What might make a good wedding anniversary present for your wife, do you think, presuming you have one? Jewellery, perhaps? Perfume? Dinner at a swanky restaurant?
How about 30 acres of Wiltshire and the world’s most famous Neolithic monument?
But that’s what Salisbury man Cecil Chubb decided on a whim when he found himself at Messrs Knight, Franck and Rutley’s auction in the Palace Theatre on this day 100 years ago.
Stonehenge had been in the possession of the Antrobus family for generations. But the sole heir, Lieutenant Edmond Antrobus, was killed in action in 1914, just 20 days after arriving in France. With him, the family line died, and the estate containing Stonehenge was put up for sale.
Cecil paid the bargain price of £6,600 (the equivalent of some £475,000 in today’s money) for the monument, and associated bit of Wiltshire. Unfortunately for Cecil, his wife wasn’t too enthused by her romantic gift. So, after enjoying it for just three years, Cecil decided to give it to the nation. And in return, Cecil became Sir Cecil.
But his gift did come with a few conditions, including that the entrance fee should be a “reasonable sum per head not exceeding one shilling for each visit”. In 1921, local residents were guaranteed free access in a deal between Parliament and the local Parish Council – to this day, 30,000 locals are entitled to a pass giving them free access.
The rest of the 1.3 million visitors people who visited the monument in 2014 had to pay rather more than a shilling: the current entrance fee for adults stands at £14.50.