Cecil Chubb: The Man Who Bought Stonehenge
Stonehenge is arguably the best known prehistoric monument in England, and perhaps even in the world. Today, this ancient monument is under the care of English Heritage, a registered charity that manages over 400 of England’s historic buildings, monuments, and sites. This has not always been the case, as this renowned monument was once in private hands. This changed, however, when Sir Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb bought Stonehenge, and later passed it into public ownership via a deed of gift. It was due to this gesture that Chubb was rewarded with the title of 1 st Baronet of Stonehenge.
Sir Cecil Chubb in May 1926 on board RMS Aquitania. ( Public Domain )
Cecil Chubb was born in 1876 in the village of Shrewton, not far from Stonehenge. His father was the saddler and harness-maker of the village, and from such humble origins, Chubb made his way up the social ladder, and eventually became a barrister.
In the meantime, Stonehenge had been owned by the Antrobus family since the early 1800s. In the early months of the First World War, the heir to the Antrobus Baronetcy was killed in Belgium. In 1915, Sir Edmund Antrobus, the 4 th Baronet, and a colonel in the Coldstream Guards, died as well, and as he did not have any surviving male offspring, the baronetcy passed on to his younger brother. The new baronet put most of the family’s Amesbury Abbey estate in Wiltshire on the market for sale, either as a whole or in lots. One of these lots was Stonehenge, with 30 acres of adjoining downland.
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In 1915, the historic site of Stonehenge could have been yours for less than $10,000. (Image: Country Life Magazine )
On the 21 st of September 1915, an auction took place in the New Theatre in Salisbury. In the auction catalogue, Stonehenge, assigned the name ‘Lot 15’, was described as a “place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun”. Bidding began at £5000, and rose rapidly to £6000, after which it stopped. The auctioneer, Sir Howard Frank, was not at all impressed, and voiced his disappointment over the poor bidding. Eventually, Lot 15 was sold for a sum of £6600 ($10000) (this amount has been estimated to be around £680000 or $962000 in today’s money). The man who bought this lot was none other than Cecil Chubb, who had by then amassed a fortune from his career.
According to popular legend, Cecil Chubb was sent by his wife, Mary Chubb, to the auction to purchase a set of curtains. According to some accounts, it was chairs that Mary wanted her husband to buy. In any case, Cecil had bought Stonehenge for his wife as a birthday present. Mary, unfortunately, was not too impressed with what her husband had done. It has also been speculated that apart from purchasing Stonehenge out of love for his wife, Cecil was also motivated to make the purchase for more patriotic reasons. One of the rumours is that Cecil had bought Stonehenge to prevent it from falling into the hands of rich Americans who were said to be setting their sights on antiquities everywhere.
Cecil and Mary Chubb, the last private owners of Stonehenge. (Image: George Grantham Bain/Library of Congress)
It was on the 26 th of October 1918, just about two weeks before the end of the First World War, that Cecil passed the ancient monument into public ownership via a deed of gift. There were, however, two conditions attached to this donation. The first being that locals should be given free entry to the site, whilst all others be charged an entrance fee of less than one shilling per visit. Today, locals may still enter the site for free, though a ticket for an adult would cost £17.50 ($25).
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Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain UK. Circa 1920. Image: SDASM Archives
Cecil’s generous act earned him the title of 1 st Baronet of Stonehenge a year later. A coat of arms was made for Cecil, on which were a trilithon, and the motto ‘Saxis Condita’ (which means ‘Founded on the stones’) both of which are references to Stonehenge. When Cecil died in 1934, he was succeeded by his son, Sir John Cecil. The 2 nd Baronet, however, died in 1957 without leaving an heir, thus bringing the baronetcy to an end.
Top image: Last auction of Stonehenge, 1915. Source: Youtube screenshot , English Heritage
By Wu Mingren
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