A witty account of Stonehenge through the ages,
This review is from: Stonehenge (Paperback)
Hill opens her book by stating that there are very few uncontested facts when it comes to Stonehenge, and this is less an account of Stonehenge's origins and purpose, than a history of how it has been viewed, received, and treated through the centuries. The chapters cover 17th and 18th-century antiquaries, architects such as Inigo Jones and John Wood, romantic artists and writers, Victorian geologists and archaeologists, and 20-century day-trippers and new-agers, ending with an overview of the present debate over what is to be done with the monument.
This all adds up to a comprehensive and entertaining survey. Various characters are introduced, each having their own (often bonkers) theory as to who built Stonehenge and for what purpose. These people were often eccentrics and Hill describes them wittily, for example there is Jens Jacob Worsaae, an archaeologist who 'on his more important excavations..liked to be accompanied by a brass band', and the polymath John Lubbock who spent three months trying to teach his poodle to read 'without success'.
The Druids, despite having nothing to do with the origins of Stonehenge, since the 17th-century have been a constant companion to the monument. They form a thread running through Stonehenge's story and Hill wryly describes their fortunes over time. Her deadpan style is often hilarious such as in the following description of the Edwardian magazine 'The Druid':
"It carried advertisements of interest to readers in search of a 'Druidic Haircut and shave', a Druid convalescent home or a bona fide sample of magic cork."
I decided to read 'Stonehenge', having enjoyed Hill's first book, a biography of the architect Pugin (God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain), and I was very glad to see the Tigger-ish Earl of Shrewsbury, who was a patron of Pugin, making a re-appearance here:
"At Alton Towers in Staffordshire the fifteenth Earl of Shrewsbury added to his collection of pagodas and fountains a 'Stonehenge' which stood between the Gothic temple and the cottage belonging to the Earl's personal harpist. It rose, not very imposingly, above the conservatory."
The book also has several well-chosen illustrations and photographs, including a 17th-century engraving of the original wicker man, and striking depictions by Turner and Blake of Stonehenge as a place of 'psychic dread'.
If you're looking for a comprehensive archaeological account of Stonehenge, I wouldn't recommend this book, but as a history of the last six hundred years, seen through the prism of the stones, it's brilliant.