Should we redo the roof of Tintern Abbey and rebuild the fallen stones of Stonehenge?

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Our most famous ancient ruins attract tens of thousands of visitors, drawn by the mix of history, romance and beauty. But could we treat them differently? And where would we draw the lines if we did?

Every Thursday we return to the Country Life architectural archives – this week it’s an article about Tintern Abbey (cover star of our last issue) and Stonehenge, and asks the question of how, why and even if we have to restore the fallen monuments.

The date of this article in the magazine’s news section, titled ‘Archeology and the Picturesque’, is June 30, 1955 – and the fact that similar ideas were discussed by Sir Tim Laurence in the magazine a few months ago hardly shows how arguments come and go.


Many revolutions of taste and conscience have taken place since William Gilpin, nearly two centuries ago, exclaimed from the ruins of Tintern Abbey that “a mallet, judiciously used, might come in handy.” to correct the “vulgarity of their forms”. The scientific archaeologist has long replaced not only the romantic artist but also the curious antiquarian as a guide TO ruined seats, at tWilight cells and arbors, now valued less as sites to warm the imagination than as sites to educate the intellect.

The subject matter of Turner’s light pencil are programmed ancient monuments, in which the texture of time and neglect is replaced, and compensated, by concern for their stability and survival. It is well known that there have been, and continue to be, many examples of this too ruthlessly applied solicitude.

In its early days, the Department of Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Labor was criticized for this very reason. Promoted by the law of 1953 to the board of directors, it now publishes its first annual report, which can be all the more welcomed as it shows a certain concern to reconcile different scales of values ​​in relation to perhaps our most largest and oldest monument, Stonehenge.

A group of prominent archaeologists who have recently excavated there would like to see, as Inigo Jones put it, “Stonehenge restored.” In their opinion, the re-erection of a number of fallen stones “would increase the value of the monument to the student and make it more intelligible to the ordinary visitor”.

Leaving aside the most relevant but less feasible means to this end, namely the removal of iron fences, parking lots, kiosks, etc., and the restoration of the primitive dark loneliness of the withers, the Council considers the proposal as affecting historical relativity. Apparently the Romans deliberately attempted to destroy Stonehenge and managed to knock over some of the stones.

There will be support for the Commission’s point of view that this is a good reason to leave them prone to the history of Stonehenge as well as the picturesque. The western trilithon, however, is known to have fallen towards the end of the 18th century (an engraving by Loggan shows it standing) and other stones until 1899. The Council considers that these could be restored in accordance with “the Conservative policy pursued by the Ministry of Works, and to do so would also help preserve the mysterious sculpture recently discovered on one of them and threatened with erosion by people’s boots.

The sun sets over Stonehenge, Wiltshire.

The principle of respecting degradations due to historical development may seem to some scientific minds no more defensible than Mr. Gilpin’s use of a mallet to enhance the picturesque. But in the larger view that is slowly spreading, it is surely just as right in the case of a prehistoric monument as it is in that of a historical monument, such as a church, whose “restoration” to its “early purity” has since. long ceased to be approved.

Yet there is a long-term program to “restore” the prehistoric circle of Avebury by completely removing the picturesque medieval village where it encroaches upon it. Deeming it necessary to destroy the texture of history on such a scale implies, at the very least, a certain rigidity of mind on the part of the students, while depriving the ordinary visitor of the pleasures of imagination and discovery.


Friday, October 26, 2018 marks the centenary of Cecil Chubb’s magnanimous gesture: entrusting Stonehenge to the care of

Stonehenge will soon be changed forever, with the planned tunnel given the green light. But this is not the first time

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