25th June 2009 - Rosemary Hill's 'Stonehenge' published

On 25th June 2009 my very favorite book about Stonehenge was published - the imaginatively named ‘Stonehenge’, written by Rosemary Hill.

This is what I wrote when I read it a few years ago:

I recently read a book called 'Stonehenge' by Rosemary Hill. It's about how we have responded to Stonehenge over the last 1000 years or so. One day I'll get around to doing a proper review, but in the meantime these are my favourite 'learnings' from 'Stonehenge'.

  • The earliest written evidence of the existence of Stonehenge dates from AD937. A legal document transferring land from King Athelstan to Wilton Abbey used Stanheyeg as a boundary[1].

  • The oldest existing drawings of Stonehenge are from the 14th Century[2]

  • The first known photograph of the Stones was taken in 1853 by W.R. Sedgefield[3]

  • Woodhenge was discovered in 1925 by Group Captain Gilbert Insall, a First World War pilot, when he flew a single-seat Sopwith Snipe over Stonehenge[4]

  • John Wood designed the Kings Circus at Bath to explicitly reference Stonehenge [5]. The Kings Circus was copied in Exeter, Edinburgh and in London at Piccadilly, Oxford Circus and St Georges Circus in Lambeth[6]. The 'Circuses' "devolved over time into that favourite piece of British traffic planning, the roundabout"[7]

  • One of the stones fell over in a storm on New Years Eve 1900[8].

  • Charles Darwin came to Stonehenge in 1877. He used the Stones as a case study in his 1881 book 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms'[9]

  • At one time or another people have believed that Stonehenge was built by: the Romans[10]the Danes[11], , King Aurelius[12], the Belgae, [13], the Phoenicians[14], Merlin the Magician[15], and the Druids[16][17].

  • The average visit to Stonehenge lasts 20 minutes - this has I would hope changed since the new Visitor Centre was opened[18].

  • In 1983, Black Sabbath had a replica Stonehenge created for their 'Born Again' tour, but a mistake was made with the dimensions. The Sabbath 'Henge' was 3 times bigger than intended. The scene in the 1984 Spinal Tap, where the replica Henge is much too small seems to have been a coincidence - the Spinal Tap scene had already been written at the time of the Sabbath tour[19].

  • Samuel Johnson wrote that "Salisbury Cathedral and its neighbour Stonehenge are two eminent monuments of art and rudeness, and may show the first essay and the last perfection in architecture."[20]


[1] Page 21

[2] Page 23

[3] Page 135

[4] Page 153

[5] Page 80. It had the same number of houses as there would have been stones in the outer circle, it was decorated with Druidic and other symbols and the dimensions were based on the Hebrew cubitt. Wood believed that Stonehenge was based on the same unit of measure

[6] Page 80

[7] Page 80

[8] Page 184

[9] page 118. Rosemary Hill describes ‘The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms’ as ‘an improbable bestseller’

[10] Page 62

[11] Page 27

[12] Page 22

[13] page 131

[14] Page 34-36

[15] Page 23 - actually Merlin just transports Stonehenge over from Mount Killarus in Ireland, in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae

[16] Page 33, 131 and 49 among others. Many people have believed Stonehenge was ‘druidical’. However, in my view this may have been a general reference to pre-Christian pagan religion rather than to a specific group of people or beliefs.

[17] Actually, as any fool knows, Stonehenge was built by the people of South Wiltshire, mostly people with the surname ‘Penny’

[18] Page 192

[19] Page 176

[20] Page 115