Cecil Chubb became the last private owner of Stonehenge, having bought the Neolithic monument at auction.

Chubb grew up four miles away from the famous stones in the English village of Shrewton, where his father was the village saddler and harness maker. He won a place at a grammar school and later attended Christ’s College, Cambridge before becoming a barrister.

Chubb had amassed a considerable fortune by the time he attended an auction at the Palace Theatre in Salisbury on 21 September 1915. The company Knight Frank and Rutley auctioned Stonehenge on behalf of its former owners, the aristocratic Antrobus family, who had owned the stones and surrounding land for generations. Lieutenant Edmund Antrobus, the heir to the Baronetcy, was serving with the Grenadier Guards in Belgium when he was killed in action on 24 October 1914. His father, Sir Edmund Antrobus, the fourth Baronet, died just a few months later on 11 February 1915. With no surviving male heirs the line passed to the elder Edmund’s brother Cosmo, who put Stonehenge up for auction.

According to Stonehenge’s curator, Chubb had gone to the auction to buy a pair of curtains and claimed that he only bought the monument ‘on a whim’. There is competing speculation that he may have bought the stones as a romantic gesture for his wife, or that he did so in order to stop a foreign bidder from taking ownership.

Whatever the reason for Chubb’s purchase, on 26 October 1918 he gifted the monument to the nation. As part of the terms of the donation, he stipulated that local people should get in for free and that outsiders should pay no more than one shilling per visit. English Heritage, who now run the site, claim that the current entry price is still within this limit due to wage inflation.

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© Scott Allsop