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Land Use and Settlement in the Upper Waitemata – Part Two

In this the second part of my small study of land use and settlement in the Upper Waitemata we are staying within the area defined in part one – from Island Bay to Kendall’s Bay, keeping within the coastal strip.  This part will take a look at the early colonial/settler history of the area, with the emphasis being on the early or pre-WWII.  After this point in time there is plenty of written records and several good books written on the history of Birkenhead and I have no desire to rehash already well-known information.

In 1769 Captain James Cook sailed through the Hauraki Gulf past Waiheke Island and made a note that there might be sheltered harbours to the west.  The only other Europeans around at the end of the eighteenth century were whalers and as of yet no records have been found of any exploration into the upper Waitemata.  It appears that it is not until 1820 that Europeans began to show an interest in this sheltered inland harbour. 

Reverend Samuel Marsden is often credited with being the first to explore the area, in his diaries he states that he left the HMS Coromandel at Waiheke and was guided by Te Morenga to Riverhead where he then travelled overland to the Kaipara River – a route travelled by Maori for centuries.

During the next twenty years there were undoubtedly forays by other Europeans into the Waitemata, perhaps looking for timber and other such opportunities however their stories are as yet unknown.  In 1840 the HMS Herald was the next major ship to visit the Waitemata, onboard was the Lieutenant Governor of NZ Hobson and the Surveyor General Felton Matthew.  They spent the next two weeks exploring the harbour – Herald Island is named after the ship and of course Hobsonville after the Governor who had initially favoured the place as the capital of New Zealand.

Slightly further afield from our area of study there are records from around this time which make a note of sailors rowing up Hellyers Creek to a place called The Lagoon to restock their freshwater supplies, however, “it has also been recorded that in 1841 a Mr Hellyer, lived on the bank of the creek which now bears his name.  He brewed beer which no doubt was a great incentive to those earlier seamen who rowed up the harbour…”

An early but seriously water worn pipe end found on the beach at Kendall’s Bay – it is easy to imagine the early sailor who dropped their pipe overboard as they sailed up the Waitemata.

In 1841 our area of study was part of a large land purchase called the Mahurangi Block, it extended from Takapuna/Devonport to Te Arai and encompassed the majority of the present-day North Shore. The first parcels of land to be auctioned in 1844 were between Northcote and Lake Pupuke. Much of the early purchases in the Birkenhead area were part of a land speculation trend without the land being settled or farmed.  Significant chunks of land sold were the area from Rangitira Rd/Beach Rd to Soldiers Bay which was sold to William Brown in 1845 and the area from Balmain and Domain Rds to the shore encompassing one hundred and ten acres being sold to a James Woolly also in 1845.  However, it does not seem that either of them actually lived here.  It was common practice for land to bought speculatively and sold on in smaller parcels to settlers fresh off the boat so to speak, such as the ‘Tramway Company’ a land development company who bought large tracts of land in what is now Birkenhead.

The earliest settlers of the Birkenhead area who are known were Henry Hawkins, Hugh McCrum, John Creamer, Joseph Hill, James Fitzpatrick and William Bradney.  All of whom appeared to have had a go at farming but little else is known about them.

Unfortunately, those early settlers who chose the Birkenhead area were in for a hard time, as mentioned in part one the soil was not conducive to farming in the traditional sense.  Settlement was a rather slow process particularly when compared to other parts of the North Shore and Auckland.  Not surprising when faced with the prospect of clearing the bush before they could even build themselves a dwelling.  Many of the early dwellings were simple one room nikau whares, constructed of sod walls with a raupo or nikau thatched roof.  As they cleared the bush often deposits of kauri gum would be found and sold ensuring a source of income. 

A reconstructed nikau/ raupo whare at Howick Historical Village – a living history museum in east Auckland.
Lumps of kauri gum found at Kendall’s Bay.

Even though most of these early farmers only managed a subsistence living, there were the occasional success story.  Birkenhead became quite well known for its fruit orchards, the first of which was established by Henry Hawkins.  There are two differing accounts as to where Hawkins had his orchard, some maintain it was near Soldiers Bay and others say it was on the ridge where Birkenhead Ave now runs.  It is of course possible that both are correct, one of the earliest estates to be subdivided and sold was the Balmain Estate (also known as the Balmain Township) which extended over a much wider area than just the Balmain Rd of today.  The steep sided valley of Soldiers Bay would appear to not be conducive to a fruit orchard, the thick kauri groves would have been quite a hindrance to say the least.  However, an advertisement in the local paper for 1855 has H J Hawkins selling 700 fruit trees from his farm at The Glen, Soldiers Bay. Later in 1870-71 Hawkins is recorded as owning allotment two and three in Birkenhead – this is situated on the ridge which is now Birkenhead Ave. 

Another early settler is mentioned in relation to a dwelling on a map dated to 1849, the house was owned by a John Crisp and was situated close to what is now Fitzpatrick Bay. Unfortunately, I have been unable to corroborate this.

According to a local history study of Island Bay and surroundings (Island Bay. A Brief History) there is an 1844 map which shows a dwelling occupied by a Mr George Skey. The bottom part of the block was developed into a small farm and sold as a going concern around 1849.  It had its own jetty and a farm boundary ditch, unfortunately I have been unable to track down this map to verify this information and the area where the farm is said to be (and relatively well preserved) is part of the Muriel Fisher Reserve which is currently closed due to kauri dieback.  Having said that, it is definitely something to consider and requires further investigation. 

Soldiers Bay at low tide – the tree covered area to the left is part of the Muriel Fisher Reserve and the probable site of allotment 148.

Whilst the 1880-81 electoral roll lists a small block (allotment 148 – a trapezoidal block which ran from what is now Rangitira Rd to the western edge of Soldiers Bay) of twenty-three acres owned by a Mr Clement Partridge who is described as a settler.  The area of Island Bay was one of those places where early land sales were of the speculative kind.  It wasn’t until the “Tramway Company”, a land development company, bought large tracts of land in the Birkenhead area including Island Bay, that small dwellings began to appear. Like many of the bays in the area, Island Bay was a summer place with the majority of dwellings being bach’s and only a handful were occupied all year round.  The road began as a dirt track mostly used by gumdiggers and was previously known as Victoria Rd West prior to 1913.

What’s in a Name?

Placenames often hold clues as to the early settlement of an area and its changing history.  In part one we already looked at some of the Maori names for places and how they relate to not only how the landscape was used but also how the people saw themselves within their world.  For Europeans the naming of places can be a lot more prosaic and, in some cases, the reason for the name is obvious such as Island Bay, so named for the small island at the end of the road which was once separated from the mainland and only accessed at low tide via stepping stones. 

The island after which Island Bay is so named…

Others, however, are much more difficult to ascertain – Kendall Bay is obviously a European name but at this point in time there are no records of anyone with the name of Kendall after whom the bay was so named.  One possibility is that Kendall may be the name of gumdigger or gum buyer situated at the bay – gumdigger camps were often situated at the head of sheltered gullies near fresh water and near to the coast.  Kendall Bay satisfies all of these requirements.  Interestingly, the bay is also known locally as Shark Bay, undoubtedly because of the shark fishing grounds exploited by Maori and later Europeans.

Kendall’s Bay or Shark Bay on a foggy morning.

Interestingly, Kauri Point is the one placename not to change and to be consistently included in the majority of maps dating back to 1842 and up to the present day.  It would be a fair guess to say the name came about as a result of the large kauri stands which would have been easily visible to the first people to sail up the harbour.

Names have also changed through time or have been forgotten.  The Upper Waitemata was once called Sandy Bay on a nautical chart from 1841; another early map refers to Pt Shortland (1842), the headland where the Naval Base currently is; on other maps the bay we know today as Onetaunga Bay was once called Quarryman’s Bay.  

Quarryman’s Bay, like Brick Bay further up the harbour, refer to the early industrial endeavours of the area’s inhabitants.  Both quarrying and brickmaking were popular industries in a land where traditional farming was problematic.  One of the occupations of a potential early settler in the area was brickmaker (see below).

Just a few of the many bricks found on the beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay – possibly either as a result of a small brick making industry or as a result of the demolition of the house on the hill which may have had a brick chimney.

Soldiers Bay is an interesting case of a name that has been around for a long time but its origins are hazy.  The earliest mention that I have been able to track down is dated to a map of 1863.  Today the stream that runs down from the high ground and empties into Soldiers Bay would have been a lot less silted up and most likely navigable by waka or rowboat as far as the present-day carpark.  Today there is a causeway which joins the bottom of Balmain Rd to the reserve which would not have been there in the early days.  This causeway was most likely constructed in the early twentieth century when a caretakes lived at the end of the reserve above Fitzpatrick’s Bay.

The modern causeway which now links Kauri Point Domain to the bottom of Balmain Rd – there are oral histories which tell of access to the beaches being further up the valley.

None of which gives us any clue as to why Soldier’s Bay is so named…it has been suggested that the bay gained its name as a result of an encampment of militia during the unsettled times of the mid-1800s.  At the time, Hone Heke was ‘making life unpleasant’ for settlers in the north, particularly the Hokianga, and many had moved south to take up land in Birkenhead.  To allay the fears of the settlers a contingent of soldiers may have been positioned in various places…hence Soldiers Bay.  As mentioned before the stream would have been navigable to the bottom of present-day Balmain Rd, just before that though there is a flat spur which would have provided a good position for an encampment, with a clear view of the harbour and a fresh water supply.

The final placename to consider is that of Fitzpatrick’s Bay, this small sandy bay is today part of the Kauri Point Domain and is a popular recreational reserve for the local area.  There are two possible people responsible for naming of the Bay – Charles Fitzpatrick or James Fitzpatrick. 

An examination of Jury Lists and Electoral Rolls shows that a James Fitzpatrick arrived on the Jane Gifford in 1842 with his wife and daughter.  The Jury List of 1842-57 lists James as living on the North Shore as a brickmaker; in the 1850s and 1860s he was still living on the North Shore but was now a farmer and a freeholder.  Whether or not he was actually living in the Birkenhead area is difficult to say; Birkenhead itself was not so named until 1863 and up until that point there was very little distinction between areas.  In the 1870-71 electoral roll James was listed as residing in Takapuna, allotment 15 – a survey of the cadastral maps of 1868 shows that allotment 15 is in fact in Northcote (Takapuna refers to Takapuna Parish of which included todays Takapuna, Birkenhead, Northcote, Hillcrest, Birkdale, Beachhaven and so on).  In 1890, James was still in the Takapuna Parish but was now listed as a gumdigger.

Photo of gumdiggers outside a raupo whare on the Manukau Pennisula ca 1891 (from Auckland Libaries heritage Collections 07064)

Charles Fitzpatrick only appears twice in the lists; first in 1867 and as having a freehold land and house at Kauri Point however by 1890 he had moved to Morrinsville.  Whilst only Charles is listed specifically as living in our area of study and he would appear to be the best option for the naming of Fitzpatrick Bay it is still not possible to rule out James. 

Fun in the Sun

The study area today is made up of three different zones – residential (Island Bay), defence (Onetaunga Bay) and recreational (Fitzpatrick Bay, Soldiers Bay and Kendall Bay).  In 1888 Governor William Jervois permanently reserved for the purpose of recreation 133 acres of land (allotment 162 and 163) in the Parish of Takapuna.  It had been his hope that the area was turned into a national park, a place of tranquillity for Aucklanders. This was the area from Kendall Bay to the eastern end of Fitzpatrick Bay.  In 1913 the Harbour Board acquired a further forty-two acres which included Kauri Point (allotment 164) which had previously been owned by Sir John Logan Campbell until his death in 1912.  Further to this the area around Fitzpatrick and Soldiers Bay were then added to the park in 1916.  An article in the New Zeland Herald in 1916 stated that the reserve had a fine waterfront and had in the past had been much used as a camping and picnic ground.  It also mentions a ‘good five roomed house’, our first mention of what was to be known as the caretakers’ house.

Photo of the proposed plan for a park at Kauri Point dated to 1913.

 An article from 1900 also in the New Zealand Herald also mentions how the Kauri Point Domain board had agreed to allow campers for a small fee.  Interestingly they also denied a request for funds for a wharf.  Reading through multiple articles the request for a wharf in the area is one which is constantly brought up, eventually a wharf was constructed but not at Fitzpatrick’s or Soldiers Bay but at Onetaunga Bay and it was paid for and built without the help of the board or their funds.

The grassy area at Fitzpatrick’s used by campers since the 1900s if not earlier.

This marked a new era for this inner harbour landscape; each of the small bays were transformed in the summer months as families from the city side would spend the warmer days living under canvas. In the 1920s and 1930s there were seven or eight families holidaying at Kendall Bay, their camp was at the western end of the bay where there is a level space and a freshwater stream.  At Fitzpatrick’s the camp site was at the northern end of the bay on the grassy area above the beach.  Unlike elsewhere this part of the reserve was owned by the Birkenhead Borough Council from 1929 who improved it and put in place a caretaker. 

The only recorded caretaker was a William Henry Rickwood who lived in small house with his family on the hill above Fitzpatricks.  Oral histories record how Williams’ wife would keep a small store selling sweets, soft drinks and other useful supplies.  There was also a ‘ponga-house’ where Mrs Rickwood would provide hot water and often sold tea and scones to the visitors.  There is very little that remains of this house today, just a level area with an overgrown collection of European garden plants such as figs and a rambling rose.  However, there is evidence of both the campers and the caretakers in form of the rubbish they were throwing away.  Often along the bay sherds of old ceramics dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1930s can be found, undoubtedly there is a European midden that has eroded onto the beach. 

As well as the tent sites at Kendall Bay, there were other camping places, near the wharf at Onetaunga Bay and at Fitzpatricks bay which is the beach at the present Kauri Point Domain.  Pre-World War Two and back through the Depression years, tents appeared each summer for a back-to-nature holiday by bush and sea.  Much of the housework was left behind at home and there was no problem keeping the children amused. There were good sandy beaches and the harbour water was clear and clean in those days before the march of suburbia. (From a pamphlet of remembrances celebrating twenty years of Kauri Point Centennial Park, available in the Birkenhead Library).

Island Bay whilst listed as residential today was up until the construction of the Harbour Bridge mainly a summer town, full of bachs occupied only in the summer by families from across the water in the city. Unlike the other bays the land around Island Bay was owned by a land development company, being subsequently subdivided and sold off.  However, because of issues of transport and roads only a few of the blocks were permanently occupied.  Newspapers from the early 1900s often have articles describing summer outings by the Ponsonby Yacht Club to Soldiers Bay and area. 

Defence

A final chapter in the history of land use in our area is that of defence.  Just prior to the Second World War in 1935 ninety acres of the Kauri Point Domain was taken for defence purposes.  The area of Onetaunga Bay (once Quarryman’s Bay) was developed for a storage facility for naval armaments.  This unfortunately put paid to those carefree summer campers who no longer came in the large numbers, the caretaker at Fitzpatrick’s was still Mr Rickwood in 1938, as listed in the Wises Directory, but with the outbreak of WWII everything changed.

In 1942 the Americans had arrived in response to the Japanese threat in the South Pacific. Kauri Point Domain, Fitzpatrick’s bay included, were given over to the Americans and a large number of powder magazines were built.  There are several unusual features on the beach at Fitzpatrick’s Bay, which may relate to these days.

After the war the Domain reverted to being parkland but never again were campers allowed back to any of the bays.  Today the Naval depot forms a large wedge between Kauri Point Domain and Kauri Point Centennial Park.

The wedge of buildings and land is the naval depot – Kauri Point Domain is to the top and Kauri Point Centennial Park the dark area to bottom and along.

Sources

McClure M (1987) ‘The Story of Birkenhead’

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

‘Island Bay – A Brief History’ – unknown author.

‘Birkenhead The Kauri Suburb’

Papers Past – New Zealand

Electoral Rolls – Ancestry.com

‘Kauri Point Centennial Park Management Plan’ Birkenhead City Council 1989.

‘North Shore Heritage. A Thematic Review Report’ Auckland City Council 2011.

Two Days in napier

Just recently the husband and I had a child free weekend away, during this time we spend two days exploring the town of Napier in the Hawkes Bay.  Naturally I was drawn to the town’s heritage and as per usual my first stop was to the local museum – MTG Hawkes Bay.

The exterior of the museum.

Situated in the main part of town near the seafront, it is attached to the library and spread over three floors.  The ground floor gallery is taken up by two exhibitions – Tenei Tonu and Turuturu, Fingers, Feathers and Fibre. Tenei Tonu showcased the taonga, both historic and contemporary, alongside the stories of the local Iwi Ngati Kahunguru. Turuturu took up a space which joined the museum to the library and is a fascinating albeit brief look at the importance of weaving in Maori culture.

Turuturu are weaving pegs used to keep a garment off the ground when it is being made. The main peg is the right one and can be elaborately decorated. It represents the mana of Te Whare Pora – the knowledge-bank of the art-form. The peg itself upholds the mana of the growing garment and it spiritually connects the maker to the world of thought and concentration. The peg also grounds the maker so they do not get lost in their intellectual world. (quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

On the second floor was three collections – one of an amazing display of heirloom silverware whilst the second was called Five Pakeha Painters – Perspectives on the Hawkes Bay.  This small exhibition of artwork acknowledged the importance of art as a form of dialogue between the artist, the land and the social norms of the time.  The third exhibition was titled The House of Webb – A Victorian Family’s Journey to Ormondsville.  This is a temporary exhibition (it finishes on the 3rd November) showcasing life in Victorian Napier through the belongings, diaries and letters of the Webb Family.  In 1884 the Webb family left their comfortable life in England and travelled to Napier and then further south to Ormondsville, this exhibition showed what life was like for these early settlers, some of their trials and how they survived those early days. 

The final gallery to be explored was in the basement of the museum – here the visitor is taken through that fateful day in 1931 when the Hawkes Bay was hit by a massive earthquake which destroyed almost all of Napier and killed over three hundred people.

At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck Hawke’s Bay. In that moment it seemed the end of the world had come. People were thrown off their feet; buildings shuddered and collapsed as the ground pitched violently. In central Napier, fires broke out within minutes and rushed through the city. Amidst the burning, falling buildings, the bright blue sky of a summer’s day was obscured by smoke and dust. People could only watch as their home was destroyed around them. In desperation the injured screamed for help, others ran for the safety of the beach, or home to find their families. (Quoted from the MTG Hawkes Bay website)

As well as the thoughtful display of objects and stories, there is also a short film of ‘Survivor Stories’ which brings home how devasting the earthquake was to the people of the Hawkes Bay.  Time here will forever be divided between ‘before and after the earthquake’.

The second place to be visited was the Napier Prison…yes on purpose…and no not in shackles…

Napier Prison is New Zealand’s oldest prison, it was first opened in 1852 and was closed to inmates in 1993.  Situated on Bluff Hill and next to the quarry where early inmates were expected to do hard labour extracting the stone that would build walls which now surround the prison.  In 2002 the prison was restored to the state it is in by a local family who turned it into a back-packers (not my first choice of accommodation) but nowadays it is a tourist attraction and even on the cold wet day we visited there were a quite a few visitors.

The forbidding entrance of Napier Prison – visitors must knock…

As a visitor you can either go on a guided tour or do the self-guided audio tour which we did.  The facilities also host scare tours in the evenings and has an Escape Room Experience for those wanting something a bit different.  On two separate occasions and for quite different reasons, the prison has been the focus of a TV show – one looking to enhance the visitor experience from a heritage perspective and the other capitalising on the prison’s spookier stories. The prison has also through its time been used as a psychiatric unit, a lighthouse and a meeting place for Alcoholic Anonymous groups.

Above is a block called ‘The Pound’ – the padded cells and caged exercise area chilling reminders that once upon a time mental illness was treated with a lot less compassion.

Beside The Pound is ‘The Hole’ – use your imagination…

The above photos show a small selection of numerous information boards that provide a light moment amongst the many somber ones.

The above photos are of the main block and exercise yard, the bottom picture is of a well discovered a short while ago. The well room is in what was once the infirmary before being divided into other rooms during the prisons back packing days.

Above is a plaque about one of the prison’s most well known executioners. – the role of executioner would often fall to one of the inmates and Tom Long was no exception.

On a personal note, it was a fascinating place, however the sense of relief when I walked back out the front gates was immense. The heavy sense of foreboding made for an uncomfortable visit, there were places I simply could not enter.  I took no photos of the ‘hanging yard’ or the graveyard (where only three burials are had), the feelings of deep sadness were enough to stop me pressing the shutter. The ‘hanging yard’ in particular had an effect on me…but having said that I am glad I went, it was educational and an eye-opener to life behind bars in New Zealand’s oldest prison.

The remaining photos are just a few from around a city well known for its art deco architecture and seafront gardens.

The view of Napier Port from the lookout on Bluff Hill.

Please note that all photos are my own – the MTG Hawkes Bay do not allow photography in many of their galleries, hence the paucity of photos from this lovely museum.

Stonehenge – more than a ring of stones.

Stonehenge – a name that evokes a great many emotions in a great many people.  For some it is a place of pilgrimage, a place to connect with the ancestors and for others it is seen as a tourist trap or something to tick off the bucket list.  For centuries it has captured our imagination; never has a heritage site been so controversial – something which continues to this day.  In this post it is not my intention to give a full on thesis about Stonehenge, there are plenty of books/websites who do this already.  Instead it is simply an overview of what is currently understood about the site, its surrounding landscape and my own personal thoughts.

Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains, to the south is the busy A303, a main road between the south-west and London, and for many years the equally busy A344 ran alongside the site.  This latter road was removed sometime ago to improve the visitors experience.  Today there are ongoing discussions regarding the upgrading of the A303 and a proposed tunnel.  It is a highly emotive subject, on one hand I understand the need to improve the road situation (ask anyone who is stuck in a traffic jam on the A303) but as an archaeologist I am also aware of the sensitive nature of the surrounding heritage landscape (and yes I am on the fence).  Mike Pitts in his recent post discusses the pros and cons for those of you who are interested.

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For the visitor today the focus is on the large stone circle with its trilithons, they marvel at how it could have been built by ‘primitive man’ often leading to suggestions of alien intervention and lost technologies.  But such thoughts only serve to belittle our ancestors and our past.  Others may ask why did our ancestors build Stonehenge?  Often the answers are unimaginative and simple – sun-worship; display of power; ancient computer; druid temple – once more when we look only for one answer to a what is obviously a complicated site of great longevity we belittle their achievements.  Instead if Stonehenge was understood in terms of the wider landscape and as a site whose history spanned several millenia we might come to some small understanding of how and why.

In today’s world of instant gratification where everything has a beginning and an end,  it is hard to imagine beginning a project knowing you might not see it finished but this was a reality for the builders of Stonehenge.  It has lead some to suggest that it was not the end product which was important but the doing, the act of building which was in fact the purpose.  Suggesting a cyclical thought pattern which can be seen in other aspects of prehistoric life – round houses, stone circles, round barrows.  in addition, time itself was most likely viewed in cycles, the phases of the moon and the movement of the seasons are all cyclical events which would have been of great importance to prehistoric people trying to make sense of their world.

“So was Stonehenge ever ‘finished’?  The answer to that has to be no, because completion was never the intention of the people who created it.” (Pryor F. 2016 ‘Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape).

It is well known that Stonehenge itself had many incarnations, perhaps meaning new and different things with each alteration or rebuild.  To understand Stonehenge it is important to consider it in the wider context of the surrounding landscape (there are literally hundreds of prehistoric monuments around it) in all the different phases.

The Mesolithic Story

The story of the Stonehenge landscape begins back in the Mesolithic, ongoing recent excavations at Blickmead are providing archaeologists with tantalising clues as to why this area was important to our ancestors.  The site is situated near a spring by the River Avon, excavations began in 2005 and almost immediately were fruitful.  Basically, the deposits consisted of an array of Mesolithic settlement debris, mostly flint fragments (tens of thousands) but also a great number of animal bones.  Interestingly, the site also yielded the largest collection of auroch bones ever found on a Mesolithic site in Britain so far.  Other animals which were hunted and consumed included red deer, wild boar and salmon – this has led archaeologists to suggest that feasting was a common occurence around the spring.  The spring itself is quite unusual as it has the tendency to stain flints and other materials a bright magenta pink – the importance of springs in later prehistory is well attested to.

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In 1966 row of four large pit like features were found during upgrades to the old carpark close by Stonehenge.  When excavated one was found to be a the root-hole of a tree and the other three were holes dugs to hold large poles.   Examination of the material from these features gave a date range from between 8500 and 7000BC.  The posts would have been approximately 75cm in diameter and were from pine trees.  Later in 1988 another post-hole was discovered south and east of the original pits but it was contemporary.

So here we have a landscape already well populated by hunter-gatherer communities who revered certain natural features long before Stonehenge makes an appearance.  A landscape which had meaning to the people who inhabit it; who had traditions and memories of place.

At around 3500BC (Neolithic) with the arrival of farming these communities and their traditions had evolved and more permenant features began to make an appearance on the landscape.   Long barrows such as those at East and West Kennet or Winterbourne Stoke were the first to appear and by 3400BC the Stonehenge Cursus and Lesser Cursus was under construction.

Houghton_Arc_855.214_-_Stukely,_the_Druid_temple_of_Abury

3000BC – The first official phase of construction

In many parts of Britian at this time a new type of monument was being constructed, these were earthwork enclosures which are referred to as henges.  They consist of irregular cut ditches encircling a defined area with corresponding banks.  Stonehenge’s earliest phase was one such earthwork.  Here there were two entrances one faced north-east and the other faced south.  The north-easterly entrance remained in use for much of the sites lifetime and appears to be important to its function.  The entrance is aligned along a line of natural gullies which face towards the midsummer sunrise in one direction and the midwinter sunset in the other.

 

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The bank and ditch of the first phase of construction – often overlooked by the visitor as they focus on the stones.

 

These natural gullies would have been visible to the people of the Mesolithic and may have been why the large pine posts were erected where they were – the midsummer and midwinter solstices were just as important then as they were to the later prehistoric communities.

Inside the earthwork enclosure around the inner edge of the bank were fifty-six regularly spaced pits – these are now known as the Aubrey Holes.  There is some discussion as to what they were or what they contained – small stone uprights or wooden posts?  However, what is known is that eventually they did contain cremated human remains.  Similar deposits have been found in the partly filled ditch and cut into the bank suggesting that at this stage in its history Stonehenge was used as a cemetary, among other things.

 

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These circular markers define the spot where an Abrey Hole can be found.

 

The Building of the Stone Monument

At around 2500BC Stonehenge began to resemble a site we are much more familiar with. It is at this time that the massive sarsen stones from the Marlborough Downs were moved to the site and erected.  If that was not all at the same time the smaller but no less cumbersome, blue stones from the Preseli Mountains in Wales were transported and erected at Stonehenge.  The Heel stone was moved to its current position and four smaller sarsen stones (the station stones) were erected  inside the enclosure just inside the bank.

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The first two diagrams above demonstrate one theory of how the trilithon stones were erected.  The third diagram shows the sophistication of the construction, with each lintel fitting neatly into each other – borrowed from the Univeristy of Buckingham’s MOOC “Stonehenge”.

 

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The friendly raven accentuating the knob which would have ensured a lintel that did not move.

 

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Stonehenge in 1917 – taken from a hot air balloon.

 

 

In a mere one hundred years it seems the two main structures of the trilithon horseshoe and the circle was completed. Interestingly it seems that greater care was taken in the shaping and construction of the stones visible from the north-east side and the main entrance.  The bluestones were also erected at this time but not in the form we see today at Stonehenge.  Excavation has shown us that there were two concentric arcs of stone holes, known as the Q and R holes were found on the north and east sides of the central area.  It has been suggested that these were not representative of a complete circle as there is little to no evidence on the southern or western sides of corresponding holes.

 

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The Heel stone – it is thought that unlike the other sarsen stones which come from the Marlborough Downs, the Heel stone was always here and simply raised upright.

 

2200BC – Consolidation and Alterations

From this time on Stonehenge underwent a series of minor alterations although the large sarsen stones remained in their positions although much later in the Bronze Age shallow carvings of axeheads and the occasional dagger were added.  There are some 115 carvings and these have been dated stylistically to between 1750 and 1500BC.

The smaller bluestones however were rearranged and by 2200BC the incomplete circles were dismantled and repositioned to form a circle concentric to and just inside the circle of larger sarsen circle whilst a second oval of bluestones (spotted dolerite) was also formed within the trilithon setting.  Later a number of stones were removed from the oval to form the horseshoe setting which is seen today.

 

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The smaller stones are the remnants of the bluestone circle.

 

At around the same time the ditch was recut and a small bank was constructed and the Avenue was constructed.  This later feature follows the solstice alignment with ditches and banks for part of the way and then veers off to the east ending in a valley of the River Avon.  Recent excavations at the place where the Avenue meets the River Avon have uncovered evidence for a previously unknown henge monument made up of bluestones. These were likely to have been removed to supplement the bluestones already at Stonehenge.

Surrounding the monument are significant numbers of round barrows dating from the Bronze Age, some of which contained rich burials with artefacts made of bronze, gold, jet and amber.  Suggesting a society rather different from the one which was able to come together communally to construct Stonehenge and yet the place, the landscape and the site still had a powerful pull to these people – it is no different today…

Above are two of the many round barrows littering the landscape around Stonehenge.

stonehenge landscape after Aubrey Burl 1955
A map showing the distribuiton of barrows in the Stonehenge landscape.

The pictures above show a reconstruction of houses found during excavations at Durrington Walls which date to approximately the same time as when the main phase of construction at Stonehenge was underway.  It is interesting to note the layout of the houses with the ‘dresser’ opposite the door and the beds to the right as you enter.  This layout is reminiscent of house layouts at Skara Brae and later similar layouts are seen in Bronze Age roundhouses.

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Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Britain; it evokes a variety of emotions; it is a British icon and yet so many people still only today see the stones.  Yes they are impressive but there is so much more to their story than what you see.  To really understand Stonehenge the curious need to look at the wider landscape and then look further again.  Afterall, not too far away is the equally astounding landscape surrounding Avebury.  What was the relationship between these two sacred landscapes?  What can they tell us about the people who lived at the time?  These landscapes were created by a people who viewed the world very differently to ourselves and carry a language, a dialogue that would have been obvious to those who lived in the Neolithic and even the Bronze Age.  In our modern world where landscapes are viewed as places to use – either to make money or in terms of leisure pursuits – it is often hard for us to step back in time to view the landscape as living breathing entity without which we could not survive.

Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape undoubtedly meant many things to the people who occupied it (and probably those further afield too), the stones themselves were taken from the land and perhaps used to create a space where the natural world could be contained; where a semblance of control was maintained; where perhaps a balance was found between the natural world and the constructed world.

There are a great deal of books and websites which delve into the Stonehenge enigma in far greater detail.  I have listed some of those below (browse Amazon for comprehensive lists).  In particular I would like to recommend the free online course run by Buckingham University via Iversity (click here for more details).

Further Reading

Pryor F (2016) Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape

Parker-Pearson M  et al (2015) Stonehenge: Making Sense of Prehistoric Mystery

Parker Pearson M (2013) Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery

Bowden M et al (2015) The Stonehenge Landscape: Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.