24 April 2010
18th century account provides a snapshot of Avebury
A poem and illustrated 'blog' written by Charles Lucas give a detailed description of the Avebury neolithic earthworks, stone circles and henge (Wilthsire, England), and denounce the 'vandalism' of that era that threatened the site. 'The Old Serpentine Temple of the British Druids at Abury' was published in 1795.
Lucas, who served as a curate in Avenbury, noted that local villagers were using the ancient stones to build thier homes. In his account, he called several of 'vandals' out by name. "This has been chiefly demolished by Farmer Griffin and Richard Fowler. The two stones in the Cove are all that now remain, and with difficulty these were saved by applying from the farmer to the landlord. The stones from the neck were taken by a Mr. Nalder by order of the landlord Mr. Grubbe to build the farmhouse, now Mr. Tanners, and most of the Kennet houses are built from that part of the Avenue."
He also suggests that some destruction of the monuments was done less for construction materials than to remove remnants of a 'pagan' religion. "The destruction made by T. Robinson was chiefly in the Temple of Avebury, under pretence of building houses, but the experience of demolishing (the stones) was greater than the value of the houses,..."
Lucas' poem describes the presence of north and south cirlces at the site with a large stone obelisk at the center.
"Thus by the Dike, a single ring is rear'd
One hundred stones compos'd the pile completed
Two circles less inclosing, South and North;
But these with double rings, thirty the one,
The inward only twelve. Each stone agrees
In number, size and shape. The North Contains
A cove form'd of three stones triangular,
An antient altar this; - the south has one
To which they ty'd the victim; and another.
An Obelisk the highest of the group,
Which in the centre rears its spiring head..."
The commonly held views of that time about the monuments and the people who created them was influenced by a popular book, 'Abury, A Temple of the British Druids'. It was published in 1743 and written by Sir William Stukeley. Stukeley was an historian, antiquarian, and archaeologist who did extensive fieldwork at Avebury and Stonehenge.
Stukeley recorded eye witness accounts of villagers who recalled the state of the stones before his investigations began. "A Mr. Smith informed Dr. Stukeley, that when he was a schoolboy he remembered the Kennet Avenue intire from end to end,..." Stukeley included the measurements of the fallen, stone obelisk in his notes. "The central obelisk of this temple is of circular form at base, of a vast bulk, 21 feet long and 8 feet 9 inches in diameter; when standing, higher than the rest."
Source: The Heritage Journal (19 April 2010)