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Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site
On this day in 1857, Charles Darwin received a visit from Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle. In respect of his voyage twenty years before, Darwin had been recommended by his mentor, John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), not undertaking the mission himself in order to stay at home with his family at Hitcham Rectory – the grounds of which witnessed a Stonehenge first in 1856.
Darwin had written to Henslow 12 October 1855, thanking him for the programme his mentor had sent him of the for the sixth annual Hitcham Horticultural Show, indicating that he had also read the brief account in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette. The magazine article mentioned that these occasions featured a museum set up in a marquee (Henslow had become President of Ipswich Museum), it encouraged villagers to add their finds and treasures alongside a learned display (community archaeology is nothing new!), and Henslow would address the crowd outlining the history of the various exhibits. The following year would see a particularly extraordinary display. Henslow was very excited about the arrival of the first giant trees in Britain named Wellingtonia, following the death of the Duke. Wanting to illustrate the size, and with the new museum at Kew scheduled to open in 1857, Henslow had a carpenter construct what in effect was a giant wooden barrel 31 feet in diameter to represent the trunk of the giant trees. It was an imaginative construction, where one could walk inside the trunk as if surrounded by the bark.
One giant idea sparks another and the Hitcham Horticultural Show that year featured a first: a giant timber frame draped in canvas representing the actual size of one of one of Stonehenge’s largest stones. Accompanied by a miniature scale model of the site, this was perhaps the earliest known example of a full sized exhibition replica of a Stonehenge megalith.
Above extracted from research with the working title: ‘Models, Megalithic Emissaries, and the Popularising of Stonehenge 1716-2016’. For the model of the tree see S.M. Walters and E.A. Stow, Darwin’s Mentor: John Stevens Henslow 1796-1861 (Cambridge University Press, 2001) pp. 248-9.
This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to email@example.com
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