By Christopher Chippindale, published by Thames & Hudson (3 rd Edition) at £12.95. 312pp, 265 illustrations, 15 in colour. ISBN 0500-284679.
Describing any book as “complete” or an “encyclopaedia” is a dangerous move for publishers, since the reader, or reviewer, almost always manages to spot some pet aspect left out somewhere along the line. In this case, however, T&H's claims are probably justified.
Everything you would expect in a book about Stonehenge is there, most notably a most extensive history of how the site has been perceived and interpreted from the medieval period onwards. Geoffrey of Monmouth had his view, but so did Elizabethan commentators and Samuel Pepys who wrote about it in his diary. The most familiar chapters to most pagan readers will be those dealing with the writings and interpretations offered by Messrs Aubrey and Stukeley and the rise of the early druid orders and their views on this and other megalithic sites. Indeed the chapter heading “A Delusion of Druids” could almost be adopted as a collective noun. Additionally, the history of the many excavations of the site and of the resulting interpretations is considered in depth, along with the variously fanciful (usually by early Druid orders), rational (the archaeologists) and the downright loony (by all sorts of people), which have been proposed over the years.
Stonehenge Complete is profusely illustrated with a huge range of material, much of which this reviewer has never seen before, from early woodcuts and engravings to paintings of the Romantic period, and from covers of Victorian journals to photographs of the early leisure use of the site. What comes across from them taken collectively is a sense of just how powerful an image and attraction these stones have been for centuries to writers and artists as well as to tourists and seekers after spiritual matters.
What is new to this reader is the extensive study of the long history of use of Stonehenge by the Victorians and Edwardians, including the revelation that the Earl of Pembroke sponsored a matinée concert at the stones in 1896, that it was the venue for groups of cyclists, picnic parties, cricket matches and all sorts of genteel jollies from the middle of the 19 th century, ie long before the official beginning of mass tourism to the countryside and has therefore been under pressure from tourism for a century and a half, as the author makes clear. A sense of déjà vu is afforded by the account of the ritual or ceremony held there by one group in which the druids clashed with the landowner not over actual access but over his attempts to charge them a fee for using the site. Nothing changes, eh?
Also new, if not to this particular book then new in a general way in terms of books about Stonehenge, is the chapter devoted to the future of the site. Chippindale explores both the continuing pressure for access both from tourists and from religious groups and the various proposals for the commercial development of the site and the plans to build a road tunnel or bypass near it – all generously illustrated with photographs of hippies in various stages of undress, artists impressions of megalithic shopping malls and aerial photographs and sketch maps of potential tunnel and bypass routes.This is an excellent book which I have no hesitation in whole-heartedly recommending.