This Day 1915: Man Bought Stonehenge For His Wife

Today, Stonehenge is England's most important monument, but just over a century ago it was up for sale.

Lady Mary and Sir Cecil Chubb
Lady Mary and Sir Cecil Chubb on board the RMS Aquitania, 1926 | Library of Congress

Standing on Salisbury Plain, its stones visible from afar, Stonehenge has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1986 and attracts a million visitors a year. So it's strange to think that England's most significant monument, completed around 2,500 BC, was once bought by a barrister as a gift for his wife. Or so one theory goes. Another is that he feared a rich American might acquire it.

Whatever his motivation, on 21 September 1915, Cecil Chubb paid £6,600 ($7,500) for the monument at an auction in Salisbury, Wiltshire. It happened, he said, "on a whim".

Chubb's wife Mary was reportedly less than grateful for the romantic gesture, possibly because the price equated to as much as £680,000 ($771,000) in today's money. "It's said that Mary wanted Cecil to buy a set of curtains at the auction," says Stonehenge's curator, Heather Sebire. "And he came back with something rather different."

On 26 October 1918, 16 days before the Armistice ended World War One, Chubb passed Stonehenge into public ownership, via a deed of gift. The next year Prime Minister David Lloyd George recognised his generosity with a title, Chubb becoming Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge.

To mark this Chubb had a coat of arms made up, bearing a silver lion's leg grasping two branches of mistletoe - a plant regarded as sacred by the druids who (people believed) worshipped at Stonehenge. The coat of arms bore the motto "Saxis Condita", meaning "Founded on the stones".

Chubb had come from humble origins. Born in 1876, his father was a saddler and harness-maker in the village of Shrewton, a few miles from Stonehenge. He attended a grammar school, working his way, via a stint as a student teacher, to Cambridge University. He became a barrister and amassed a considerable fortune.

Chubb didn't forget his roots when he gave Stonehenge away. His deed of gift stipulated the public shouldn't pay "a sum exceeding one shilling" per visit. A separate agreement with the parish council said local people should get in for nothing.



The Secret of Stonehenge Revealed: Scholars have long seen in the monumental composition of Stonehenge evidence for prehistoric time-reckoning - a Neolithic calendar. New analysis says Stonehenge is a calendar to help people track through a tropical solar year of 365.25 days. Read on...