The megaliths of Stonehenge loom above visitors to the site on the Salisbury plain of England, and have done so after they were raised, for mysterious reasons, as early as 5,000 years ago. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it seems like the henge’s value is immeasurable. However, about a century ago, a man named Cecil Chubb bought the monument for £6,600 at auction as a present for his wife, reports Jenny Anderson for Quartz.
And according to the story, it wasn’t exactly what Mary Chubb had requested.
"It's said that Mary wanted Cecil to buy a set of curtains at the auction," says Stonehenge's curator, Heather Sebire, reports Justin Parkinson for the BBC. "And he came back with something rather different." The purchase was made, "on a whim," Mr. Chubb said. Mrs. Chubb was "reportedly less than grateful," perhaps because of the steep price: The sum would be £680,000 today or $1,043,997.
The auction catalog listed the site as "Lot 15. Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches of adjoining downland."
However, Parkinson reports that the impulse buy might not have been simply a gift for his wife. It’s more likely that Chubbs was motivated to keep the henge in local hands. Parkinson writes that Stonehenge and the land was put up for auction in 1915 after Sir Edmund Antrobus died. Antrobus was the only heir to the family who had owned the land since the 1820s, but he was killed in one of the first battles of World War I in October 1914. (The henge had been in private hands since Henry VIII confiscated the site from a nearby abbey.)
Ahead of the auction, there was speculation that a wealthy foreigner might buy Stonehenge, dismantle it and transport it abroad, as happened to London Bridge more than 50 years later, when it was shipped to Arizona.
"I think there must have been a strong local element in Chubb's thinking, as he was from nearby," Sebire says. "It's not certain that he knew the Antrobus family, but he's likely to have known of them." That connection was certainly reflected in what he did with the monument. In 1918, Mr. Chubb deeded the Stonehenge into public ownership and stipulated that the public shouldn’t pay "a sum exceeding one shilling" for a visit. Locals should get in for free, he said.
The move gained Chubb the title Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge. Today Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and tickets cost £14.50 ($22.50). Locals, however, still enjoy the famous site at no cost. Hopefully Mary Chubb found the purchase to be worth it.