It has fascinated millions of us over the centuries, from camera-touting tourists to druids over the summer solstice. Now a new exhibition, ‘Wish You Were Here’, explores the history of Stonehenge as a tourist destination.
Highlights of the exhibition include the very first Stonehenge guidebook, printed in 1823, the iconic Spinal Tap shaped LP, and an array of memorabilia ranging from a Great Trilithon-shaped toasting fork to postcards through the decades.
Victorian tourists and through the wars
Stonehenge may have been considered a tourist attraction as early as the Roman period, and medieval people certainly visited the site – describing it as one of the wonders of the world. The Wish You Were Here exhibition begins with Stonehenge in Victorian times and traces its development through war and peace and the post-war years, both as a tourist attraction and global icon.
Though an isolated ruin in the 19th Century, the ancient monument saw enough visitors to warrant the production of the first guide books and souvenirs. The 20th Century saw an admission charge introduced in 1901 to address the cost of increasing amounts of damage and to help pay for a police constable.
From the early 20th century to today…
Postcards went on sale in the early 1900s and from that point on, cards in sepia, lurid ‘tints’, black and white, and full colour document the changing face of Stonehenge and its surroundings. From the 1970s onwards, the growing international recognition of Stonehenge saw the iconic stone circle spawn an eclectic range of art, music and popular culture.
Wish You Were Here is now open at Stonehenge visitors and exhibition centre and will run until March 2016. Admission is included in the entry price for Stonehenge. Visitors are invited to share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #stonehengewishyouwerehere.
For vistor details including opening hours and tickets visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge
Stonehenge – the tourist attraction in numbers:
- 1823 – The first Stonehenge guide book was written
- 1847 – The railway reached Salisbury just 8 miles away – hotels became busier and shops sold a range of souvenirs.
- 1883 – Stonehenge was listed by the government as a monument that they wished to schedule, but they were unable to persuade the Antrobus Family. It was not scheduled until 1918 when Cecil Chubb gave it to the nation.
- 1893 – William Judd published his guidebook. William was a photographer at Stonehenge and unofficial custodian of Stonehenge in the 1890’s.
- 1894 – Picture postcards were introduced in Britain and rapidly became popular souvenirs of a visit to Stonehenge.
- 1901 – The tallest of the sarsens was winched upright, changing the appearance of Stonehenge and providing a convenient means of dating early photographic images – pre or post 1901.
- 1901 – An admission charge was introduced at Stonehenge and has been in place ever since.
- 1915 – Stonehenge was sold at auction to local man Cecil Chubb for £6,600
- 1920’s – Café opened on site for the first time and visitors could buy guide books and packs of photographs from here as well as a cup of tea. Before the first shop opened at Stonehenge, these souvenirs would have been available to buy in Salisbury and Amesbury from the late 19th Century
- 1958 – An entire fallen trilithon (two uprights and a horizontal lintel) was re-erected alongside a wider programme of restoration and excavation.
- 1984 – English Heritage was created and took on responsibility for guardianship of Stonehenge
- 1986 – Stonehenge, along with Avebury and other associated sites, was inscribed on the World Heritage list.
- 18 – The number of languages spoken by the staff and volunteers working at Stonehenge in 2015 (French, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Greek, Iranian, Lithuanian; German, Portuguese, Dutch, Mandarin, Welsh, Tagalog, Flemish, BSL)
- 1.3 million – The number of visitors to Stonehenge in 2014 – over half of whom are from overseas.
- 150,000 fridge magnets are sold each year in the Stonehenge shop. The fridge magnet is the most popular gift in the shop.
- 150,000 postcards are sold in the Stonehenge shop per annum – the most popular postcard is an aerial shot.
- 40% of the products in the Stonehenge shop today are produced locally and 60% are produced in Britain