Stonehenge, Cornwall

Historical Description

Stonehenge, an extraordinary relic of antiquity in Amesbury parish, Wiltshire, on Salisbury Plain, 2 miles W by N .of Amesbury. Its name is a corruption of the Saxon Stanhengist, signifying " the hanging or uplifted stones." But the ancient Britons called it either Ambres, signifying " the holy stones," or Choir Gaur, signifying "the great round church," and some persons in the middle ages called it Chorea Gigantum, signifying " the giants' dance." The origin and the design of it have been the subject of much vexed discussion. Some antiquaries suppose it to have been Phoenician or quasi-Phoenician, and designed for Baal-worship; others suppose it to have been Celtic or Druidical; and a common tradition asserts that it underwent change and enlargement by the British king Ambrosius, with the aid of Merlin, about the time of the Saxon conquest by Hengist In his " Prehistoric Times" Sir John Lubbock expresses the opinion that there are satisfactory reasons for assigning it to the Bronze Age in Britain, though it was not apparently all erected at one time. It comprises a via sacra, an isolated stone called the Friar's Heel, a circular embankment, two concentric circles of upright stones, and two ellipses called the great and the little. The via sacra, or cnrsus, or avenue runs north-eastward, is 1782 feet long, and now has the appearance of only a slightly raised earthen bank. The Friar's Heel is situated in the avenue 120 feet from the circular embankment, is now a block 16 feet high, in a leaning position, and has been pronounced by the advocates of the Phoenician theory a gnomon of the rising of the summer sun. The circular embankment measures 1009 feet in circuit, was 15 feet high and defended by a fosse, and is now but slightly marked. The outer stone circle commences 120 feet within the embankment, is about 100 feet in diameter, consisted of thirty upright stones, at intervals of 3¼ feet, rising about 16 feet above ground, and bearing top-stones or imposts so as to form trilithons, but now retains only sixteen uprights and six imposts. The inner circle occurs 9 feet within the outer one, resembled one of the ordinary so-called Druidical circles in Wales and Cornwall, and now retains only seven uprights. The great ellipse occurs within the inner circle, was the grandest part of all Stonehenge, consisted either of five or of seven trilithons, the uprights from 16 to 21 feet high, the imposts 16 feet long, and now retains only two trilithons and two single uprights. The little or inner ellipse consisted of nineteen uprights, similar to those of the inner circle; enclosed a flat stone 15 feet long, called by some the altar-stone, by others the stone of astronomical observation; and now retains only six uprights and the so-called altar-stone. The conflicting opinions respecting the entire relic are well shadowed in Warton's sonnet:-" Thou noblest monument of Albion's isle! Whether by Merlin's aid from Scythia's shore To Amber's fatal plain Pendragon bore, Huge frame of giant-hands, the mighty pile, To entomb his Britons slain by Hengist's guile; Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore, Taught mid thy massy maze their mystic lore; Or Danish chiefs, enrich'd with savage spoil, To Victory's idol vast, an unhewn shrine, Rear'd the rude heap; or, in thy hallow'd round, Repose the kings of Brutus' genuine line; Or here those kings in solemn state were crown'd; Studious to trace thy wondrous origin, We muse on many an ancient tale renown'd."

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cornwall papers online:


Visitations Heraldic

We have a copy of The Visitations of Cornwall, by Lieut.-Col. J.L. Vivian online.