The Man Who Bought Stonehenge And Gave it Away

Aug 2, 2022 1 comments

On 21 September 1915, a barrister named Cecil Chubb was sent to an auction by his wife to buy some curtains. According to some accounts, she asked for dining chairs. It didn’t matter, because her husband bought neither. Instead, Mr. Chubb returned home the proud owner of a crumbling stone monument.

Today, it might be hard to imagine that one of England’s most famous prehistoric monument, the Stonehenge, could be offered for sale at an auction, but that’s what happened a century ago.

Stonehenge, circa 1880. Photo: Wellcome Collection

Stonehenge had been in private hands since King Henry VIII confiscated it from a nearby Benedictine abbey in 1540. The monument changed hands numerous times until it was bought by the Antrobus family of Cheshire in 1824. In 1900 they fenced off the monument and began to charge a 1-shilling admission fee to pay for a guard and a restoration of the neglected ruin. After Sir Edmund Antrobus, the only heir to the family, died in 1914, the estate was divided into lots and offered up for sale via auction.

Lot 15: “Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland” caught the attention of Cecil Chubb. The auction began at £5,000, and went up in increments of £100 until the price of £6,000 was reached and then stalled. Nobody was willing to pay more.

“Gentlemen, it is impossible to value Stonehenge,” the auctioneer urged. “Surely £6,000 is poor bidding, but if no one bids me any more, I shall set it at this price. Will no one give me any more than £6,000 for Stonehenge?”

One by one hands went up once again. Someone offered £6,500. But before the auctioneer could finally lower his gavel, Mr. Chubb chipped in with £6,600. The Stonehenge was sold.

Cecil Chubb with his wife Mary.

Chubb’s wife was understandably not pleased, but Chubb couldn’t help it. “While I was in the room, I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it, and that is how it was done,” Chubb told a local newspaper. Chubb feared that a wealthy foreigner might buy Stonehenge, dismantle it and transport it abroad, as happened to London Bridge more than 50 years later, when it was shipped to Arizona.

Three years later, Chubb gifted Stonehenge to the British people, under the condition that local people should be able to visit for free. In a letter announcing the donation, Chubb wrote:

Stonehenge is perhaps the 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 owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure, and had contemplated that it might remain a cherished possession of my family for long 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.

Thanks to Chubb’s impulse buy and his generosity, Stonehenge had been saved for future generations. “Who knows what would have happened to it if someone else had bought it?”, asks curator Heather Sebire. “It was in a pretty perilous condition at the time and it appears that Chubb stepped in to make sure Stonehenge stayed in local ownership. Now it’s under the guardianship of English Heritage and is safe forever.”

The second-highest bidder for Stonehenge was farmer Isaac Crook, who wanted to graze sheep in the fields. His grandson, Richard, who still farms nearby fields told The Guardian: “He was going to put sheep on to it. It’s quite a thought that our family might have owned Stonehenge. But who knows what he’d have done with the stones? He was interested in the land rather than the stones but I like to think he’d have cared for them.”

In 1919 the British government launched an extensive renovation of Stonehenge that included straightening stones and re-setting them in concrete. In the late 1920s a nationwide appeal was launched to save Stonehenge from the encroachment of the modern buildings that had begun to rise around it. By 1928 the National Trust purchased the land around the monument and removed the buildings.


  1. You make it sound like Mr. Chubb's 1915 purchase was somehow a reaction the 1967 purchase of London Bridge. Sloppy writting.


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