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It seems the plan to restore Stonehenge to “splendid isolation” originally came from the Prime Minister. Well actually, not from the Prime Minister but from three Prime Ministers. It was in 1927. A  letter was sent to a number of newspapers from David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald. It called for something to be done about Stonehenge and contained a prophetic warning: “Our generation will be vilified by all posterity if we allow the surroundings of this monument, the frontispiece to English history, to be ruined beyond repair.” It was part of a campaign to raise money to buy the land surrounding the stones as it was feared the setting might be ruined by inappropriate development because improvements in transport would lead to increased tourism and “the monoliths will in time be surrounded by all the accessories of a popular holiday resort

SH Appeal

They succeeded – but ironically what they feared still came to pass for despite being in public ownership the surroundings still took on many of the “accessories of a popular holiday resort”. It has taken a further 75 years and a whole succession of Sir Humphreys, Jim Hackers, and Inquiries to reach the stage where all that is about to be swept away. It won’t be quite  the idealised situation the three PMs called for so eloquently: “The solitude of Stonehenge should be restored, and precautions taken to ensure that our posterity will see it against the sky in the lonely majesty before which our ancestors have stood in awe throughout all our recorded history”…. but it will be a big step forward. 

Incidentally, it would be nice to know if our modern term “splendid isolation” was deliberately adopted with their phrase “lonely majesty” in mind. They are spookily similar. [Update: “Splendid isolation” came first, a correspondent tells us. Adopted as a popular term in the 1890s, stemming from something suggested by a Canadian politician.] Still, the phraseology matters little so long as we start to do right by the place. It would be nice to think that in another 85 years the job will be completed with the removal of the MoD  buildings and the A303 !



July 2013

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