Prior to Alexander Keiller's wonderful contribution in making Avebury what it is to-day two names stand above all others when we trace the history of this fascinating place. Although the Elizabethan antiquarian William Camden recorded the village and stones he didn't realise their significance. It is therefore John Aubrey who is historically acknowledged to be the first antiquarian to recognise the true importance of Avebury when he came across it by chance in the January of 1649 whilst out fox-hunting and is accepted as being responsible for bringing it to the attention of the world at large. Eventually his interest in the monuments was to lead to a visit by Charles II in 1663. Aubrey, who sadly died in poverty in 1697, made drawings of what he found at Avebury which are now invaluable to modern researchers. They reveal the presence of stones which had disappeared by the time Stukeley was to study the megaliths, thus confirming that the period between the two men's visits was one of major destruction to the monuments. For example he records that there were 20 stones in the Southern Inner Circle whereas Stukeley only found 5. His work at Avebury and other sites of antiquity was eventually to be recorded in a large manuscript titled "Monumenta Brittanica". Originally written circa 1690 this vast work wasn't to be published until the 1980s.....It is also reported that in 2001 he was awarded a posthumous knighthood but after much searching and many enquiries I have been unable to confirm this..... His contribution to English history certainly merited the honour.
Some 70 years later, during the first part of the 18th Century, William Stukeley (1687 - 1765) became the antiquarian who devoted his time to Avebury and so much of what is known about the more recent history is attributable to him. Not only did he chronicle his visits he also drew much of what he saw. He mistakenly allied the Avebury monuments to the Druids and believed the henge and avenues to be a representation of a giant serpent but his ideas were no more fanciful than many that have followed since. His findings at Avebury were published in 1743 in his "Abury, A Temple of the British Druids". It is his illustrations and records that have proved so valuable in helping us realize what a magnificent and extensive undertaking the Avebury monuments were. During his visits to Avebury he had to witness much of the unforgivable destruction that took place at that time. His contribution has been vital to the history of the monuments for without it researchers would have great difficulty in interpreting what is there now. The recent discoveries in the Beckhampton Avenue have only occurred as a result of Stukeley's earlier observations. If he hadn't taken a keen interest in the Avebury monuments one wonders how long it would have taken later researchers to suspect the avenue's existence and if it would have ever been found.
In 1729, five years after he had
completed his investigations at
Avebury, he was ordained and
became the parson for All Saints
Church at Stamford in Lincolnshire.
John Aubrey's plan of Avebury Henge
Stukeley's serpentine vision of the Henge
It seems ironic that both John Aubrey and William Stukeley, whose names will forever be imprinted on the stones of Avebury, now lie in unmarked graves. Perhaps, like Alexander Keiller, the stones of the monument provide a fitting memorial for them also.
William Stukeley's drawing of the south entrance
William Stukeley made detailed drawings of the village & henge
which are worth studying.
CLICK THE BUTTON
to view images of them.
CLICK BUTTON for large version of above image
A facsimile copy of
"Abury, aTemple of the British Druids"
by William Stukeley has now been added to the site click here
of this plan
Stukeley, who received a
doctorate in medicine, is the subject of this commemorative medal that is now in the
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Although the contributions of Aubrey and Stukeley will always be acknowleged to be of primary importance others continued in their footsteps who were to leave their own imprint on the Avebury story. Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington carried out extensive surveys of Wiltshire's many prehistoric sites during the early 19th Century and their work was recorded in Colt Hoare's "Ancient History of North and South Wiltshire". They were the first antiquarians to carry out recorded excavations at Stonehenge...Richard Colt Hoare was a prolific illustrator and some examples of his beautiful work can be found on this website.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare
1758 - 1838
1754 - 1810
The Cunnington name was again associated with Avebury during the early part of the 20th Century when William's great grandson Benjamin (1861-1950) was to become the curator of Devizes Museum. Together with his archaeologist wife Maud (1869-1951), they carried out further research and excavations in the area and were responsible for the re-discovery of the Sanctuary after it had been destroyed. As a result they purchased the site which was ultimately given to the nation. The Cunningtons were still active at Avebury when Alexander Keiller was commencing his restoration of the monuments.
Any regular visitor to Avebury soon gets used to seeing some unexpected sights! This splendidly attired gent is a very real reminder of how our famed 18th century antiquarian might have appeared to the locals as he went about his study of the megaliths.
(image courtesy of Frank Parsons)