Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why did Cecil Chubb give Stonehenge away?

The basic tale of how Stonehenge came to be bought at auction by local barrister Cecil Chubb in 1915 is fairly well known. He reportedly went to the sale looking for some chairs (or perhaps curtains, or maybe a present for his wife Mary - the stories vary) and bought Stonehenge on a whim for £6,600.

In his own words:
“...while I was in the room I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it and that is how it was done.”
The full saga is somewhat more complex.

The death in action in WW1 of the young Edmund Antrobus on 24th October 1914 and the subsequent death of his father Sir Edmund Antrobus (4th Bt.) on 11th February 1915, had meant that ownership of the extensive Amesbury Abbey Estate - including Stonehenge - had fallen to the 4th Baronet's brother Sir Cosmo Antrobus.

Sir Cosmo promptly put it up for sale, with advertisements appearing in several places including Country Life magazine.

Advertisement for the Amesbury Abbey Estate sale in the Sept. 18th 1915 edition of Country Life magazine

The auction was held at the New Theatre, Salisbury, on 21st September 1915. Stonehenge, along with a nearly 31-acre portion of the downland on which it stood, was Lot 15.

The auction catalogue

Lot 15 - Stonehenge, with a marginal note recording the price it sold for
Chubb was accused of snapping up Stonehenge for its money-spinning potential, but in an article in The Times of 7th October 1915 he rejected this accusation, saying:
“Before the sale I never discussed Stonehenge with a view to purchase with anyone, and at the time of going to the sale I did not even know any figures as the receipts. I think I said before that when I went into the sale-room, I had no intention of buying, and I certainly did not look upon it as an investment”
The criticism was levelled at Chubb in particular by Lord Eversley, who had helped steer the passage of the original Ancient Monuments Act through Parliament to become law in 1882. Eversley had become increasingly frustrated at the resistance by private owners to the idea that the State should acquire the right to seize their property to protect it from harm.

What had irked him especially was that Sir Edmund Antrobus, owner of Stonehenge at the time, had steadfastly refused to accept any suggestion that the monument would be cared for better if handed over to Government control. Eversley had written, in 1910:
“In 1882, when at the head of the Office of Works, after passing the Ancient Monuments Act, I directed the General Augustus Pitt Rivers, whom I had appointed Inspector under it, to communicate with Sir Edmund Antrobus, the then owner of the land on which Stonehenge stands, and to suggest to him the expediency of placing the monument under the protection of the Act. The owner declined to do this. He resented any suggestion that he was neglectful of his duty to protect the monument from injury, or that it was necessary for the Government to intervene for that purpose”
With the Antrobus family now out of the picture, Eversley's new target was Chubb. The fencing off of the monument in 1900 and the introduction of an admission fee in 1901 had already given rise to a heated debate about the level of public access that was acceptable or desirable and Eversley evidently felt that another private owner would further cause the public to be "unnecessarily excluded".

What Chubb himself made of this argument is hard to know - he'd bought a monument and discovered that it had come with a surprising number of cans of worms. His whimsical purchase had landed him in the centre of an argument about public access and entrance fees that continues to this very day.

Letters to The Times continued to be batted back and forth between various august personages, one pointing out that the increasing volume of troops on Salisbury Plain, however disciplined they may be, would come hand in hand with large numbers of undisciplined "camp followers" who couldn't be relied on not to cause damage to Stonehenge if there were no fences to keep them out.

Eversley persisted in his campaign to have Stonehenge donated to the Nation under the protection of the new (1913) Ancient Monuments Act, writing in a further letter to The Times in 1916:
“The effect of this would be that the Office of Works would be charged with the duty of protecting it from all injury; and would be bound under the terms of the Act to give access to the public, subject to reasonable restrictions, but free of charge for admission. Under these conditions it may be taken as certain that the Office of Works would not remove the fence which now surrounds the monument, unsightly and vulgarizing though it is, so long as there is danger to the stones from the camp followers of the forces on Salisbury Plain or otherwise. The public would be admitted to the enclosure free of charge during a reasonable part of each day, and a guardian would watch, as now, their action.”
In September 1918, The Times published a letter from Cecil Chubb to Sir Alfred Mond, the holder of the office of "First Commissioner of Works" in Government and the man in charge of all things to do with Ancient Monuments under the 1913 Act:
“Bemerton Lodge, Salisbury, 15th September 1918 
Dear Sir, 
Stonehenge is perhaps our best known and the most interesting of our national monuments, and has always appealed strongly to the British imagination. To me, who was born close to it and during my boyhood and youth visited it at all hours of the day and night, under every conceivable condition of weather – in driving tempests of hail, rain and snow, fierce thunderstorms, glorious moonlight, and beautiful sunshine, it always has had an inexpressible charm. 
I became the owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure, and had contemplated that it might remain a cherished possession of my family for years to come. It has, however, been pressed upon me that the nation would like to have it for its own and would prize it most highly. I, therefore, have decided to give up this unique possession and offer it to you, his Majesty’s First Commissioner of Works, as a gift to be held for the nation. 
It brings in a revenue, and its possession would be far from an expense. If my wife and I may express a wish, though far from making it a condition of the gift, we should be glad if during the continuance of the war the income could be handed to the Red Cross Society, whose work at the present time is of such great national value. This point, however, must be entirely within your discretion. 
I have the honour to be 
Yours faithfully 
C.H.E Chubb”
... and followed it with Mond's reply:
“Dear Sir, 
It is with great pleasure that I learn from your letter of the 15th inst. that you have so generously decided to present to the nation a historic monument of such unique importance as Stonehenge. As the remains of a long bygone civilization, it has a value and interest equalled by no other monument in the United Kingdom. I fully share your enthusiasm for this amazing record of the past, situated so gloriously on Salisbury Plain. 
As H.M. First Commissioner of Works, it is indeed a satisfaction to me to be able to accept on behalf of the Government and the nation your patriotic and public-spirited gift. I shall make it my duty to bring the same to the knowledge of the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity. I will see that the necessary further steps are taken for the formal transfer of the property to the Ancient Monuments Board, who, I am sure, will guard this priceless possession with the sedulous care which it deserves. 
As regards the latter part of your letter, I am in communication with the Treasury, and hope to obtain their concurrence to your proposal, with which I fully sympathize.”
Shortly thereafter, on the 26th October 1918, a Deed of Gift was signed, sealed and delivered at a ceremony at Stonehenge and the monument's half a millennium in private ownership came to an end.

Sir Alfred Mond (left) and Cecil Chubb (right) at Stonehenge on the occasion of the gifting of the monument

The original Deed of Gift
The text of the Deed is as follows:

Dated 26 October 1918

Mrs M. B. A. Chubb and C. H. E. Chubb Esqre
The Commissioners of Works

Deed of Gift
of Stonehenge

THIS INDENTURE MADE THE 26TH DAY OF October one thousand nine hundred and eighteen BETWEEN Mary Bella Alice Chubb of Bemerton Lodge Salisbury in the County of Wilts the wife of Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb of the same place Esquire Barrister at Law and the said Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb (HEREINAFTER CALLED “THE Donors”) of the one part and The Commissioners of Works of the other part 

Witnesseth that the Donors being seised of the hereditaments hereinafter described as joint tenants for an estate in fee simple in possession free from incumbrances and being desirous of giving the same to the Commissioners of Works for the benefit of the Nation hereby in exercise of the power for that purpose conferred by the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act 1913 and by virtue of their estate convey unto the Commissioners of Works 

ALL and singular the hereditaments described in the Schedule hereto which hereditaments are delineated on the plan drawn hereon and are thereon coloured pink and are situate on Stonehenge Down in the County of Wilts and comprise the Ancient Monument known as Stonehenge and the site thereof and such part of the adjoining land as is required for the purpose of fencing and preserving the same from injury (together constituting an Ancient Monument within the meaning of the said Act) 

TO HOLD the same unto and to the use of The Commissioners of Works in fee simple AND the Commissioners of Works hereby in exercise of the power for this purpose conferred on them by the said Act accept the gift hereby made to them and hereby covenant and agree with the Donors and each of them 

First that the public shall have free access to the premises hereby conveyed and Every part thereof on payment of such reasonable sum per head not exceeding one shilling for each visit and subject to such conditions as the Commissioners of Works in the exercise and execution of their statutory powers and duties may from time to time impose 

Secondly that the premises shall so far as possible be maintained in their present condition 

Thirdly that no building or erection other than a pay box similar to the Pay Box now standing on the premises shall be erected on any part of the premises within four hundred yards of The Milestone marked “Amesbury 2” on the northern frontage of the premises and

Fourthly that the Commissioners of Works will at all times save harmless and keep indemnified the Donors and each of them their and each of their estates and effects from and against all proceedings costs claims and expenses on account of any breach or non observance of the covenants by the Donors to the like or similar effect contained in the Conveyance of the premises to the Donors dated the thirty first day of December One thousand nine hundred and fifteen 

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the Donors have hereunto set their hands and seals and the Commissioners of Works have caused their Common Seal to be affixed the day and year first above written 

THE SCHEDULE above referred to :-

Number on 1/2500 Ordnance Map: Part 22
Description: Stonehenge and Down
Acreage: 30.730

Signed Sealed and Delivered by the above named 
Mary Bella Alice Chubb and Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb in the presence of 
George Herbert Engleheart, Little Clarendon, Dinton, Wilts, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London

The witness to this Deed was one George Engleheart, long time local secretary for Wiltshire for the Society of Antiquaries, author of letters to The Times defending Chubb against Eversley's accusations of viewing Stonehenge as an investment and the main person who had strongly argued against Eversley's lament that the public were being "unnecessary excluded" by the fence and an entrance fee:
“To The Editor of The Times (published Oct 4th 1918)
We are not told who they are who, in Lord Eversley’s words “have been for so long associated with him in an effort to restore public freedom of access” to Stonehenge. I may claim to express the reasoned opinion of a large and not incompetent body of those who think differently from Lord Eversley and deprecate a superficially liberal and possibly popular movement to abolish the present safeguards of this monument. By “reasonable regulations” Lord Eversley clearly implies something less stringent than the existing measures of protection, which are proving barely sufficient. 
If he will visit Stonehenge for himself he will see names freshly scratched on the stones, despite the vigilance of the capable custodians, and will be told of the recent ejectments of vistors for ill-behaviour. 
The permanent character of the buildings on Salisbury Plain is evidence that its occupation by soldiers and camp followers will not cease with the war. Considering the protection it affords, it is difficult to understand the objection to the small entrance fee, which might be given in perpetuity to some charity. 
The destruction of more than one-third of the original number of stones is due much less to time and weather than to “freedom of access enjoyed for centuries.” 
I am Sir, &c., 
Local Secretary For Wiltshire of the Society of Antiquaries 
Little Clarendon, Dinton, Salisbury.”
Ultimately, Chubb was rewarded with a Knighthood for his offer of Stonehenge to the First Commissioner of Works as a gift to be held for the nation but an equal reward was perhaps the relief at being able to step out of the quagmire of competing interests and arguments.

Sir Cecil Chubb and daughter Mary Cecilia, having escaped from the Stonehenge Triangle
Sir Cecil now rests in Devizes Road cemetery in Salisbury in a simple, unostentatious grave.

The celebration of his gift in 2018 will no doubt be accompanied by much fanfare and hoo-hah. I wonder what he'd have made of it.