How in the world was Stonehenge auctioned? It was September 21, 1915. Sir Cecil Chubb, a successful barrister and businessman living in Shrewton, England, attended a local auction at Palace Theater in Salisbury. His wife, Mary Bella Alice, had asked him to buy her a set of dining chairs. According to some accounts, she asked for curtains. Either way, Stonehenge was not on her wish list. It wasn’t long before Chubb’s wife returned the ancient site.
Whatever was on Mary’s wish list, she did not get it from the auction that day. Instead, Sir Chubb returned home with Lot No. 15: Stonehenge, plus 30 acres of adjoining down land. According to The Guardian, Mrs. Chubb was none too pleased to be gifted with an “ancient, crumbling, mysterious monument.”
Stonehenge is a Neolithic monument built out of stones transported from Whales. Its construction began roughly 5,000 years ago. Its exact purpose is unknown. People have speculated that Stonehenge served as a temple for the worship of ancient earth deities, or a burial ground for high-ranking citizens or possibly an astronomical observatory.
In the auction catalogue, Stonehenge was described as “a place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun.”
Whatever its purpose, the famous stones drew curious people to it since the Middle Ages. With visitors routinely chipping away at them for souvenirs, the monument was in some trouble by the time Chubb showed up at the auction.
In 1900, an upright sarsen stone had fallen, causing one of the massive horizontal lintels it had supported to break in two. After that, authorities fenced the stones and admission was charged to cover the upkeep of the monument. Still, the stones were in a condition that caused concern.
Stonehenge had been in private hands since the Middle Ages and was owned by the local Antrobus family since the early 1800s. When the Antrobus heir was killed early on in WWI, and his father died shortly after, the Amesbury Abbey estate was divided and put up for sale.
According to transcripts from the auction, the auctioneer tried to keep the entire property intact, but he had no bidders for the full package.
The room, however, heated up when he announced lot 15. Stonehenge particulars of sale were given briefly in a catalogue after an authoritative description of the monument, reproduced by permission from a publication of the Royal Archaeological Institute: Stonehenge, together with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of the adjoining downland.
“Would anyone offer £5,000 for Stonehenge?” the auctioneer asked. Apparently, the room was quiet. “Surely someone will offer me £5,000,” the auctioneer continued.
The biding finally reached £6,000 at which point, the auctioneer seemed exasperated. “Gentlemen, it is impossible to value Stonehenge. Surely £6,000 is poor bidding, but if no one bids me any more, I shall set it at this price. Will no one give me any more than £6,000 for Stonehenge?”
Sir Chubb had no intention of bidding that day. After all, he had been sent by his wife (allegedly) to purchase household items. But sitting in that room, something happened to him. In the heat of the moment, he decided that a local man should own the monument, not a wealthy collector from overseas.
Cecil Chubb placed the final bid at £6,600, worth roughly £500,000 today.
The second highest bidder was Sir Isaac Crook whose grandson farms adjacent fields to this day. His intention was to put sheep on the land around Stonehenge.
October 26, 1918–Since Chubb’s wife was not particularly pleased with his purchase, she impressed upon him the importance of the nation owning the ancient monument. In a special “handing-over” ceremony, Chubb did just that. In return, he received knighthood. Locals nicknamed him, “Viscount Stonehenge.”
Chubb made a number of conditions before handing over Stonehenge. The entrance fee should never be more than a shilling and to this day, locals are given free access to England’s most famous monument.
According to the BBC, stone monoliths found near Stonehenge could have been part of the largest Neolithic monument.
With no excavation, nearly 100 stones have been found just two miles from Stonehenge. Using remote sensing and geophysical imaging technology, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Team has created an underground map of the area in a five-year long project.