisted trilithons and recumbent sarsens – was rationalised into a more upright, orderly design and secured for posterity with concrete. At the same time the visibility of the enclosing earthworks was enhanced for the paying visitor, the enclosure ditch only partially backfilled and surplus material spread across the site to conceal old trackways. 1901 was also the year that the monument was first enclosed and an admission charge introduced, both intended as means of controlling the number and types of visitor. Since Stonehenge passed into State hands in 1918, catering for the increasing numbers of visitors has also continued to play an important role in the presentation and appearance of the monument and its immediate surroundings. Viewing the recent history of Stonehenge through a narrative that sees a privately-owned and neglected 19th century ruin transformed, via essential maintenance and repair, into a unique and monumental expression of Neolithic beliefs and achievement rather overlooks the complexities of that 20th century transformation. Looking more closely at the circumstances surrounding three key episodes – the appearance in 1881 of some timber supports; the straightening and concreting of the massive Stone 56 in 1901; and the uncompleted ‘reparations’ of 1919-20 – helps to show not only why we have a more stable and secure monument today, but also that the Stonehenge of the 21st century is no closer to its prehistoric state than it was in 1901.

Author Information

Martyn Barber is a Senior Investigator, Aerial Survey & Investigation at English Heritage. He is the author of Bronze and the Bronze Age (2003), and co-author of The Neolithic Flint Mines of England (1999) and The Creation of Monuments (2001).