Stonehenge will celebrate a century of belonging to the nation on Friday, with a series of events including a birthday tea party, musical performances and the Wiltshire debut of an inflatable replica of the stone circle.
English Heritage and the artist Jeremy Deller have organised the celebrations to mark 100 years since Cecil and Mary Chubb, Stonehenge’s last private owners, donated the historic site to the country.
A new piece of music – “Of The Wonderful Nature Of Air”, composed by Matt Rogers – will be performed within the stone circle.
As part of the celebrations, Sacrilege, Mr Deller’s inflatable replica of Stonehenge, will also be on display throughout the weekend.
Mr Chubb, a barrister from Salisbury, bought the area at an auction on 21 September 1915, in what is said to have been an “impulse buy” after he had been sent to the sale by his wife to bid for a set of dining chairs.
In 1918 Sir Cecil Chubb gifted #Stonehenge to the nation after buying the land from the Antrobus family. In 1901 Sir Edmund Antrobus had enclosed the land around Stonehenge & charged admission which was opposed by the Commons & Footpaths Preservation Society #Stonehenge100 1/2
When Lot 15 at the auction in Salisbury came up – described as “Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland” – Mr Chubb bid because, he said: “I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done.”
The monument had been privately owned since the 12th century but before the barrister’s purchase it was in a perilous condition.
By the 19th century tourists were chipping parts off for souvenirs and carving their names into the stones. Wooden props were shoring up stones at risk of collapse.
Eventually one of the upright slabs fell in 1900 and the huge horizontal lintel it supported snapped in two.
The damage prompted an outcry which led to the appointment of a police constable and the first organised excavation of the site.
A fence was built and an admission charge was introduced to contribute to the upkeep of the monument.
In 1918 Mr Chubb wrote to Sir Alfred Mond, who was serving in government as First Commissioner of Works.
The barrister offered Stonehenge “as a gift to be held for the nation.”
After Stonehenge was donated conservation work began, with English Heritage’s predecessors The Office of Works restoring falling stones and undertaking a major survey as well as a programme of excavation.
The Neolithic site and the surrounding landscape, which is full of archaeological remains, have been a World Heritage Site since 1986.
“Stonehenge may be 4,500-years-old but all this month and all this year, we’re celebrating the monument’s last 100 years,” said Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s chief executive.
“Cecil and Mary Chubb’s generosity saved Stonehenge and transformed it from a neglected ruin to a national treasure.
“Their gift started a programme of care and conservation for the ancient stones and the surrounding landscape, one that continues today.”
Additional reporting by agencies