Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  England  Index  Previous  Next 

Stonehenge, A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids, by William Stukeley, [1740], at

p. 1

Plate 1: A Druid
Click to enlarge

Plate 1: A Druid

Title: Stonehenge: A Work of the British Druids Describ’d


Of the Situation of Stonehenge in general. That it was a temple of the Druids, of the patriarchal mode, who were a most ancient oriental colony. In later times, the Belgæ from the continent, conquer’d this country from them. Whence these stones were brought? Of their nature, magnitude, weight. Of the measure of the Druids, the ancient Hebrew cubit, and its proportion to the English foot.

THE Wiltshire downs, or Salisbury plain, (as commonly call’d) for extent and beauty, is, without controversy, one of the most delightful parts of Britain. But of late years great encroachments have been made upon it by the plough, which threatens the ruin of this fine champain, and of all the monuments of antiquity thereabouts. Monuments, we can scarce say, whether more wonderful in themselves, more observ’d, or less understood! among them, Stonehenge has been eminent from the remotest ages, tho’ ’tis not the greatest, most considerable, or most ancient. But ’tis my intent to begin my discourse from it, because the latest, and from thence proceed upwards in our inquiries, about the times and authors of these stupendous works, the temples of the Druids in our Island: for I cannot doubt that Stonehenge was such. The idea we conceive of the distance of time, when these kind of works were made, cannot be ill-form’d, if we consider, that the utmost accounts of ’em we have in writing, are from the Britons, the remains of the people who lived here, at the time of the Roman invasion. This is mention’d in some manuscripts of Ninnius before the Saxons and Danes came over. And the oldest Britons speak of this only by tradition, far above all memorial. They wonder’d at Stonehenge then, and were as far to seek about the founders and intent of it, as we now. They have recourse to magic, as is usual, when they would account for any thing seemingly so much above human power, to accomplish. They tell us, these stones of immense bulk were brought from a plain, in the middle of Ireland, and the like. Which reports give us only no obscure hint of their true authors, the Druids, who were fam’d for magic,

p. 2

and were driven last into Ireland, in the time of the Romans. There they built such like works again, or their brethren had built before; till Christianity, to which the greatest and purest part of their own doctrine was akin, soon put TAB. I. an end to their polity, which the Roman arms could not do. And they embrac’d that religion, to which their own opinions and rites had so direct a tendency. This is the sentiment of Origen on Ezekiel iv. And ’tis sufficiently evident, if we consider, that the first planters of Christianity in Ireland, immediately converted the whole island, without so much as the blood of one martyr. Nay, the Druids themselves, at that time the only national priests, embraced it readily, and some of them were very zealous preachers of it, and effectual converters of others. For instance, the great Columbanus himself was a Druid: the apostle of Ireland, Cornwall, &c. We need not be surpriz’d at this, when we assert, that there is very much reason to believe, these famous philosophic priests came hither, as a Phœnician colony, in the very earliest times, even as soon as Tyre was founded: during the life of the patriarch Abraham, or very soon after. Therefore they brought along with them the patriarchal religion, which was so extremely like Christianity, that in effect it differ’d from it only in this; they believed in a Messiah who was to come into the world, as we believe in him that is come. Further, they came from that very country where Abraham liv’d, his sons and grandsons; a family God almighty had separated from the gross of mankind, to stifle the seeds of idolatry; a mighty prince, and preacher of righteousness. And tho’ the memoirs of our Druids are extremely short, yet we can very evidently discover from them, that the Druids were of Abraham's religion intirely, at least in the earliest times, and worshipp’d the supreme Being in the same manner as he did, and probably according to his example, or the example of his and their common ancestors.

All this I shall prove, in the pursuit of this work. But before we come to speculation, intend to give an exact description of their several temples, and the like works; for such will be a good foundation for us to build upon. That we may proceed from things evident and more known, to those less known, and which we design to make evident, as well as we are able, and the nature of it will permit. A matter so immers’d in the dark mist of time, where very few scatter’d traces remain, must needs bespeak the reader's candor. The dignity of the subject will excuse my boldness in attempting one so difficult. And however I succeed in accounting for these wonderful works; at least, I shall be instrumental in preserving their memory, in giving just drawings of them.

Stonehenge, by the extravagant grandeur of the work, has attracted the eyes and admiration of all ages. After the reformation, upon the revival of learning among us, the curious began to consider it more intimately, I cannot say successfully. Mr. Camden rose as the sun of antiquity, that put out former lights, and, like Cæsar, affrights all that value a reputation, from attempting any thing in his way. His great skill in Roman learning, and our English history, only enabled him to be, as it were, silent on Stonehenge. He saw with excellent judgment, that neither Roman nor English had place there, or could serve to illustrate it. He writes modestly, as his manner was; "Of these things I am not able so much to give an accurate account, as mightily to grieve, that the founders of this noble monument cannot be trac’d out." He could not persuade himself that either Romans, Saxons or Danes had any hand in it. And as for his representation of it in picture, I verily believe, it was drawn only from fancy or memory, or by some engraver from his oral description. A.D. 1620, king James I. being at the earl of Pembroke's seat at Wilton, and agreeably surpriz’d with the sight of Stonehenge, consulted the famous architect Inigo Jones, upon it; thinking it a matter in his way. This great man, who deservedly may be stiled the English Vitruvius, gave his opinion of it, as a Roman work; and left, I suppose, some few indigested notes in writing thereupon.

Plate 2. Prospect of the Roman Road and Wansdike Just above Calston, May 20, 1724. This demonstrates that Wansdike was made before the Roman Road.
Click to enlarge

Plate 2. Prospect of the Roman Road and Wansdike Just above Calston, May 20, 1724. This demonstrates that Wansdike was made before the Roman Road.

p. 3

[paragraph continues] From which his son-in-law John Webb compos’d an intire treatise, endeavouring to prove it. But they that are acquainted with Roman architecture, or have consider’d Stonehenge, must needs be of a different opinion. And as my Lord Bishop of London well observes, in his notes on Camden, "it cannot be safe to close with Mr. Jones, tho’ his book otherwise be a learned and ingenious piece." Inigo Jones lived 30 years after this, and yet Mr. Webb makes an apology for his work, "that if he had surviv’d to have done it, with his own and, it would have been better." But ’tis very reasonably believ’d, that tho’ Inigo Jones was an extraordinary genius in architecture, yet he wanted many qualifications for an author, especially in such a work as Stonehenge. ’Tis my opinion, that had his architectonic skill been united to Mr. Camden's learning, he could never have demonstrated Stonehenge to be a Roman work. Afterwards, Dr. Charlton publish’d a piece against Webb's performance, and certainly has said enough to overthrow it, tho’ he could not with equal success establish his own opinion, that it was the work of the Danes. Whereas Olaus Wormius finds no such monuments among the Gothic nations: which, as Mr. Toland observes, is answer sufficient to his allegation. Webb answer’d the Doctor's book, and by turns effectually demolish’d his opinion, but could not still vindicate his own. Yet from all their disputations, no spark was struck, towards a discovery of the real truth. What is the worst part in both performances of Mr. Webb, his representation of the real monument in his drawings, is fictitious. And, as Mr. Aubry rightly observes, "in endeavouring to retrieve a piece of architecture in Vitruvius, he abuses the reader with a false representation of the whole." It requires no great pains to prove this, nor need we take much time to be satisfy’d in it: the work is still extant. As soon as a judicious eye comes upon the spot, we discern that Webb's equilateral triangles forming the cell are fancies: his three entrances across the ditch are so too; and that he has turn’d the cell a sixth part from its true situation, to savour his imaginary hypothesis. But ’tis against my inclination to find fault with the labours of others, nor do I thereby seek to bribe the reader in my own favour. I had a great pleasure for several years together, in viewing and examining these noble remains of our ancestors. What I wrote about them, was for my private amusement, and that of friends. And I publish them only for the honour of my country, and in hopes that such a publication will not be unserviceable to religion; which is my ultimate view.

Tho’ Stonehenge be the proudest singularity of this sort, in the world, as far as we know: yet there are so many others, manifestly form’d upon the same, or kindred design, by the same measure, and for the same purpose, all over the Britanic isles; that we can have no room to doubt of their being made by the same people, and that by direction of the British Druids. There are innumerable, from the land's end in Cornwall, to the utmost northern promontory in Scotland, where the Roman power never reach’d. They are to be found in all the islands between Scotland and Ireland, isle of Man, all the Orkney islands, &c. and numerous in Ireland itself. And there is no pretence, as far as I can see, for any other persons or nations being the founders of them. They are circles of stones, generally rude, of different diameters, upon elevated ground, barren, open heaths and downs; chiefly made of stones taken from the surface of the ground. There are no remembrances of the founders, any other than an uninterrupted tradition of their being sacred; that there is medicinal virtue in them; that they were made by the Irish; that they were brought from Afric; that they were high-places of worship; sanctuaries; bowing, adoring places; and what names they commonly have, intimate the same thing. And in many places the express remembrance and name of Druids remain, and the people bury their dead in or near them to this day, thinking them holy ground. Mr. Toland in his history of the Druids, p. 23. tells us, "In Gealcossa's mount in Inifoen in the county of Dunegal, a Druidess of that name

p. 4

name lived; it signifies white-legg’d, according to the ancient manner in Homer's time. On that hill is her grave and her temple, being a sort of diminutive Stonehenge, which the old Irish, at this day, dare not any way profane." Many instances of this sort, of all these particulars, we have in our island: particularly the temple on Temple-downs by Abury. Whatever is dug up in or near these works are manifestly remains of the Druid times; urns, bones, ornaments of amber, glass beads, snake-stones, amulets, celts, flint-hatchets, arrow-heads, and such things as bespeak the rudest ages, the utmost antiquity, most early plantations of people that came into our island, soon after Noah's flood. I have all the reason in the world to believe them an oriental colony of Phœnicians; at least that such a one came upon the first Celtic plantation of people here: which reasons will appear in the progress of this discourse. I suppose in matters of such extraordinary antiquity, it would be absurd to set about a formal demonstration; and those readers would be altogether unreasonable, that expect we prove every fact here, as they would do by living witnesses, before a court of judicature. When all is consider’d, that I have put together on this affair, a judicious person, I presume, will agree, I have made the matter sufficiently evident, and as much as the nature of things requires.

In the times just preceding the coming of the Romans into Britain, the Belgæ, a most powerful colony from the Gallic continent, had firmly seated themselves all over the country, where Stonehenge is situate, quite to the southern sea; taking in the south part of Wiltshire, and all Dorsetshire. Wiltshire has its name from the river Willy, which in Welsh is wyli, in Latin, vagire, from its noise. A river of like name in Northamptonshire. Upon the former river at Wilton, probably liv’d the Carvilius, one of the four kings TAB. XXXIV. that fought Julius Cæsar, the picture of whole tumulus we have given towards the end. The Belgæ came into Britain upon the south, as other Celtic nations before had fix’d themselves from the east, Kent, the Thames, &c. such as the Cantii, Segontiaci, Atrebates, &c. so that in Cæsar's time, all the south and east parts of Britain were dispossess’d of their original inhabitants, and peopled from the continent: and this very work of Stonehenge was in the hands of the Belgæ, who built it not. In my itinerarium curiosum, p. 181. I observ’d no less than four successive boundary ditches here, from the southern shore; which with good reason, I suppos’d, were made by the Belgæ, as they conquer’d the country by degrees, from the aboriginal inhabitants. This shews, they must have been a long while about it, that the Britons disputed every inch of ground with them, and that for two reasons; as well because of the extraordinary beauty and goodness of the country, as fighting pro aris & focis for their great temple of Stonehenge: not to speak of that other greater temple, a little more northward, at Abury. The Segontiaci had got Hampshire, to the east of them, before, as far as the Colinburn river, and the Atrebates, Berkshire. The first ditch runs between the river of Blandford, formerly Alauna, and the river of Bere, the piddle in Dorsetshire, two or three miles south of it. The second runs to the north of Cranborn chase, upon the edge of Wiltshire, by Pentridg: it divides the counties of Dorset and Wilts. The third is conspicuous upon Salisbury plain, as we pass from Wilton to Stonehenge, about the two-mile stone, north of Wilton: it is drawn between the river Avon and the Willy, from Dornford to Newton. The fourth is the more famous Wansdike, of great extent. Gwahan in old British signifies separatio, distinctio guahanu seperare, and that undoubtedly gave name to the ditch. The method of all these ditches, is, to take the northern edge of a ridge of hills, which is always steep; the bank is on the south side. And in my itinerary, p. 134. I show’d a most evident demonstration, that it was made before the time of the TAB. II. Romans, in the passage of the Roman road down Runway hill. TAB. II. Wansdike is the last advanc'd post of the Belgæ northwards, and that it was

Plate 3. Prospect of Stonehenge from the East by Vespasians camp
Click to enlarge

Plate 3. Prospect of Stonehenge from the East by Vespasians camp

p. 5

made after Stonehenge was built, is plain, because the stones that compose the work, were brought from Marlborough downs in north Wiltshire, beyond the dike; and as then in an enemy's country. And most probably it was built before the Belgæ set footing in Britain, because of the great number of barrows or sepulchral tumuli about it, which, no doubt, were made for the burial of kings and great men.

The stones of which Stonehenge is compos’d, beyond any controversy, came from those called the gray weathers, upon Marlborough downs near Abury; where is that other most wonderful work of this sort, which I shall describe in my next volume. This is 15 or 16 miles off. All the greater stones are of that sort, except the altar, which is of a still harder, as design’d to resist fire. The pyramidals likewise are of a different sort, and much harder than the rest, like those of that other Druid temple call’d the Weddings, at Stanton-drew in Somersetshire. Dr. Halley was at Stonehenge in the year 1720, and brought a piece of it to the Royal Society. I examin’d it with a microscope. ’Tis a composition of crystals of red, green and white colours, cemented together by nature's art, with opake granules of flinty or stony matter. The Doctor observ’d from the general wear of the weather upon the stones, that the work must be of an extraordinary antiquity, and for ought he knew, 2 or 3000 years old. But had the Doctor been at Abury, which is made of the same stones, he might well from the like argumentation conclude, that work as old again as Stonehenge, at least much older, and I verily believe it. Nevertheless the current of so many ages has been more merciful to Stonehenge, than the insolence of rapacious hands, (besides the general saccage brought upon the work of old) by the unaccountable folly of mankind, in breaking pieces off with great hammers. This detestable practice arose from the silly notion of the stones being factitious. But, alas! it would be a greater wonder to make them by art, than to carry them 16 miles by art and strength; and those people must be inexcusable, that deface the monument for so trifling a fancy. Another argument of vulgar incogitancy, is, that all the wonder of the work consists, in the difficulty of counting the stones; and with that, the infinite numbers of daily visitants busy themselves. This seems to be the remains of superstition, and the notion of magic, not yet got out of peoples heads, since Druid-times. But indeed a serious view of this magnificent wonder, is apt to put a thinking and judicious person into a kind of ecstacy, when he views the struggle between art and nature, the grandeur of that art that hides itself, and seems unartful. For tho’ the contrivance that put this massy frame together, must have been exquisite, yet the founders endeavour’d to hide it, by the seeming rudeness of the work. The bulk of the constituent parts is so very great, that the mortaises and tenons must have been prepar’d to an extreme nicety, and, like the fabric of Solomon's temple, every stone tally’d; and neither axes nor hammers were heard upon the whole structure. Nevertheless there is not a stone at Stonehenge, that felt not, more or less, both ax and hammer of the founders. Yet ’tis highly entertaining to consider the judicious carelesness therein, really the grand gusto, like a great master in drawing, secure of the effect: a true master-piece. Every thing proper, bold, astonishing. The lights and shades adapted with inconceivable justness. Notwithstanding the monstrous size of the work, and every part of it; ’tis far from appearing heavy: ’tis compos’d of several species of work, and the proportions of the dissimilar parts recommend the whole, and it pleases like a magical spell. No one thinks any part of it too great or too little, too high or too low. And we that can only view it in its ruins, the less regret those ruins, that, if possible, add to its solemn majesty.

The stones of the gray weathers are of a bastard sort of white marble, and lie upon the surface of the ground, in infinite numbers, and of all dimensions. They are loose, detach’d from any rock, and doubtless lay there ever since the creation, being solid parts thrown out to the surface of the fluid globe, when

p. 6

its rotation was first impress’d. All our Druid temples are built, where these sort of stones from the surface can be had at reasonable distances; for they are never taken from quarries. Here is a very good quarry at Chilmark in this country. Salisbury cathedral, and all the great buildings are thence; but ’tis a stone quite different to our work. It was a matter of much labour to draw them hither, 16 miles. My friend the reverend Dr. Stephen Hales, the excellent author of vegetable statics, and other works, computed them as follows. The stone at the upper end of the cell, which is fallen down and broke in half, is in length (says he) 25 feet, in breadth 7 feet, and in thickness at a medium 3½, amounts to 612 cubic feet. Now a cubic foot of Hedington stone weighs near 154¼ pounds troy. If Stonehenge stone be of the same specific gravity, it will amount to 94,348 pounds, which is 31½ tuns. But is this be of the same specific gravity as Burford stone, which weighs to 155¼ the cubic foot, then it will weigh 95319 pounds troy, or 32 tuns. Is it be equal to Blaidon stone, which is 187 pounds troy per cubic foot, then it weighs 114444 pounds troy, or 38 tuns. But I am sure that the stone is of considerably larger dimensions, than what Dr. Hales has stated it at, and that the sort of stone is much heavier than that of the largest specific gravity he speaks of, and that it amounts to more than 40 tuns, and requires more than 140 oxen to draw it; yet this is not the heaviest stone at the place.

The notion we ought to entertain of Stonehenge is not a little enhanc’d, by the discovery I made from frequent mensurations there. It gave me the opportunity of finding out the standard and original measure, which the people us’d, who made this and all other works of this kind. And this precludes any tedious disputation against the opinion of authors; for whoever makes any eminent building, most certainly forms it upon the common measure in use, among the people of that place. Therefore is the proportions of Stonehenge fall into fractions and uncouth numbers, when measur’d by the English, French, Roman, or Grecian foot, we may assuredly conclude, the architects were neither English, French, Roman or Greeks. Thus, for instance, when the accurate Greaves tells us, the door of the Pantheon (which is of one stone) is of English foot-measure 19 foot 603/1004 within: should we not be apt to assert at first sight, that the architect in so costly a work, did not chuse his measures at random, but intended that this dimension should be 20 feet? When we consider this building is at Rome, and that it amounts to 20 Roman feet, must we not conclude, it was erected by the Roman standard? adding too, that all the rest of the dimensions of this stately structure fall aptly and judiciously into the same scale. So as long as any vestigia of St. Paul's cathedral remain, the English foot, by which it was built, will easily be known. I must prepare the reader for a right understanding of our Druid edifices, by informing him, that Stonehenge, and all other works of this nature in our island, are erected by that most ancient measure call’d a cubit, which we read of in the holy scriptures, and in ancient profane authors. I mean the same individual measure, call’d the Hebrew, Egyptian, Phœnician cubit; most probably deriv’d from Noah and Adam. ’Tis the same that the pyramids of Egypt and other [of] their works are projected upon; the same as that of Moses's tabernacle, Solomon's temple, &c. and we may reasonably pride ourselves in possessing these visible monuments of the old measure of the world. My predecessor Bishop Cumberland shows, enough to satisfy us, that the Egyptian and Hebrew measure was the same, tho’ he has not hit upon that measure, to a nicety. My friend and collegue Dr. Arbuthnot has been more successful, in applying it to such parts of the greater pyramid, as evidently establish its proportion, to our English foot, from the measures Greaves has left us: and shows it to be 20 inches and 4/5 of English measure. Thus the Doctor observes the side of the greater pyramid at base, is 693 English feet; which amounts exactly to 400 Egyptian cubits, a full and suitable number for such a square work, and without question the originally design’d measure,

Plate 4. A View a little beyond Woodyates where the Ikening Street crosses part of a Druids barrow. Jun. 9, 1724.
Click to enlarge

Plate 4. A View a little beyond Woodyates where the Ikening Street crosses part of a Druids barrow. Jun. 9, 1724.

p. 7

the stadium of old. I have taken notice that Inigo Jones observ’d the like dimensions, in laying out the plot of Lincoln's-Inn-fields. The Doctor adds many more instances, deduc’d in the same way, to confirm it. I add, that Greaves says, the lowermost steps of the pyramid are near 4 feet in height, which amounts to 2 cubits and 2 palms. They are 3 foot in breadth, i.e. 1 cubit 4 palms. The length of the declining first entrance is 92 feet and an half, i.e. 55 cubits. The length of the next gallery is 110 feet, which amounts to 60 cubits. There is another gallery in the pyramid, of the same length. Mr. Webb says the diameter of Stonehenge is 110 feet. This would tempt one to suspect the same measure us’d in both. Thus the diameter of the like work at Rowldrich in Oxfordshire, describ’d by Dr. Plot, is 35 yards, i.e. 110 feet, grossly measur’d. Father Brothais in his observations on upper Egypt, in our Phil. Trans. found a door-case made of one stone, in a magnificent building, it was 26½ feet in height, this is 15 cubits. Dr. Huntington, in the same Trans. says, he found the sphynx standing by the northern pyramids to be 110 feet in circuit, i.e. 60 cubits. Ptolomy in his IVth book, and Pliny XXXVI. speak of the obelisk rais’d by king Rameses at Heliopolis, which Mr. Webb, p. 34. gives the length of in English feet, 136. This is 80 cubits. That which Augustus set up in the circus maximus at Rome upon reduction of Egypt, Webb says, is 120 feet 9 inches, which amounts to 70 cubits. Another, Augustus set up in the campus martius, which he says is 9 foot higher, i.e. 5 cubits. He speaks again of that erected by Fontana before St. Peter's, 81 feet, which was 50 cubits. I suppose the base being injur’d, it was cut a little shorter. This at the base, he says, is 9 foot square, i.e. 5 cubits. The Vatican obelisk is 170 foot high, which is too cubits. 12 foot broad at bottom, which is 7 cubits; at top a third part less.

Hence we gather, the measure of the shew-bread table of the Jews, a cubit and half in height, Exod. xxv. 23. It had a golden crown about it, meaning a moulding, or verge or cornish, as upon our tea-tables. ‏זר‎ peripheria, corona, because 12 loaves were to be pil’d upon it. It was 31 inches in height, that of our ordinary eating-tables. And we shall find by this same cubit divided into its 6 tophach's or palms, all our Druid works are perform’d. ’Tis not to be wonder’d at, that it should come into Britain, with an eastern colony under the conduct of the Egyptian, Tyrian, Phœnician Hercules, (who was the same person) about Abraham's time, or soon after, as I have good reasons to believe, which will be shown in its proper place.

Next: Chapter II