It was suggested to us that we should do a post every month this year, and for each month choose the best Stonehenge replica from the corresponding year of the blog. What a good idea! What a shame we aren’t the kind of people who act on good ideas. But there it is.
And anyway, when we took a look back at all of those early posts, two things leapt out at us. One is that no one should ever have to read their own writing from almost a decade ago, and the other is that somehow every single henge seems like the best henge in its own particular way! So in the real tradition of this blog, we’re just going to ramble aimlessly and pretend it’s a good post. Thank you very much. No applause necessary. Really. We’re good.
It is widely, although not universally, agreed that Stonehenge is mysterious. It was mysterious to me as a child, a representation of the mysteries of the distant past, when people had to wrest their livings directly from the earth, with no social networks but their communities, no videos but the night sky.
Standing alone on Salisbury Plain, unaccompanied by evidence of a city or other signs of advanced civilisation, it went on to tantalise us with its complexities, the carefully worked curved lintels on the outer circle, the woodwork-like mortise and tenon joints that held those lintels in place for millennia, the astronomical alignments, the surrounding landscape with Aubrey Holes, barrows and cursus, to name but a few.
Who built Stonehenge? Why did they build it? How did they build it? What did it look like at its height? Those were the well-known mysteries on which I cut my metaphorical mysteries teeth. But then, through an intricate series of unusual circumstances that seemed to flow normally as they happened but seem strangely contrived in retrospect, I stumbled upon what seemed to me to be a greater mystery still: why are so many people even now in our modern but bewildering times building so many Stonehenge replicas?
I mean, seriously, what is it about? People all over the world are making Stonehenges, large and small, out of materials edible and inedible, from single trilithons to elaborate facsimiles, many if not most of them thinking they are the first to make one like theirs. And that’s true, in a way, because although they are all replicas of the same thing, no two are the same! Although there are countless Stonehenge replicas, a student of the subject can over time learn to recognize each of them by sight.
In the famous words of one Jubal Early of the brilliant but prematurely lamented show Firefly, “Now, does that seem right to you?”
Since then we, which is our polite form of “I”, have been wandering a side path. Let others stop at the enigma Visitor Centre and board the bus to the external mystery. We instead have been set to wander over the Stonehenge landscape of the modern mind, seeking the archetype that will help us make sense of the conundrum of an upsurge of Stonehenge and of faux Stonehenges in the age of Instagram, Google Street View, and virtual reality.
Some will say it all stems from Spinal Tap and make that stale quip about dwarves, but the building of Stonehenges far precedes their time. Henry Browne, by all accounts, was building and selling small cork Stonehenge replicas by some time in the early to mid-1800s. The Quinta Stonehenge in Weston Rhyn, Shropshire is variously said to have been built some time in the 1840s to 1870s. The well known Maryhill replica in Washington State was built in the 1930s. And so on. The famously small stage prop replica in the movie This Is Spinal Tap was just part of a long tradition, itself rumoured tonhave been inspired by a too-large replica built for a Black Sabbath tour.
So instead of a sensible effort like the suggested ten henges for ten months, we, that is to say I, am embarking on a ten month examination of the phenomenon and idea of Stonehenge replicas. What kinds are there? What’s funny about them, what’s poignant about them? We hope to do an interview or two (or three) with people who have special knowledge of the subject of Stonehenge, both in real life and in media perceptions. And some of the people who have built and are building the Stonehenges of our time.
As we approach Clonehenge’s tenth anniversary, we finally plan to confront some of the questions we have playfully raised all this time, and while we do so, we will show you some extraordinary henges/replicas on the way. We invite you along for the ride!
And until next time, Gentle Readers, we wish you happy henging!
*At the top, a Henry Browne Stonehenge, photo our own, taken with permission at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Our thanks to the gracious David Dawson, the indispensable Pete Glastonbury, and the kind and brilliant Jezreell.