Mr. Michael Hamilton:
(Salisbury) All is not well
today at Stonehenge, and since this is the most-visited ancient monument in
Britain it is right that the House should know about the situation there. There
is a dangerous assumption that if something has survived from prehistoric times
it will continue to survive and a few centuries more or less will have no effect.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The alarm bells are beginning to ring.
Hon. Members who have visited the cave paintings at Altamira in Spain and at Lascaux in France will know of the increasing attraction of those places and of the mounting anxiety lest the breath of the daily throngs of tourists will damage the paintings. Something of this anxiety is now apparent in Wiltshire, where the weight of numbers is becoming unmanageable. It was Dr. Johnson who said: Salisbury Cathedral and its neighbour, Stonehenge, are two eminent monuments of art and rudeness, and may show the first essay and the last perfection in architecture. The practical care exercised in the maintenance of these two monuments has been in marked contrast.
The greatest danger to Stonehenge today is what I have called the problems of popularity. The M3 motorway brings Stonehenge within an hour and a half of London. The coaches arrive there by mid-morning. The number of visitors grows week by week and year by year. Chatsworth, Blenheim, Longleat—they are all left standing in the league table. Stonehenge exerts a fascination which is insatiable.
In the short 12 years that I have represented Salisbury, the numbers have more than doubled. Each June the place becomes like a carnival site. There are whirring cameras, there are fireworks, there are Morris dancers, there are so-called Druids waving branches of oak, and there are incense burners—all of them waiting for 4.59 a.m. on 21st June.
But it is not all fun. Back in the relatively peaceful days of 1956, the Salisbury Journal reported that 15 military policemen had been called out in order to quell an unruly mob and to restore order. Ten years later it was mods and rockers on their motor-cycles.
This year things were more difficult still. The midsummer rally planned this year began earlier than expected. The authorities were caught on the wrong foot. The monument was engulfed long before the solstice sunrise was due. It was a friendly and easy-going crowd, but among them was a mere handful of potential troublemakers. The police were hesitant to go in and clear the site. Why was this? The Wiltshire Constabulary, as I know it, is second to none. The reason was not basically the wish to avoid a repetition of the events at Windsor, although I concede that that was a factor. I believe the basic reason to be that, had the police moved, the monument itself might have been damaged. In other words, and not to put too fine a point on it, for some days Stonehenge was hijacked and held hostage. This must never happen again.
Inevitably these problems spill over into the surrounding district. Local farmers speak of their woods being fouled. Amesbury householders find that milk bottles are stolen from their doorsteps. The people in the married quarters at Larkhill, which is more than a mile away, complain that with midsummer temperatures they have to sleep with their windows closed because of the noise.
It is the accumulation of
these things that prompts me to speak tonight of these problems of popularity.
I am concerned with the well-being of the monument, as is the Minister, but
I am also concerned with the well-being of those living in the district.
I want to be fair to the Department of the Environment. I believe that it is alive to these difficulties, and I pay special tribute to Lady Birk, who has responsibility for ancient monuments and who has herself on more than one occasion been to look at matters on the ground.
In closing, I would point out that Stonehenge probably took three centuries to build. It is a highly sophisticated building and a good many generations of 163 my constituents must have devoted their whole lives to working on it. They created an interlocking series of astronomical observing instruments of remarkable ingenuity and which architecturally are of great simplicity. It genuinely ranks with the seven classic wonders of the world—the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramids and so on. The monument is worth safeguarding, and I hope the Minister will agree with me.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)
It has been recognised for many years by those concerned about our natural and man-made heritage that the popularity of a particular area or feature may damage, or even destroy, the very thing that has attracted visitors to it. I believe that the House and the public, will agree that we have a duty to future generations as well as to the present one in respect of our heritage.
The principle is well stated in the report of the National Parks Policies Review Committee which said in respect of national parks that their enjoyment by the public should be in such manner and by such means as will leave their beauty unimpaired for the enjoyment of this and future generations. This recommendation was endorsed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, then my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), in a circular to local authorities in January of this year.
Hon. Members may perhaps
wonder how this doctrine can possibly apply to the apparently robustly constructed
Stonehenge Circle. But Stonehenge is more than the familiar stone circle; it
is a "henge", comprising a ditched and banked enclosure containing
within it an arrangement of upright stones, pits and 164 the settings of former
timber structures; and there are associated features, notably the Heelstone
and the Avenue—the processional route to the circle which is severed only
a few yards from the henge by the A344 road.
The effects on the monument of increasing numbers of visitors–120,000 in 1951, 300,000 in 1960 and 700,000 in recent years, coming second only to those who visit the Tower of London—have been worrying the Department and our advisers, the Ancient Monuments Board, for many years. I have been amongst those crowds on a Friday afternoon in August. The turf has been worn away, leaving a sea of mud in wet weather. We have replaced this by gravel, but then it was found that the bank and ditch surrounding the enclosure were being eroded.
Fences were put up on each
side of them. Since then, we have realised with growing anxiety that the stones
themselves are suffering wear.
The wear is partly caused by adults and children climbing on the low and fallen stones, but there is more to it than that. Fairly recently it has been discovered that there are faint incisions on some of the upright stones representing axe and dagger symbols of Bronze Age date. These are of significance to archaeologists, but we have evidence that they are at risk by the amount of rubbing and fingering to which they are subjected.
The density of crowds in
summer and at fine weekends throughout the year is such that the custody staff
cannot control them. There is no room within the circle to fence off corridors
within which large numbers of people can shuffle round in a queue.
Rationing by price was tried, and the price of admission was increased to 40 pence during the summer, keeping it to 10p in winter. That caused many complaints and hostility to our staff, and it had no significant effect on attendances. There has been a recent addition of overenthusiastic festivities—some would say hooliganism—during the night of the Summer Solstice. Because of the dangers to the monument and to people, it has been necessary for more than 10 years to surround the henge with dannert wire, and to admit inside it only the Druids—who have been allowed for over 50 years to perform their rites—and a limited 165 number of local residents selected by the district council.
My hon. Friend the noble
Lady, Lady Birk, who also is Under-Secretary of State in the Department, met
representatives of the district council last April to discuss these arrangements.
On police advice it was agreed that they must continue until there is evidence
of an improvement in public behaviour. The organisers of unauthorised free festivals
have in recent years made Stonehenge a target at that time of year. In 1975
they were deflected from the monument by the police, but invaded surrounding
farmland. In 1976 the vanguard arrived well before the solstice and established
themselves close to the monument. The police advised against attempting to dislodge
them unless there was an alternative site available. There was and is no such
I appreciate that there is resentment in Amesbury and Salisbury against the festival because of the aggressive behaviour of some participants in the locality and because of the expense which falls upon the public funds. The Department is in touch with the police and the local authorities about the expected 1977 festival. We are anxious to co-operate with the police and the local authorities. We control only a small area adjoining the monument. While the defence of that area may be reasonable, it would not necessarily be to the advantage of the local community. Intruders would go somewhere else near by.
A group of drop-outs set up a sordid encampment adjoining the monument in 1974. After some months the Department secured their removal by an injunction from the High Court, after some rather bizarre proceedings lasting several days. All the trespassers claimed the same name—Wally. They then settled on the adjoining trackway from which they were eventually dispersed by the highway authority. They then squatted in Amesbury. Their leader has since died. The Department has no responsibility for any remnants of the sect who may survive in the locality.
However, I believe that the
House will recognise that some other radical action is necessary. It has been
suggested that the car park should be moved from its present site near the monument
to another site so far distant that only the 166 most robust and determined
would-be visitors would ever get to the monument. There would be practical difficulties
about that. There are abundant opportunities for unauthorised parking in the
locality. It would also be unfair to less active and older visitors.
We have come to the conclusion, after much agonising, that the right course will be to ask visitors to remain outside the henge, that is about 30 yards away from the stone circle. We would not envisage erecting a formidable physical barrier: simply a line of rope to define the limits of access. That would enable visitors to have a view of the stones, undistracted by fences or by crowds of people milling about within and around them. We should also be able to restore the turf surface, thus enhancing the present appearance of the monument.
Like you, Mr. Speaker, as a teacher I frequently regret that I am not allowed to use visual aids in this place. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that maps are available—I can show them to him later—to give a picture of the stones as they will be seen from the area where the public will be permitted. I do not deny that this proposal involves a sacrifice which many will regret. In return we propose to provide explanatory material at the outer part of the site, including a model of the monument as it would have been at various stages of its history. We shall also reduce the admission price to 20p.
I hope that these measures, taken as a whole, will prove acceptable to the public. We are relying upon their understanding and co-operation to save this unique monument from further damage. We owe this not only to our children and their children, but to Europe and the world, since Stonehenge is of international significance, no less than the caves of Lascaux and the Acropolis, where comparable measures have been found necessary.
We are working urgently on
arrangements to implement these proposals. We hope in the long run to provide
parking and other facilities a little further away than the present site. The
site would be invisible from the monument. It would permit of more adequate
facilities for visitors, in particular the provision of "interpretation"
of the monument and other Wessex pre-historic monuments. Visitors would be told
about related material—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad
to hear about this—in Salisbury and Devizes Museums. The new facilities
would be designed for visitors to the monument, not travellers in general. The
main charge, probably the sole charge, would be for parking.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I look forward to co-operation between my Department, the local people and the many visitors who will continue to go to Stonehenge.