Apologies for a long post but Stonehenge is very old, there's a lot to consider.
This past week I have been mostly Neolithic with a smidgen of Mesolithic so I hope NHS Pensions are getting a wriggle on before I hit Palaeolithic but now let me zap you with my new-found knowledge immediately.
Friend of Darwin and Ruskin, John Lubbock, the man responsible for making those Stone Age distinctions and coining the term 'cave man' also spent three months trying to teach his poodle to read.
Yes, as you can see I'm having a rare old time in this world of unknown non-fiction reading and Rosemary Hill's Stonehenge has kept me nicely out of mischief and taught me a whole lot in the process.
Firstly I like the idea that whoever finished building Stonehenge in about 2470 BC must have long forgotten why it was started because I do that all the time, and secondly I now know what Beaker Ware is. Beaker Ware a little term that has snuck in the side door and seems to have entered common parlance without a by your leave or an explanation and suddenly it seemed beakers were important.
Let a nation be judged by its pottery apparently and the late-neolithics were hot on beakers.
But of great fascination to me was the way that Stonehenge has infiltrated the national consciousness since, well since we had one I suppose, and I had hardly realised that Inigo Jones was a great fan and how easy it is to play Spot the Henge on all his buildings. Then flit to Bath and see that architectural Son of Bath, John Wood, was another advocate and I knew nothing about the origins of the Circus (the sun) or The Crescent (the moon) but there's more Hengefluence going on.
Let not modern architecture be left out, head to Milton Keynes and realise that the whole place was almost built along Stonehenge ley lines and think carefully about the origins of the humble roundabout next time you circumnavigate, yes more Hengedipity going on.
Literature has not been immune and each era seems to have invested Stonehenge with the dominant thinking of the time.Fanny Burney got a look in with The Wanderer and the Romantics then had a field day.Nothing better than a bit of brooding, sinister Gothic drama and the stones became the source of malevolent psychic imagery, Wordsworth couldn't get enough of it apparently and William Blake predictably got stuck in with his long poem Jerusalem.
This compared to the Victorians who loved nothing more than tripping down to the Henge for a nice picnic and taking a piece of Henge home for the mantlepiece. Darwin in typical fashion more interested in the earthworms on the site.The Victorians incidentally responsible for doing the most damage to the stones and the site, which comes as a bit of a relief, I had quite thought it would be our fault.
I'm quietly amazed that this book makes the first reference I have ever come across to the fact that on the very last night of the 19th century a huge storm crossed Salisbury Plain, took down one of the trilithon uprights and the lintel broke in two. I think that would have spooked us considerably in 1999 so must have given the Victorians a bit of a wobble-moment too, especially given that Queen Victoria died a few months later.
We were riveted by the recent BBC series of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and of course Thomas Hardy utilised Stonehenge to full effect therin. It's almost impossible to forget those misty shots of Tess sleeping on the Altar Stone with Angel Clare watching over as the police moved in to arrest her for murder. As Rosemary Hill elaborates, Hardy was saying much about his time with that moment,
' It was not only a romantic tradition that died with Tess but a certain intellectual innocence.'
The constant battle that has been waged by each discipline for the cultural dominance of Stonehenge from archaeology to astronomy and everything in between has been fiercely fought, fences built, blood spilt and of course the poor old Druids, a 19th century invention in form at least as far as Stonehenge is concerned, keep getting in everyone's way.
I didn't actually know that the Queen, Winston Churchill and Rowan Williams (our present Archbishop of Canterbury) have all been Druidified (along with Ken Barlow from Coronation Street) and this and much more is all fascinatingly laid out by Rosemary Hill (not the Ken bit, I just happened to know that). It would seem no generation has ever quite known how to deal with Stonehenge and we still don't. The current bill stands at £25 million spent so far in reports, plans, inquiries, committees and little consensus reached beyond 'best leave it alone.' Apparently we have to get it sorted before London 2012 because it's the venue for the Olympic pole vault, the beach volleyball, the weightlifting and the BMX slalom ...no...joke...mine not Rosemary's she's not that flippant, but what a great idea.
It's a tall order to keep me enthralled beyond my ken to the point where I could just get in the car and go Henge-ing right now but Rosemary has, and in such readably good-humoured yet scholarly fashion that I would recommend this book to anyone. I have spent hours 'did-you-know-that-ing' to Bookhound who actually did know what Beaker Ware was for a start and then started on about the Inner Circle and Blue Stones and latest digs (I blame Time Team) and quite stole my thunder.
There are more in this series from Profile Books entitled Wonders of the World, the series I see is edited by Mary Beard, and I have a several challenges in my sights, not least St Pancras Station by Simon Bradley...mmm, yes doesn't that sound exciting?
Now I do hope against hope that Rosemary Hill won't take offence, and if she does let's hope that we never bump into each other, but I do think her fetching hairstyle and very gorgeous hat perhaps reflect a new trilithon fashion trend, Hengewear, can you see it too?