Stonehenge may be the most significant ancient site in the UK and one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world, but compared to its mysterious origins, its transformation into one of the top tourist attractions of modern England is rather more prosaic, albeit highly altruistic. It was gifted to the nation by Sir Cecil Chubb, who now lies largely forgotten in a humble grave seven miles from Stonehenge, in a Salisbury graveyard.
The graveyard on Devizes Road in the suburbs of Salisbury is always overlooked by visitors to the city. Set back from the road with low stone walls and wrought iron railings, it tends to be used by locals as a cut through, for dog walking, and often has the odd huddle of teenagers in a distant corner enjoying a sneaky smoke.
It is actually a lovely spot, with a tiny chapel, lichen-clad, crumbling graves and majestic cedar trees rising above it all. It has a war memorial and 49 Commonwealth War Graves from both World Wars. It was opened in 1856 and is home to over 13,000 interments, with no new burials allowed since 2001. The graves are mostly of modest stone with the odd raised tomb covered in creeping ivy. The war memorial is of roughly hewn stone, dedicated to the 28 soldiers and sailors buried there from World War I.
There is a map at the entrance to the cemetery pointing out where you can find the war graves, but no indication of where you can find the grave of the wealthy yet generous man who donated England's greatest prehistoric monument to the nation.
Sir Cecil Chubb, Viscount Stonehenge
Cecil Chubb was born in 1876 just four miles away from Stonehenge in the village of Shrewton on Salisbury Plain, son of the village saddler. He attended Bishops Wordsworth School in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral and then went on to Cambridge, before becoming a barrister.
A successful and wealthy lawyer, he married Mary Finch in 1902, niece of Dr. William Corbin Finch who owned four mental asylums across the country including Salisbury's Fisherton Asylum which was the largest private mental asylum in the UK. She inherited his businesses and properties some time after his death, and Chubb became chairman.
Photograph © House Beautiful
On September 21, 1915, Sir Cecil Chubb attended a local auction at the Palace Theatre in Salisbury. His wife had asked him to buy her a set of dining chairs. Instead, he returned home with Lot 15 - 30 acres of Wiltshire farmland which included an 'ancient, mysterious' ruin which was 'a place of sanctity dedicated to the observation or adoration of the sun.'
Previously, Stonehenge which had been in private ownership since the 12th century, had been owned by local landowners the Antrobus family since 1800, but with the death of Lieutenant Edmund Antrobus of the Grenadier Guards in battle in October 1914, it had been put up for auction.
Stonehenge had been a popular tourist attraction since the Middle Ages, but by the 19th century, day trippers were showing up to chisel off a piece for themselves. The monument was crumbling, with sarsens falling over and the lintels snapping in two and in 1893, Augustus Pitt Rivers, the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, reported that most of the stones at Stonehenge were in a state of collapse. Two stones had fallen in late 1900 and Stonehenge was fenced in the following year with an admission charge levied for the first time, covering some of the costs of restoration and for a policeman to keep watch.
Chubb bid £6,600 for the site (about £500,000 now) and remarked to a reporter that he had not intended to acquire the ancient site, saying “While I was in the room, I thought a Salisbury man ought to buy it.” Asked if he had any plans for the stones, he replied that he would 'protect the monument.'
Chubb is reputed to have given Stonehenge to his wife as a gift, who was apparently not at all pleased with the gesture or the expense. Three years later he donated it to the nation, writing,
“Stonehenge is perhaps the best known and the most interesting of our national monuments and has always appealed strongly to the British imagination. To me, who was born close to it and during my boyhood and youth visited it at all hours of the day and night, under every conceivable condition of weather – in driving tempests of hail, rain and snow, fierce thunderstorms, glorious moonlight and beautiful sunshine, it always has had an inexpressible charm. I became the owner of it with a deep sense of pleasure…[but] it has…been pressed upon me that the nation would like to have it for its own.””
One can easily assume it was his wife who applied the pressure.
A special ceremony took place and Chubb received a knighthood, acquiring the local nickname “Viscount Stonehenge”. Chubb's coat of arms featured a trilithon representing Stonehenge.
He made a number of conditions before handing over Stonehenge. The entrance fee should never be more than a shilling, locals should have free access and no buildings should be constructed within a specific radius.
English Heritage, who now own and run the site, like to claim that they have been faithful to his requests, but sadly they have not. Not only has their definition of 'local' become very narrow over the years, a shilling in today's money should be about £3.00 not the £20 they charge, but also one can only wonder what Chubb would think about the hideous tunnel being gouged out of the landscape just so that people can't drive past it to see it for free.
(Find out the various ways to visit Stonehenge including how to see Stonehenge for free)
In 2018 a letter written by Chubb was found in a book in Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. The letter reads that it had been "hard to part with such a possession" but he had "done the right thing" giving it to the country. In the 1918 letter - dated just before Stonehenge was handed to the nation via a deed of gift - Sir Cecil thanks the former president of the Wiltshire Archaeology Society for his "appreciation on my gift of Stonehenge to the nation".
He wrote: "The numerous letters I have received, among them being some from great Wiltshiremen show me, that although it was hard to part with such a possession as dear old Stonehenge, I have done the right thing in passing for ever from private ownership to the custody of the nation this grand old monument.
Chubb continued to live in Salisbury at Bemerton Lodge, running the asylum which changed name to become The Old Manor Hospital while still run by the Chubbs. Sadly neither building still exists - The Old Manor being a part of Salisbury for many years.
He and his wife travelled extensively with several transatlantic trips on the grand cruise liners of the day, but he remained a decent man - during the First World War, Chubb had offered the Asylum to treat military casualties affected by the horrors of trench warfare, even using their own home as an overflow for the main asylum.
Chubb died of heart disease just a few years after he retired to Bournemouth on 22 September 1934 aged 58, leaving behind his wife, a son and a daughter.
He is buried alone in a simple grave in the Devizes Road Cemetery, with the rest of his family all elsewhere. It took two of us nearly an hour to find it, expecting something a bit more grandiose.
You can find him at w3w: dime.entertainer.hush
Visiting the Grave of Cecil Chubb
Opening Hours: Dawn till dusk
Directions: 13 mins by car on the A360 from Stonehenge
Parking: Free parking in the residential streets nearby