Alastair Sooke looks at the controversy over the site surrounding Stonehenge, as English Heritage attempts to create a setting that this unique monument deserves.
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Mysterious, strange, impenetrable.
Every summer on the solstice,
Stonehenge becomes a magnet attracting thousands of revellers.
But, after centuries of speculation and hundreds of documentaries,
we're still no more certain of what it is.
No-one knows who they were...
..or what they were doing...
..but their legacy remains,
hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge.
We've fought over the stones...
Are you still here, boy?!
..danced around them.
We've even dug them up.
But this year we're finally going to set them free.
Stonehenge has stood here for more than 4,000 years.
And its mystery is as enduring as the stones themselves.
NEWSREEL: No oral traditions now survive to explain the true origin
or purpose of this circle of giant stones on Salisbury Plain.
Perhaps this explains why Stonehenge
has never lost its hold on our imagination.
Stonehenge, an eclipse predictor.
Stonehenge was built to point to the sunrise.
Our ancestors built Stonehenge to make contact through ceremony.
An important feature of every druid ritual was human sacrifice,
and many people think that humans were once sacrificed
on this altar stone.
The truth is we'll never really know why they were built,
and I'm not entirely sure I'd like to find out.
It might ruin the magic.
There's something we should get straight right from the beginning.
I've never actually visited Stonehenge.
I feel like I have - loads of times.
I think we all do, in a sense, because it's so familiar -
this ancient, timeless monument
which is synonymous with British identity.
But, now that I'm approaching it for the first time,
I'm not actually sure what to expect.
This part of England is an ancient, spiritual landscape
and Stonehenge has been a place of pilgrimage across the millennia.
It still is today.
'You're about to explore the world-famous Stonehenge.
'Stonehenge is a unique prehistoric temple,
'aligned with the movements of the sun.
'Its architecture reveals the sophisticated minds
'and engineering ability of those who built it.
Right. Thank you.
'On this tour, we'll not only find out about Stonehenge,
'but also the history of the landscape around it.
'While our visit will take you close to the stones,
'we won't be entering the circle itself.'
This is the entrance way
to the nation's premier, world-famous,
ancient, prehistoric monument.
And you approach it through this subterranean tunnel beneath a road.
It doesn't quite smell of urine, but it feels like it should do.
I've been trying to think of a word to sum this up,
and the word that I've come up with,
which I think sums up this experience, is "wretched."
AUDIO GUIDES IN VARIOUS LANGUAGES
Stonehenge gets a million visitors a year.
A World Heritage Site, it's heavily marketed as a tourist destination
around the world.
But the monument is in crisis.
'Decades of disputes and temporary measures have left their mark.
'Chain-link fences and a distinctly unmystical A road
'feature almost as prominently as the stones themselves.'
There are some people who say this is a national disgrace
and, coming here, I feel they're right.
Everything about this place -
the shuffling approach through that stricken tunnel,
the proximity of these main roads,
the general tourist mayhem - it all serves to limit the majesty,
the mystery of Stonehenge, when it should be trying to enhance it.
I feel a bit like I'm in a zoo
and I'm looking at this caged and weary tiger,
sick of all these gawpers.
It's quite a sad spectacle, really.
But there is another side to Stonehenge.
As the sun drops behind the stones and the tourists leave the site,
preparations begin for the autumn equinox.
Four times a year, the Pagan communities of Britain gather
and, in the hours before dawn,
Stonehenge once again becomes a living temple.
I've come to join in the celebrations
in the hope that I can get closer to the stones
and find out what draws all these people here.
There's about 20 minutes to go until dawn
and everyone seems to be massing in the circle,
which is quite exciting. There's access.
And there's this curious mixture
of the modern, the mundane and the spiritual.
Oh, the ceremony's beginning.
-ALL: Happy equinox!
'The ceremony is led by the druids.'
Farewell, oh sun, ever-returning light.
Farewell, oh sun, ever returning light.
May there be peace in the south.
ALL: May there be peace in the south.
May there be peace in the north.
ALL: May there be peace in the north.
'Rollo Maughfling is the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge.'
Thee, we invoke, oh, light of life.
ALL: Thee, we invoke, oh, light of life.
When he isn't leading ceremonies,
he lives with his wife, Donna, just outside Swansea.
The first time I ever went to Stonehenge,
I'd just been made a druid
and I was in my 20s and I had a drum with me, I seem to remember.
And we're sitting down in the middle of Stonehenge,
playing this drum and I suddenly noticed that the stones
were responding and they seemed to be vibrating and shaking
and so I upped it a little bit, gave it more welly,
and it started to actually become pretty powerful in there and
the stones themselves had the extraordinary appearance of moving
in time to the music and I think
this is where the old folklore name for Stonehenge, Giants' Dance,
must come from.
Once the sun has risen and the ceremony is over,
it becomes clear just how varied the crowd are.
For a few hours, everyone is free
to make their own connection with Stonehenge
and, well, express themselves.
We live in an age which tends to try and suggest that anything
that isn't tied down into some type of scientific explanation
therefore doesn't exist.
Now this would obviously be a very silly way of trying to deal
with poetry or the arts or music or theatre or anything of the things...
We wouldn't have much of a life
if we were all expected to live by rote and by number.
So, you know, it has to be experienced, really,
and, if you get yourself involved in it,
you will find these things working.
If you don't involve yourself in it,
well, then, it's up to you if you want to be dismissive.
CHEERING AND CHANTING
I think one of the things that struck me,
coming here this morning, is the sincerity of the people
who are within the stones at the moment
and there's something a little bit sad...
I can see from their point of view about the fact that
in about five minutes they're going to get chucked off the site
and it returns to the usual tourist thing where it's fenced off.
Because this site wouldn't mean anything
if it wasn't for people coming to it
and bringing their sense of what it means along with them.
And you can feel that, coming on the equinox,
which I've really relished.
It's been quite a privilege to be here with them,
because suddenly it works.
The stones are animated by the people.
-Yes, thank you!
The druids may seem quite unusual,
but they've become such a fundamental part of our image
of Stonehenge and that's had some unexpected side effects.
We believe that English Heritage's revenue
has gone up by some considerable percentage
since we've been worshipping there regularly,
and apparently the most frequently asked question they get is,
-"Will there be any druids there?
-And do you have any sort of financial arrangement
-with English Heritage at all?
It sounds like you'd have a legitimate case for saying,
"Well, can we have a percentage of the profits you make?"
Well, we believe that, as druids, that original inspiration,
back if you like to the first Christians,
is something that should be done because people love doing it
and because they give their heart and soul to it
and not because they expect to be paid for it.
Someone who does expect to be paid is English Heritage.
NEWSREEL: Stonehenge is English Heritage's leading money-spinner.
But there's a price to be paid.
The trappings of the tourist industry have sprung up around it,
hemming in the stones amidst car parks, coaches
and convoys of the curious.
Now, it's official.
The Government have branded the facilities
for tourists visiting Stonehenge as a national disgrace.
The problems at Stonehenge have preoccupied English Heritage
since its formation back in the '80s.
At the moment, the conditions are, quite frankly, deplorable
and we are ashamed of them
and I think the nation, as a whole, really, has a responsibility
to do something better and that's what we're determined to do.
Just driving up to it now,
I think it's spoilt by the fact the car park is here.
It looks a bit too built up as you drive towards it, yeah.
The removal of the road, the removal of the car park,
the removal of the awful facilities that are here is a laudable aim.
I think the sooner they go, the better.
30 years on, and nothing has changed.
The saga of Stonehenge is starting to feel as ancient
as the monument itself.
But this year will be different.
We need to build something here that, if necessary in the future,
can simply be taken off and shifted away.
The Chief Executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, has a plan.
And, for once, it seems like it's actually going to happen.
It sits more like a leaf on the landscape.
In fact, it's already begun.
What's actually going to change?
I think the most important change is getting rid of one of the two roads.
It's only one of the two roads, because there are two roads,
there's the A303, but getting rid of the A344
and reuniting the stones with the landscape which they were
always associated with is totally and utterly fundamental.
Getting rid of the car park,
getting rid of the blot that is our encampment of portacabins.
It is a national embarrassment and a national humiliation.
I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to present the stones
in the most, sort of, sympathetic way possible.
English Heritage have laid out the plan for the year ahead
and much of is about taking things away.
No more road. No more car park.
A new hi-tech visitor centre replacing the old portacabins,
well out of sight of the stones.
So far out of sight, in fact,
that visitors will be transported almost a mile by land train.
But the most exciting part of the plan for me is this bit -
no more fences!
After a century of enclosure, Stonehenge is being set free.
The big question, I guess, when it comes to Stonehenge,
is why has it taken eight decades to find a working plan?
Well, of course, the great thing about Stonehenge is it belongs
to everybody and everybody feels it belongs to them.
And so everybody has an opinion about Stonehenge.
Since 1984, there have been, I think, seven or eight schemes.
Some schemes were disliked by local residents,
some by the Ministry of Defence,
some by the National Trust, some by the archaeologists
and, over the decades, when people have been struggling to sort it out,
there have been an awful lot of different views.
Perhaps the most passionate views of all are those of the druids.
English Heritage's plans to exhibit bones and cremated remains
from the site in the new visitor centre
have come up against some fierce opposition.
This ground is hallowed to us.
Taking away the ancestors is bad enough.
Putting them on display in bloody cabinets to make money
at their visitor centre is not going to happen.
Cos when they open that new visitor centre,
the biggest capital project English Heretics have done,
20 years in the planning...
Ah, who knew that..? I mean, all this stuff about English Heretics,
this is all news to me. I wasn't really aware of this whole issue.
Because we believe that those who are laid to rest
should stay to rest.
But he really feels it very strongly.
I mean, it's quite tempting, when you turn up,
to see these guys wearing what they're wearing,
and sort of dismiss them as being these crackpots.
There is obviously something eccentric about
this group of people,
but he really passionately believes in what he's talking about.
Erm, it's a matter of belief
and belief's an important thing that we should respect,
even if he's carrying a shield with a dragon on it!
I intend to take non-violent, direct action against them
and any means of my disposal...
This issue with the bones seems to be where the beliefs of the druids
come up against the business of the Heritage industry.
The landscape surrounding Stonehenge
is where some of the remains were found.
Pat Shelley, 'henge enthusiast and tour guide, is showing me around.
-So we are heading towards a burial mound?
-Yeah, a burial mound.
There's hundreds and hundreds in this landscape.
Have a look over to your right there.
-Can you see some on the ridge in amongst the trees?
There's more in the trees to the left.
Most of them, not all, but most of them, have been dug.
-What they were after were the grave goods.
The gold, in some cases, yeah.
In all the digging that's taken place in and around Stonehenge,
what you don't have is any evidence of day-to-day life.
No houses, hearths, quern stones for grinding grain.
It's as if Stonehenge was built in isolation of people
and what we do have around here are hundreds and hundreds
of these barrows, these burial mounds.
At Stonehenge itself, 150 plus sets of cremated remains.
So we're talking about a huge necropolis,
the largest Neolithic, bronze-age cemetery in the country by far.
I mean, is there any sort of pattern to the way they're arranged here?
They're all in little ridges
and they all have this kind of sightline over to Stonehenge itself.
The barrows are integral to Stonehenge
and Stonehenge to the barrows.
People that come on a tour or bother to come out into the landscape,
what you have to remember is that for most people
who have their ancestry in Western Europe,
they will be genetically linked to the people that built Stonehenge.
The visitor centre is only a few months from being finished
and the exhibition will be key to the success of the redevelopment,
but for Arthur Pendragon,
the bones are more than just archaeological finds.
That was a very rousing speech I heard you deliver earlier.
How do you feel it went?
I think it went well and I think we're going to have
quite a few people here to basically rain on English Heretics' parade
when they decide to open this brand-new visitor centre.
I mean, for the past 14 years, I've supported them,
and I'm still supporting the idea of the visitor centre,
but putting ancient, cremated, human remains and bones
from these burial mounds, from the environs of Stonehenge,
on display as some kind of Victorian peep show,
it's just not happening.
Why do you feel so strongly about it?
Because they're the ancestors and, to my mind,
it doesn't matter whether you died three months ago or 3,000 years ago,
dead is still dead. I mean, one of the archaeologists said to me,
"You don't know if they wanted to be buried here."
And I said, "No, and you don't know your gran wants
"to be in that church yard, but we're not digging her up!"
How would they feel?
It's interesting you use this analogy of a grandparent.
Do you feel a sense of personal connection in some way
-with the people who are buried here?
They were the founding fathers of our nation
and to end up in a display case in a visitor centre...
It's not very respectful, is it?
Well, it's very well-established museum practice
to show human remains.
It's always something that is done with reverence and respect
and we believe it's a perfectly legitimate thing to do.
Of course, we respect the views of the...
the Grand Order Of Druids, led by Arthur Pendragon.
We respect his views
and he's entitled to feel uncomfortable about it.
But he does not represent a very large proportion of society.
The vast majority of people feel quite comfortable
with the dignified display of human remains.
Would it make your life easier if this minority of people, the druids,
if they didn't really have such a vested interest in the stones?
It would make all of our lives less colourful.
-That's a very political answer.
-It isn't, it's just true.
As dawn throws into shadowy relief the giant pillars of Stonehenge,
the successors of the ancient druids await
the first rays of midsummer sun.
The druids are such an essential part of our perception
of Stonehenge, but the fact that they're there at all
is down to one man.
In 1740 the antiquarian, William Stukeley,
published a book that would revolutionise
our understanding of Stonehenge.
This is very special.
This is a first edition of William Stukeley's Stonehenge.
What I love about the title page is that it almost seems to enact
the tension that's at the heart of this book.
Because you have the very rational script which says,
"Stonehenge. A Temple Restored." And then the words
"British druids" are in this gothic, much more seemingly irrational font.
'This book is Stukeley's masterpiece
'and it took him more than 20 years to write.'
This is a work of rational analysis.
It's trying to classify and codify the stones,
which is something that hadn't properly been done, even though
they had been standing for thousands of years.
It strikes us now as so simple as an idea -
that you might actually work out specifically the distances,
the dimensions of Stonehenge to help understand what it was used for,
its significance, but Stukeley was the first one to do that.
But it's here that Stukeley departs from his meticulous measurements
and wanders into the fertile world of his imagination.
Now here he's getting into the druids.
"They carried a sharp brass instrument, which we often find,
"which they used to cut mistletoe at their great festival in midwinter.
"The manner of sacrificing."
There's clearly a real, profound engagement on Stukeley's part
with this kind of, almost romantic history of the druids.
It's quite a dark sense of what they used this temple of Stonehenge for.
And it's a curious thing, this, because, in a sense,
his fascination with druids was just a piece of fantasy and,
as a result, for subsequent generations of scholars,
it did slightly undermine the overall achievement of this book.
William Stukeley died in 1765 -
a figure of ridicule among his fellow antiquarians,
but his ideas about the druids lived on.
Good morning. Actually, I'm not a practising druid
and, as I've missed the summer solstice,
I'm unlikely to bump into any.
Which is probably a good job,
because I don't think they'd take kindly to a stranger in their midst.
They might even have decided to have sacrificed me
and I am too young to die!
How do you feel about archaeologists who sort of..?
Well, they dismiss the idea that druids built Stonehenge.
To us, they were the proto-druids.
Whoever built that, built it as a solar clock to map
out the time of year, the longest, the shortest and the equal days.
They didn't call themselves druids, cos nobody was druids then.
But they were proto-druids,
they were still following the same belief structure
that modern druids, to this day...
You've just seen us in there celebrating the equal day.
Well, it was obviously part of the belief structure
of the people that built Stonehenge.
So, it doesn't matter whether they were druids,
it doesn't matter if they were Irish navvies who built it.
Whoever built it built it to honour the longest and the shortest days.
Whoever buried the people in and around here
and in these burial mounds that encircle it,
buried them in what was and is, to us, a sacred landscape.
The building of Stonehenge was just the beginning.
And our cities are now full of modern megaliths.
We're looking out here across London.
What do you think archaeologists of the future would make of this scene?
Well, I think they'll get it all wrong, as usual.
But I think if you believe that what a culture puts its greatest energies
into is what means most to it, then, I'm afraid,
I think that it will be a landscape
that reveals an extraordinary obsession with money.
Stukeley was obsessed with uncovering what Stonehenge
meant to the people who built it, but he had very little to go on.
Do you think it's unfair that some people seem to write Stukeley off
as a bit of a nutter?
Yes, I do.
Because he was first person to realise that the thing was oriented
in some way with the solstice.
Now, once you do that, you are no longer in the business of just
measuring things and digging things.
You are now involved with something
that has purpose and motive and meaning,
so you have to begin to try and work out what that might be.
Of course, as he went on, he filled in more and more of the details,
and I think people were less and less persuaded.
On the other hand, if one looks at Stukeley's legacy,
people still use his measurements.
He measured features at Stonehenge that have since disappeared,
so the archaeologists are indebted to him,
but his legacy to our present experience of Stonehenge
is also huge.
Stukeley said there were druids at Stonehenge.
OK, when he said it, there weren't, there are now.
There is a third prong to Stukeley's legacy at Stonehenge,
one that's possibly the most influential of all.
It was one of Stukeley's many interventions in the history
of Stonehenge that he did turn it into a tourist site.
He was the first person to make other people
want to go there just to see it.
I think he would have been astonished
and dismayed by what's happened since,
in terms of its exploitation as a tourist site -
when it was just referred to as a toilet stop
on the Bath to London road.
I think it says a lot about us that we could have reduced
such an extraordinary monument to that.
Back on site,
the road is being dug up and the fences are finally coming down.
The old facilities are being consigned to history.
The landscape is starting to regain some of its old magic.
A magic that's inspired some of our greatest minds.
By the early 19th century, the Romantics had embraced the stones,
adding their own layer of mystery and intrigue.
The poet, William Blake,
depicts Stonehenge as a terrifying scene of human sacrifice.
A building of eternal death:
whose proportions are eternal despair
Here Vala stood turning the iron spindle of destruction
From heaven to earth.
11 miles away in Salisbury hangs one of the most famous images
of Stonehenge from the Romantic period,
or from any period, really.
This is the watercolour of Stonehenge that Turner created
in the 1820s and it's become probably
the best-known visual artwork of Stonehenge.
Don't be fooled by the brightness of it which seems, initially,
to be quite picturesque and alluring,
because actually Turner saw in Stonehenge
something quite menacing, sinister.
It was a place of foreboding.
In the foreground, you have a shepherd with his flock,
but this shepherd has been killed.
He's been struck by a bolt of lightning. The storm's passing,
you can see another bolt of lightning in the background
and next to him, his faithful dog
is howling, because his master won't respond.
Some of the sheep have been struck down, as well,
but now they're milling.
There's a sense of, well, clearly unease.
This is all about the artist's imagination.
Turner here is interested in the great drama,
not just of the story of the shepherd being killed,
but of nature itself.
With this huge, vast roiling sky with all of these clouds,
beams of sunlight coming in in dramatic diagonals,
which illuminate the best part of the composition.
The reason I think it's so interesting is because,
when you look at Stonehenge, it's not realistic at all.
If you went and stood at this point, you would not see a stone circle
resembling this. Turner has played fast and loose with the stones.
He's taken artistic licence,
he's thinned out some of the uprights,
he's changed the tone and colour.
And that's partly what Romanticism was all about -
it's about the artist
imprinting their own vision of what they see in front of them.
Turner's painting was reproduced countless times
and it became hugely popular.
By the end of the 19th century, a new kind of image was to become
the fashionable souvenir of the monument - a photograph.
And no Victorian day trip was complete without a picnic.
By the end of the century, the situation was dire.
There were so many 19th-century day trippers having lunch
in the middle of Stonehenge
that there was a national outcry in the press.
And I've got a cutting here of this wonderful article
that appeared in The Sketch on the 30th of September, 1896,
and the journalist writes, "A picnic at Stonehenge
"is one of those incongruities which ought to be put down by law.
"Under these everlasting stones assembles a noisy band of cyclists
"who profane the spot with the popping of corks
"and the cracking of 19th-century jests.
"I wonder the ancient druids do not arise,
"armed with something stronger than mistletoe,
"and whip these intruders out of the solemn precincts."
In an added affront,
litter led to the site becoming infested with rats.
Their burrowing was destabilising the stones.
Something had to be done,
but Stonehenge was still privately-owned.
It took the First World War to change the monument's fate.
Its owner, Sir Edmund Antrobus,
had been killed in action and his entire estate was put up for sale.
Lot 15 was Stonehenge.
This is a genuinely amazing document,
dated the 31st December, 1915.
It's an agreement, conveyance,
between Cosmo Gordon Antrobus and two people -
Mrs Mary Bella Alice Chubb and Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb Esq.
This man, Cecil Chubb, went along to the auction,
wasn't particularly planning to buy anything at all,
got quite concerned that perhaps Stonehenge might be snapped up
by some very wealthy American who would even, perhaps,
take it away and dismantle it and erect it over in the States.
So he decided to bid and he bought the thing.
And we can see that he paid the sum of £6,600.
That was it!
The story goes that Cecil bought Stonehenge as a wedding present
for his wife, and we can only assume
that she was quite hard to please because, apparently,
she wasn't best impressed and despite having shelled out £6,600,
three years after he paid for Stonehenge, in 1915,
he gave it to the nation.
And he was rewarded for that - he was given a knighthood
and became known locally as Viscount Stonehenge.
With the monument now safely in public ownership,
the important work of restoration could begin,
all overseen by the outstanding men from the Ministry Of Works.
Now this model shows us a part of the
south west corner of Stonehenge as it looks today.
Here you see a great heap of fallen stones.
Well, the first operation is to clear up the mess,
to remove the stones which now lie clumsily on top of each other,
and clear the decks for action.
Of course, it will be done with the utmost care and skill
by the engineers of the Ministry Of Works.
Here, we're not really restoring, erm, what is missing,
we are simply putting back into position certain stones
which have fallen in recent times
and in the original position, which is exactly known.
And here is the lintel stone that will fit across the top.
They may be back in their original position,
but they definitely aren't in their original setting.
Right up until 1964, the stones were being hoisted aloft,
straightened and set in concrete.
But it wasn't just the conservationists
who left their mark.
NEWSREEL: Visitors have done their share of damage, too.
There was a time when they could hire a hammer from the nearby town
of Amesbury for the purpose of chipping off souvenirs.
The stones were roped off in 1977.
But come the winter solstice, people clamber all over them.
There's obviously something special
about being able to touch the stones,
but I wonder how damaging these quarter days really are.
'I've met up with archaeologist Julian Richards to talk about
'the impact we've had on the stones.'
There are lots of sort of marks and divots and,
I guess, bits of graffiti and..?
Yeah. Lots of what you can see on the surface is just erosion.
It's the way the stones have worn and bits have fallen off.
But there is some graffiti over here.
How do you feel about everyone being able to touch the stones these days?
I mean, this is quite gentle, really, isn't it?
-And I know you're not supposed...
-It's not ideal.
No. I mean, they don't like the stones being touched,
but I think this is... This is quite respectful.
I don't like people standing on the stones.
I'll tell people off when they do that, but...
It must happen all the time.
Well, it's quite difficult to police, really, but today's...today's nice.
there's all this 19th-century and 18th-century graffiti,
people came and actually carved their names on these stones.
They must have done that with a metal hammer and chisel,
because it's hard stuff,
but, when this was being photographed in the '50s,
it was realised that there were some shallower carvings
and this is a dagger.
-You see, here's the blade and here's the hilt of the dagger.
And then this is slightly more difficult to see,
but there's a curved blade here and this is an axe.
And these are ancient?
You can't date a carving,
but if you look at the shape of these
they fit perfectly well with early bronze-age examples.
So it could be almost like the workman has signed
-it with his tools?
-No. Because these went up in about 2,500 BC...
..these date to somewhere around 1,800 BC.
These stones have been standing here for maybe 700, you know, 800 years.
It's old by that time.
You know, this is as old as Salisbury Cathedral is to us now,
but people are still coming back and putting their mark on it.
It's a similar impulse to this, which is 19th century.
There's one bit over here that really intrigues me.
Can you make out what these letters are on here?
Is this like an 'I'?
It's an 'I' with a little bit through it.
-That's definitely a 'W'.
-And an 'R', is it?
-This is clearly an 'E'.
And then that at the end, that's a bit faint,
but that is an 'N'.
That is the abbreviation for Christopher.
What? Sorry, as in this is Mr St Paul's..?
Well, he was born about 12 miles down the road at a little village...
-..called East Knoyle so we can't prove this is the same Wren,
but isn't it intriguing?
The idea that, you know, one of our greatest artists was a vandal
who came and carved his name on Stonehenge?
Who knew? This isn't very respectful of Wren, is it?
Perhaps this is where he got his inspiration from -
a great piece of prehistoric architecture.
Well, nowadays people don't chip off souvenir pieces any more,
but some people still seem to thing it's a very funny idea to go along
and spoil the stones by painting slogans all over them.
It's a very silly idea,
because the paint is going to take several hundred years
before it can wear off.
By the late '60s, Stonehenge had once more become a canvas on which
a new generation could express their anxieties about the future.
ARCHIVE AUDIO: 'How do you see Britain?
'As a garden? A quiet, private place where people are left alone?
'And where disaster, tragedy and violence are rare?
'A place of friends? Of ceremony? Of memory?
'Many young people in Britain,
'expressing themselves through new forms of music,
'agree with these traditional ideas.'
Lots of bands made the pilgrimage out to Stonehenge,
but there was one person who embraced the mystical vibes
more than any other.
'He sings Dragon's Ear
'and The Children Of Rarn thinking of Stonehenge,
'of the giant figures of horses and men carved in the chalk hills.
'He's no scholar - rather, using electricity,
'he's trying to feel the meaning of the legend of Britain.
'He travels into his future by travelling into his past.'
Through the use of a guitar, which is like a piece of wood
with string on it, really, when you relate to it like that, made by man,
that certain things can stir your emotions out of a piece of carpentry
or blowing a piece of steel pipe and making you cry.
It's the spirit coming through.
It's when people deny their spiritual factors,
it's very sad, because it's everywhere around us.
The free festival movement of the '70s was a reaction
to our increasingly urbanised lives.
An experiment in communal living.
It was only a matter of time before a festival arrived at Stonehenge,
an ancient gathering place.
Only around 500 people attended the first Stonehenge Free Festival
in 1974, but by the following year
the numbers were up to 3,000 and they kept on growing.
What had started as a small gathering had turned
into a month-long festival the size of a town.
There were, in fairness,
all sorts of legitimate concerns about the festival.
Things like toilets being dug into the ancient landscape.
Supposedly, someone carved a kind of bread oven
into one of these burial mounds.
There were even reports that motorbikes were being ridden
right through the centre of the stones.
So, once again, Stonehenge felt like it was in jeopardy.
And the press, they were vociferous.
They really came out against these hippies
who came here for the festival and, as a result,
the Government was called upon to take some decisive action.
But it wasn't really until the mid '80s when the idealism
of the free festival came to a really bloody and abrupt end.
Across the country, tension was mounting.
The miners were out on strike,
and by 1984 unemployment had reached a record high.
To all the British people,
howsoever they have voted, may I say this?
May we get together and strive to serve and strengthen
the country of which we are so proud to be a part?
People did come together,
but not in the way that Margaret Thatcher had imagined.
As communities broke down, thousands left our cities
and looked for a better life out on the open road.
The New Age travellers who had started the free festival
at Stonehenge were now
joined by a younger generation inspired by their example.
Helen Hatt was one of them.
Well, I think there was a huge amount of dissatisfaction
with the way society was going and people were looking for a new path.
It seemed like a much better option than what I was presently living.
I was living in a cold, damp flat with no job prospects
and what I could see on the festivals
was the possibility of having a travelling business.
I went to the Stonehenge Festival as a children's clown.
-This was when you were in your...
-Yes, I was 18, 19 years old, yeah.
The Stonehenge Festival was really important to us,
because it was the gathering point of the year.
It was when most of all of the travellers in Britain
would come together at Stonehenge Festival,
so it was an iconic image of going back to connect with the ancestors.
But public opinion was turning against the travellers.
ARCHIVE: By now, the Peace Convoy is used to the unpopularity
which follows them practically everywhere they go.
They have no regard for law and order.
It seems, in my view, to diminish each year.
We represent everything they hate.
People who are free and they want to stop it,
because they don't want more people joining it.
You can't have 100,000 people
turning up at an archaeological site and causing havoc at the place.
It's all resolvable. You can pick litter.
You can clean up after people have gone away.
It's a field, it's organic, it carries on growing.
But you're talking about digging trenches,
that sort of thing, surely..?
People knew where to dig on the edge of the chalk,
it wasn't near the burial mounds.
There was a huge respect for the sacred archaeology of Stonehenge,
that was one of the reasons that people were there.
The authorities didn't agree.
In June 1985, a four-mile exclusion zone was enforced
to stop the Stonehenge Free Festival.
I actually got a vehicle together that year.
That was the... You know, I had to save up a certain amount of money
and get my vehicle on the road and I'd done that.
So I had my home and I had my little magic box and my clown costume
and I had bookings at the different festivals.
So I hit the road properly in 1985.
Friends said to me, "Do you want to travel in convoy with us?"
It was safer to travel in convoy, it was pleasant and, erm...
I said, "Yes."
I was fully taxed, MOT'd, insured, I wasn't breaking any laws.
I didn't have any fear, cos I wasn't breaking any laws.
And then we got to a point where the front of the convoy was blocked.
This is the front of the convoy.
There are 150 vehicles behind me.
They are all heading for Stonehenge.
And they started to smash the windows of the front vehicles.
They came in at us like we were
a bunch of dangerous, hardcore soldiers.
I could just see policemen coming down the line of the vehicles,
just smashing all the windows down the side of the vehicles
and pulling people out throwing them to the tarmac.
-Were they doing that to women and children, as well?
-Yes, they were.
That was what was scary for somebody like me.
I was only 19 years old,
so as soon as the police arrived at my vehicle,
I threw my hands in the air and I went,
"OK. Tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it."
Nobody talked to me as they arrived.
And then a policeman jumped on the bonnet of the vehicle
and started hitting the windscreen and I was just instinctively putting
my hand up against the windscreen to stop the window smashing in my face.
And then the side window smashed in and then the copper on this side
reached in and grabbed hold of my hair and pulled me over
and my foot jumped off the clutch
and the vehicle jumped backwards just a little bit and then stalled.
And then the engine was stopped
and he had the keys and I thought that was going to be the end of it.
But they carried on smashing up the windows around me.
I was a well-known, peaceful hippy
and I was brutally beaten in front of my friends.
So my friends ran.
Hemmed in by police barricades, the travellers began to panic.
You have no escape.
They'd broke through the fences
and drove their vehicles into the bean fields next to the road.
There was a standoff for a few hours where our people
tried to negotiate to leave the field.
I'm not here to bargain with you.
I'm here to say something to you for you to consider.
We want to go to Stonehenge.
Well, the Stonehenge Festival, as you know, has been cancelled.
We haven't done anything, have we?
We're genuine people, just like yourselves,
and we need help right now.
Please. Help us. All of you.
The police waited until 7 o'clock in the evening,
when they'd amassed enough forces,
which turned out to be soldiers, co-opted as special constables,
put in boiler suits and looking like police.
But they weren't, a lot of them were solders.
And they were sent in to basically stop the convoy.
Very few outsiders witnessed the events in the bean field that day.
Most of the media obeyed police instructions
and stayed behind the barricades.
Are you still here, boy?!
On the deck! On the deck!
This footage was shot an ITN news crew
and it records the violence meted out against the travellers.
Someone help me! Help me!
I didn't do anything, mate.
They smashed me windows, they hit me over the head with truncheons!
Then they hit me when I was on the floor.
The number of people who've been hit by policemen,
who've been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms
and in coaches around this field are still to be counted.
What the end result will be we don't know,
but there must surely be an inquiry after what's happened here today.
In the end, there was no inquiry.
When the very laws and the powers that be of your country betray you
and beat you up for no reason and you genuinely know that
there's no reason that that should happen to you.
Yeah, you know, it wobbles your faith,
it wobbles you, it imbalances you.
Once a symbol of freedom, Stonehenge had become a warzone
and the battle went on for years.
But the new millennium marked a new beginning at the stones.
NEWSREEL: This was the product of months of negotiation
between English Heritage, druids and pagans.
It was in sharp contrast to the violence of the mid '80s
when Stonehenge was closed to all.
This has been a much brighter decade for the custodians of Stonehenge.
I and my colleagues now are much luckier.
We have a situation which is much more harmonious,
is much more understanding.
There are always odd difficulties
and there are odd protests about things that happen,
but, essentially, there is harmony and agreement that we want
to get people access to these stones at the important times for them.
The new visitor centre opened a few months ago,
but it immediately faced problems.
Long queues and broken-down land trains
led to it being branded Moanhenge by the press.
NEWSREEL: Up to 5,000 people a day head to the new visitor centre.
The weekend result -
an overflowing car park and a very long wait to get in.
The system here of transporting people to Stonehenge
is extremely inefficient.
We spent exactly seven minutes,
out of an hour and a half that we were here,
on the site at Stonehenge.
But the curse of Stonehenge finally seems to be lifting.
The land trains are back on the road.
How are you finding these land trains?
I think they add to the experience, actually.
They're disguised as Land Rovers, which we felt were appropriate.
They're meant to look like a little convoy of Land Rovers.
Simon's going to show me the new exhibition.
I'm not sure what the builders of Stonehenge would make
of all these whizzy CGI displays, but, of course, one of them is here.
-This is obviously the skeleton, the human remains.
They're here. Arthur obviously didn't win out.
What do you think when you look at this chap here?
I think what it shows is that Neolithic man
was a man just like us, you know.
These are people who, if you met him on a street today,
he's a recognisable person and I think that we want people
to understand that we're not dealing with some sort of alien species.
We're dealing with sophisticated, intelligent people.
This is not the age of the dinosaurs.
The museum is full of artefacts and panels
that show the evolution of Stonehenge.
All worthwhile stuff and a definite improvement,
but Simon tells me no day out is complete
without a trip to the gift shop.
Apparently, there are more than 700 items
of Stonehenge merchandising on sale.
Britain's national monument - made in China!
-This is the bestseller of all time.
The Stonehenge snow globe. People really, really like them.
Do you have a favourite?
I mean do you have any of..? Do you wear this at home?
I don't, but I think that's kind of all right, actually.
That one, I think I'd prefer to wear that one than the one that says,
"Stonehenge Rocks" which is another massive seller.
Does it risk slightly commercially exploiting the site? I mean...
Well, obviously, we want to make a profit but, equally,
an integral part of going to a monument or going out for the day
is buying a souvenir.
Look at how many people are in here now. It is pretty full.
After all, the tourists are as much as part of the story as the druids.
And that's the challenge.
English Heritage have a tough job trying to keep everybody happy.
And, despite all the teething problems and the disagreements,
the redevelopment is definitely making things better.
It's the evening before the spring equinox
and I've come to a few of these things now
and I can sense the site changing.
The road has been grassed over
and I feel like I'm getting much less distracted by the main road.
There's clearly a case for this place working its magic.
I think I'm falling for it.
# We are the seekers of space
# We've seen our master's face
# It's young and gold And silvery old
# We are the seekers of space. #
Morning, stones. Anyway, here we go. Gather in close, everyone.
Get yourselves all the way round in the circle, if you can.
This quarter could do with a few more.
'You know what? I'm really starting to enjoy this.
'So what if William Stukeley made the druids up?
'They're really at the heart of what Stonehenge has come to mean.
'It's a place where you can hope for a better future.'
I think the best we can do next then is welcome in the quarters.
-May there be peace in the east.
-May there be peace in the east.
Lovely. Ladies and gentlemen, most importantly of all,
may there be peace throughout the whole world.
ALL: May there be peace throughout the whole world.
-To live in peace.
-To live in peace.
But because we're also an ancient fertility religion,
to us the 'I' is a phallus, of the soul of god,
the 'A', the legs of the beautiful earth goddess
and the 'O' is the sound of a gorgeous cosmic lovemaking,
from whence we all proceed.
Well, I guess spring is a time for rebirth.
Speaking of which, Arthur is here with his loyal Arthurian war band,
leading the celebrations by the heel stone.
I wonder if he's feeling any more hopeful
for the relaunch of the site?
-How are you?
-I'm all right.
I mean, the main campaigns at the moment are to get the ancestors
-reburied here at Stonehenge.
-How's that going?
And we're still in disagreement with English Heritage over that.
Well, they're still exhibiting the cremated, the remains, aren't they?
Yeah. So I'm here most days, up at the visitor centre,
picketing, gathering signatures.
I'm a regular pain in the neck, but I'll carry on doing it.
This is what I remember, when I met you last time.
It feels like there's a kind of streak to your character
-that relishes the challenge.
You want to take these people on.
I always say that I will fight for peace,
but if we ever get it, I'm out of here.
A real warrior.
I love the challenge, yeah.
I love the David and Goliath style.
I don't care how many they array against me.
-And you know what?
-Oh, yeah. I'll win in the end, I always do.
I wouldn't bet against him.
Arthur's even running for Parliament next year
as an independent candidate for Salisbury.
It's so tempting to think of Stonehenge as part of the landscape.
Almost like a natural feature
that feels like it's been here forever.
But the whole point of Stonehenge is that it's a man-made structure,
it was built with a purpose and, as a result, its meaning
derives from what we project onto it and have done for millennia.
I don't know what the future holds for Stonehenge but,
whatever it does, we all have a role to play,
because it's the people who keep coming here
who keep this place alive.
# I'm-a gonna talk with the elders
# And tell all of our hearts that she's good
# I love every dance with my baby
# By the light of a magical moon
# As I go along my way I say hey-hey
# As I go along my way I say hey-hey... #
Stonehenge is our most famous prehistoric monument; a powerful symbol of Britain across the globe. But all is not well with the sacred stones. MPs have described the surrounding site as a 'national disgrace' and 'shameful shambles'.
Now, after decades of disputes over what should be done, English Heritage has just 12 months to create a setting that this unique monument deserves. But Stonehenge is more than a tourist attraction; it is also a temple.
In this hour-long Culture Show special, Alastair Sooke shows that Stonehenge has long been a place of conflict and controversy, and that passions still run high at the monument where druids, archaeologists and scientists all battle for the soul of Stonehenge.