How Stonehenge’s Restorations Reveal How Techniques Changed

The most fascinating aspect of restoration and heritage conservation is that it is a relatively young practice, far younger than the vast majority of the monuments and stonework they aim to preserve.

This means that the philosophies, techniques and technologies that surround historic preservation are constantly evolving, and nowhere is that clearer than the three major restorations of England’s most famous stone monument, Stonehenge.

The history of Stonehenge is shrouded in mystery, constructed over the course of nearly 1500 years for a purpose or purposes that are still a matter of speculation amongst historians, with the most prevailing theory being that it was used to indicate the summer and winter solstices.

Works to try and preserve the stones from the ravages of time began as early as the 1880s, due to a survey by William Flinders-Petrie, but the first major attempt to restore Stonehenge occurred in 1901, after a storm on New Year’s Eve the previous year caused a stone to collapse entirely.

Stones had fallen as early as 1797, but by the 1900s, this was seen as a major issue, but also a contentious one.

William Gowland had moved sarsen stone number 56 half a metre from where it had stood for centuries, and a more major restoration in 1919 would prove to be even more controversial.

The work of straightening and restoring the stones would be abandoned in 1926, partly due to cost concerns but also because of fears by the Office of Works that they were “faking” the historic monument.

It took until 1950 for a more substantial excavation and restoration of Stonehenge to take place, which led to them being secured in concrete, with the interior circle paved with gravel to help protect the fragile location.

In 2021, the most recent restoration work took place to repair some of the stones that had been ravaged by the elements for over 70 years, taking care to preserve the character of the stones as much as possible.