Stonehenge and the druids

 

AMONGST other places that I had failed to visit until relatively recently was Stonehenge. Before I became enthralled with the massive ruins of Bronze Age Greece and Crete, large stones were …. well, just large stones. And in the UK they were large stones surrounded by bleak and inclement weather. Anyway, my son, Toby, and I went on an ‘historical’ weekend away visiting Glastonbury (previous blog in October) and Stonehenge. There is a new centre and museum there (well, sort of ‘there’ – it’s about a mile away and you are  transported by bus to the site which I’m not too sure about).

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Stonehenge 

Anyway, Stonehenge is a fascinating place. Supposedly constructed around 2600 BC (Neolithic period) – evidenced by cremated remains – it spanned for about 1,500 years. In the 17th century, John Aubrey was a pioneer of observation and imagination and in 1666 he investigated and recorded the site.  His work was taken up by William Stukeley in the 18th century  who made accurate plans, by way of engravings, of Stonehenge and he was the first to associate the site with the Druids.

William Stukeley (1687–1765)            John Aubrey.jpg

William Stukeley (1687-1765)                                    John Aubrey (1626-1697)

Many others have been involved in archaeological work on the area over the years (I’m not planning to go into them as Wikipedia will reveal all their names and achievements). All I will say is that the latest work has been carried out by the University of Birmingham and its task force has discovered two large pits within the Stonehenge Cursus (large parallel lengths of banks with external ditches – 2.5 km in length).  The pits are aligned in celestial position towards midsummer sunrise and sunset when seen from the Heel Stone. I always find this celestial stuff fascinating – and spooky! In fact, the University has also found adjacent stone and wooden structures and burial mounds around the area which could date back some 1000 years or more before the initial construction of Stonehenge (actual hunter gatherer activity goes back the Mesolithic – 10,000 BC). Many more small ceremonial shrines have been discovered in the area around Stonehenge – see Birmingham Uni’s and Austria’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute’s Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project – click here.

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Cursus at Stonehenge – doesn’t look like much but holds many secrets

Talking of the Heel Stone – it has always intrigued me. It is situated just north of the stone circle and rises to 4.9m (16ft) and leans towards the circle. What is it doing there?? Mind you, one can say that about any of the stones. Clearly ritual (archaeologists’ classical explanation for anything they can’t explain). In this case, however, it probably really is ritual and associated with burial.

The Heel Stone

The other factor that amazes me is the mortice and tenon joints on top of the circle stones. This is carpentry work as we know it today, yet ‘they’ were doing it 5000 years ago! Who were ‘they’? Neolithic men with technical abilities – aka Stone Age architects, surveyors and builders.

              

See the tenon on the top of the stone                                          How it works

Okay, ‘they’ had the construction know-how but just how was the stone circle physically built? And by whom? Giants of course. The first known depiction of the stones shows this. It is from Roman de Brut (c 1150) which was a verse literary of Britain by a poet called Wace. This, itself, was based on another 12th century work, Historia Regum Britanniae (c 1136), by Geoffrey of Monmouth. According to Monmouth’s historical tale and Wace’s depiction, King Arthur’s very own Merlin built the circle with the help of giants. Just the man, and men, for the job. But seriously, we can only assume that the builders had good knowledge of blocks and pulleys.

Drawing of a giant helping Merlin build the circle (from the 12th century manuscript, Roman de Brut)

Ownership: Henry VIII took control of it when he dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1540 which included Amesbury Abbey on whose land the stone circle lay. Henry gave the Abbey and its land to the Earl of Hertford in 1540. It was later owned by none other than the Marquess of Queensbury but he didn’t turn it into a boxing ring. Eventually the site was auctioned off in 1915 and purchased by one Cecil Chubb for the grand sum of £6,600. It has been suggested that he purchased the stones as a present for his wife but she was less than pleased with the gesture. He donated it to the nation in 1918. Good man. It’s now owned by English Heritage.

The new visitors’ centre at (near) Stonehenge …. hmmmm, bit weird

Stonehenge was revived as a religious site by the Neo-druids at the beginning of the 20th century. The Ancient Order of Druids carried out an initiation ceremony in 1905 but it was not well-received by the press. I imagine that Neo-pagansim would have been frowned upon by a Britain just emerging from the Victorian Age. But Stonehenge and Druids seem to me to go together rather like bread and butter. I mentioned the Druid, William Price (he who ‘invented’ cremation), a few blogs ago in January, and, although he lived in Wales and died in 1893, I wonder if he knew of Stonehenge? It seems he did not visit it after becoming a druid in 1840 as I have found no mention of him leaving Wales after that date, but I may be wrong. I believe ritual use of the circle by druids is now very much restricted.

Druids at Stonehenge

We know very little about the ancient druids as there are no written records of their activities or any archaeological finds relating to them. We know they existed because Julius Caesar tells us in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico around 50 BC but it was the Romans who suppressed them following the invasion of Britain in AD 43 (under Emperor Cl..Cl..Cl..Claudius). In fact it was Julius Caesar who suggested that druids went in for human sacrifice. Well, the Romans would know all about needless human ‘sacrifice’ even if not in the name of a god. Some human remains recently found indicate possible human sacrifice (violent death at least) but who were involved is not known.

So there you are – just a dip into the ancient stone circles to whet your appetite should you wish to visit the place. Bearing in mind the complexity of archaeological activity around the area, Stonehenge was a very important and significant site during its existence. For more info on it, click here.

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

A TV documentary presenter was with me and my colleague, the esteemed maritime archaeologist, Dr Jack Custarde, when we were diving a Bronze Age wreck off the coast of Mochlos in Crete. Whilst in the dive boat the presenter asked Jack, “Why do the divers always fall backwards into the water?”  Jack thought for a minute then replied, “It`s quite simple really, if they fell forwards they would still be in the boat.”

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The Mary Rose

I KNOW, quite a lot has been written about the Mary Rose, but I haven’t written it and you may not have read it. However, I feel bound to say something of this great ship because I’m one of her Flag Officers (sounds grand but it just means I’ve donated some money to her conservation) and I think she is a fab project …. and I give talks on her every so often (or when anyone wants to listen).

The only image we have of the Mary Rose from the Anthony Roll of 1546

As for her history, she was built on the order of Henry VIII when he came to the throne in 1509 and completed in 1511 and named after his favourite sister (Mary not Rose). Then she was of 500 tons and one of the first war ships to have on board  heavy canons. Before such usage of heavy guns, naval warfare was simply sailing up to your opponent, boarding and battling it out hand to hand (‘fighting-by-the-sea’, I expect you could get postcards). Anyway, two French Wars came and went and then, in 1536, the Mary Rose was refurbished and uprated to 700 tons. The third French War arrived in 1544 and a year later, at the Battle of the Solent (although not much of a battle), the Mary Rose went to the bottom of the sea.

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The Cowdray engraving of the sinking of The Mary Rose – you can just see the top of her mast circled in red (see pic below)

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Cowdray engraving: mast of the Mary Rose (centre) with a survivor raising his arms

Why did she sink?  Good question. There are a couple of theories. The first is that she was hit by a French canon ball from one of the French barges firing on the British fleet. We reject this out of hand as in no way will we accept that the French can take any credit for the ship’s demise.  The second, and more feasible, is that she turned abruptly, was caught by the wind and veered over so far that her open gunports filled with water causing her to sink. That her gun ports were still open during this manoeuvre must have been a human error. Either she turned too quick for the orders to be given to close them or orders were given but ignored (wouldn’t a captain wait until such orders were fulfilled before turning?). Her admiral, Sir George Carew, was reported as saying to his uncle, Gawen, “I have the sort of knaves I cannot rule”. This would imply that his crew were far from organised – and isotope analysis (science stuff) of human bones recovered suggests that some were from around Spain and so may not have understood orders in English (a minor difficulty one might imagine!). Regardless, some 450 crew drowned, including Carew and his captain, Roger Grenville (the anti-boarding netting over the open deck area prevented most of the crew from abandoning ship). There were only around 30-40 survivors.

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Sir George Carew

Tudor attempts to raise her failed and she succumbed to a watery grave, being covered, over the years, by silt. She was briefly discovered in 1836 by John Deane who had invented diving equipment and was investigating fishing nets being caught under the sea – they were being caught on the Mary Rose. Over four years Deane recovered some guns and other artifacts but the location of the wreck was soon forgotten.

John Deane’s diving gear

In 1965, Alexander McGee went in search of the wreck. He had found her rough location in 1966 on an Admiralty chart and by using a newly invented sub-profiling apparatus (science stuff again) he eventually discovered the wreck’s exact whereabouts in 1971. The site of the wreck was subsequently protected from ‘treasure seekers’ by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. It was surveyed between 1971 and 1979 whereafter the Mary Rose Trust was set up to consider bringing her to the surface. This happened on the 11th October 1982 and watched on television by some 60 million people.

Portrait of Alex McKee OBE (1918-1992)

a A  a B    a C

Raising of the Mary Rose: A. attaching it to the lifting gear; B. lifting it towards the frame, C. lowering it into frame which was then raised to the surface

In the region of 3000 timbers were recovered from the Mary Rose. Once out in the fresh air the wood of the ship had to be preserved. Under the water the centre cells of wood are eaten away and so the wood is hollow. Left too long in the air the wood will just collapse. So these hollows had to be filled. From 1982 t0 1995, the hull was sprayed with chilled water; from 1995 to 2004, it was sprayed with low grade polyethylene glycol (PEG) to penetrate inner layers; from 2004 to 2012, it was sprayed with high grade PEG to penetrate outer layers; in the the final phase, from 2012 to 2016, it is undergoing air drying.

Mary Rose undergoing wood preservation treatment

The Mary Rose has produced some phenomenal artifacts – a real taste of the Tudors which we knew nothing about until the discovery of the wreck. Over 130 Tudor longbows (no Tudor longbow had ever been seen before) and something like 3500 arrows were part of some 19,000 finds – a real ‘treasure chest’ of Tudor life. You can see many of them on the internet.

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Sarah and I were lucky enough to be able to ‘go behind the scenes’ at the original museum and handle some of the rare finds including a Tudor longbow

The new Mary Rose Museum which opened on 31st May 2013  – well worth a visit

Prince Charles officially opening the new Mary Rose Museum on 26th February 2014 – I put this photo in because I was invited to this opening and was standing right in front of him ……

Find out how to support the Mary Rose – or go and see her – by clicking here

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Next week: Stonehenge and the Druids


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I watched with astonishment as a farmer of my acquaintance, Gerald G. Giles, was feeding his pigs. He held a pig in his arms and lifted it to an apple tree whilst it ate sufficient apples to satisfy its appetite. When the pig’s appetite was satisfied Gerald put it down and held another to the tree to eat. I said to him, “Gerald, old boy, why don’t you just shake the tree, let the apples fall and allow the pigs to eat them at their leisure. What you are doing is a terrible waste of time.” He turned to me with frowned expression and replied, “What’s time to a pig?”

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Herstmonceux Castle

CONTINUING my long overdue visitations of some Sussex sites (last week the Booth Museum, Brighton), I came upon Herstmonceux Castle, near Hastings in East Sussex. Actually, some Canadian students had recently attended a talk I had given on Maritime Archaeology at the Brighton Divers Club at Brighton Marina and I had met up with Dr Scott Mclean who teaches Archaeology and History at the Castle. Teaches at the Castle? Yes, in fact it’s the Bader International Study Centre of Queen’s University in Canada. In 1992, Alfred Bader wanted to buy the Castle for his wife (some people just buy their wives flowers) but she complained that there were too many rooms to clean!  And she would be cleaning them??  Bader, an alumni of Queen’s University, then liaised with the Principal of the University and ‘hey presto’, the International Study Centre was set up in 1994 (its name was changed to incorporate Bader’s name in 2009).

Herstmonceux Castle

The Castle’s name derives from the owners of the original building around the 12th century. A Norman nobleman, Ingelram de Monceaux, was married to one Idonea de Herst and the manor was called Herst de Monceux (makes sense). The Castle (although it’s not really a defensive castle – more of a palace) as it appears today in its red brick was built in the Tudor period in 1441  at the cost of £3000 by Sir Roger Fiennes (a familiar name), who was the Treasurer to Henry VII. 100 years later in 1541, Sir Thomas Fiennes, aka Lord Dacre, was unceremoniously hanged having been found guilty of the death of a gamekeeper of a neighbouring estate (naughty Sir Thomas had been poaching deer from his neighbour). Although the house/castle was confiscated by Henry VIII, it was returned to the Fiennes family after the King’s death and remained so until 1708 when Thomas Leonard, 15th Baron Dacre (and 1st Earl of Sussex) sold it to a lawyer, George Naylor. George’s half-brother, Robert, took possession of it in 1775 and began dismantling it leaving only its external walls (don’t even ask why).

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Naughty Sir Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre (1515-1541)

Whilst still a ruin in 1807, it was bought by Thomas Read Kemp whose father (Thomas Kemp Sr) owned a farmhouse in Brighton rented by the Prince of Wales – the same building which was to become the Royal Pavilion (quiz trivia for you). It (the castle not the Royal Pavilion) remained a ruin until 1911 when it was purchased by the MP Lt Colonel Claude William Henry Lowther who began to restore it. This restoration was not completed until 1933, when it was under the ownership of Sir (Herbert) Paul Latham (whose architect, Walter Godfrey, wrote various books and articles on Sussex history published by, among others, the Sussex Archaeological Society). Now Latham was an interesting – if that is the correct word – character. In 1931 he became MP for Scarborough and Whitby and, even though he was exempt from military service during WWII, he joined the army only to be arrested for ‘improper behaviour’ with three soldiers and a civilian. He was the first MP to be court-martialled for ‘indecent conduct’ (10 charges) for over 100 years. He attempted suicide by riding his motorbike into a tree – attempted suicide was illegal then and so he was charged and found guilty of that as well. He was dishonourably discharged from the army and spent two years in prison and, needless to say, resigned his seat in Parliament. Not a very successful career.

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Unsuccessful Sir (Herbert) Paul Latham (1905-1955) 

In 1946, the Admiralty purchased the Castle and, in 1957, made use of the observatory in the grounds. It remained the Royal Greenwich Observatory until that moved to Cambridge in 1988. The Castle then sat lonely and empty until its banner was taken up by Alfred Bader who refurbished it into the magnificent building it is today.

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The Observatory in the grounds of the Castle

The Castle and grounds are also open to the public – click here. For more info on the Bader International Study Centre at the Castle, Click here

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Next week: The Mary Rose


ASIDE

Spooky or what?

I was at a talk on the First World War the other day and it was mentioned that the number plate of the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in when he was assassinated was AIII 118.  That is A 11 11 18 – Armistice 11th November 1918

     

 


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I was visiting a jungle outpost to meet a retiring colonel CO. After a welcoming (gin and tonic), the retiring colonel said, “You must meet my Adjutant, Captain Jameson. He’s my right-hand man, and he’s really the strength of this office. His talent is simply boundless.”

Jameson was summoned and introduced to me and I was very surprised to meet a humpbacked, one eyed, toothless, hairless, scabbed and pockmarked specimen of humanity, a particularly unattractive man less than three feet tall.

The colonel said, “Jameson, old man, tell Smith about yourself.”

“Well, sir, I graduated with honours from Sandhurst, joined the regiment and won the Military Cross and Bar after three expeditions behind enemy lines. I’ve represented Great Britain in equestrian events, and won a Silver Medal in the middleweight division of the Olympics. I have researched the history of…..”

Here the colonel interrupted, “Yes, yes, never mind that Jameson, he can find all that in your file.  Tell him about the day you told the witch doctor he was a joke.”

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Thomas Edward Booth of the Booth Museum

I HAVE LIVED all my life in or around Brighton (give or take five years in the wild west of Wales) and only visited the Booth Museum last year to see what must be one of the finest collections of Victorian natural history taxidermy birds in the UK. I visited again last week to have a look at what is in storage hidden away at the back and upstairs. There is a phenomenal amount of stuffed animals and skeletal remains tucked away and it’s a fantastic collection idly waiting to be used in research.

The Booth Museum on Dyke Road, Brighton

The museum’s founder, Thomas Edward Booth, was a dedicated naturalist. He was born in Buckinghamshire in 1840 to wealthy parentage and moved to Hastings in East Sussex when he was 10 years old. Four years later the family moved to Brighton. He was educated at a private school in Brighton before going to Harrow and then Trinity College, Cambridge. He didn’t complete his degree at Trinity as it appears he was sent down (Oxbridge for thrown out). It’s not clear why but probably due to spending too much of his time on shooting birds on the Fens rather than studying at College. A matter of choice I suppose.

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Young Edward Booth probably when he was at Cambridge

He moved to Dyke Road in Brighton with his first wife in 1865 (his second wife was his first wife’s nurse – keep it in the ‘family’) and built a house he called ‘Bleak House’ (one may assume he was a Dickens fan). In 1874 he built his museum for his British bird collection in the grounds of his house. He made copious notes and drawings of these birds (most of which still survive in the museum archive) and he had learned taxidermy as a child from a chap called ‘Kent’ from St Leonards in Sussex. The idea of the museum was to recreate birds in glass cabinets in their natural habitat and, at this, he was most successful, although the principal taxidermists were T.E. Gunn, George Saville, Pratt & Sons of Brighton, Brazenore of Brighton and Swaysland of Brighton (credit where credit is due I say). The museum was known as the ‘home of the dioramas’ (three-dimensional full-size models enclosed in glass showcases)

Shows a sepia photograph of the Victorian ornithologist Edward Booth, who is wearing a top hat, smart suit and holds a cane

Older Edward Booth (the ‘walking stick’ in his left hand is, in fact, a 410 gun)

Booth planned to collect every species of British bird and he did so by shooting them or capturing them by net or trap. He also raised fledglings only to kill them when they were the size he required for stuffing. I know what you are thinking – but he was a fanatic and it was legal then (killing birds, not being a fanatic – although that was also legal). He even had his own train carriage at Brighton station ready and waiting to link up to a train if he heard a rare or new species of bird had been spotted (that’s style if you can afford it). He was obviously eccentric and not averse to taking pot-shots at other bird-spotters imposing on his hunting territory.  He was also fond of the alcohol which may have had something to do with his premature demise in 1890 (aged 50).

The museum circa 1911

His museum was not a commercial enterprise and it was not open to the public (other than occasional special days). It was not until after his death that the museum was left to ‘the people of Brighton’. Booth’s house on Dyke Road has long since been pulled down and the land redeveloped but the museum remains intact. It is reported to house over half a million insects and animals; 50,000 fossils, minerals and rocks; 30,000 plants; and 11,000 books and maps; all dating back over three centuries. This is not to mention the many bones and complete animal skeletons which have been acquired from various donations (including Brighton Museum, and a collection confiscated from a burglar of the premises!). It is well worth a visit – for more info, click here

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 Stuffed Victorian Osprey by Booth

 

Next week: Herstmonceux Castle


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My neighbour, Travis Arbuthnot, had just bought a chainsaw and was somewhat displeased with the implement. He said to me, “Not sure what’s wrong with this darn thing. The salesman said it would cut around six trees in one hour. So far I’ve only managed one tree and it’s taken all day.” I enquired as to whether he would mind if I had a look and he handed me the item of concern. I pulled the cord and started the motor. Immediately he exclaimed, “What’s that noise?”

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