On 26th October 1918, Stonehenge was given to the nation by its owner Cecil Chubb, who had purchased it three years earlier. The site had been put up for auction in 1915 following the death in the First World War of the only male heir of the family which had owned it since the 1820s.
Although it is one of Britain’s most famous monuments, the purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. This is reflected in the title of a book recently purchased for the collections of the National Library, Conjectures on the mysterious monument of ancient art, Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain. Published in 1826, this is the fourteenth edition of the 82-page publication, reflecting the enduring interest in the monument and its history. The book contains accounts of different aspects of Stonehenge by sixteen writers, including two Welshmen, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Bishop of St. Asaph (1100?-1154), and Giraldus Cambrensis (1146?-1223?). Both writers recount that the stones had originally been taken by giants from Africa to Ireland, where the monument was known as the Giants’ Dance, and were brought to their present location by Merlin for Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, to commemorate the treachery of Hengist, the Saxon general. Other writers in the book advance different theories about the origins of Stonehenge, and the preface acknowledges that it is almost impossible to ascertain the true purpose of the monument.
The preface begins by stating the purpose of the book: “No publications afford more entertainment, and prove of more public utility, than local delineations and descriptions, drawn with correctness and fidelity; they enable persons to form a just idea of remarkable places, to which fortune or situation denies them access.” Thanks to the generosity a century ago of Sir Cecil Chubb (created a baronet the following year on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George), access to Stonehenge is now available to all.
Rare Books Librarian