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By Artemis Arrowsmith


When I was asked to write this article, I admit that I knew very little about what was proposed at Stonehenge beyond that it was a road widening project.  I suppose, like most people, I assumed that somebody would be making sure that the development was not damaging the inherent integrity of the site.  I was mistaken, although there are groups (including the Pagan Federation) who are opposed to the proposed plans.

At the time of writing only one choice remains;  a tunnel bored under the site that will put traffic underground. This is the most expensive option and the least supported by the government agencies.  

When I first started looking at this there was also an option for a covered trench to take the road 2out of sight". This was the cheaper and therefore favoured option. We were then, as in so many others things these days, being offered simple choices; option 1 or option 2? The first way, the 'other way' or the 'third way'?  But sometimes you have to look wider than the simplistic dichotomies or options, expand your attention outside of the narrowly focussed view you're being offered. Questions, I've found, often lead to other questions that expand the knowledge of a subject.   So I started to ask some questions about this development.

 Why is there a perceived need for the A303 to be widened around the Stonehenge monument?

 This is a major route between the east and west of England and is a simple two-way road. There are no other east-west roads that far down the country and during the summer it is a caravan trail and gets very congested, especially, according to the pro-lobby, around Stonehenge bottom.  Therefore, there is a perceived need to improve this particular east-west connection.  However, after the difficulties of Newbury and Twyford Down, building new roads has not been a politically safe option. So the government have produced 'road widening schemes' (13 or 14 road widening schemes given the go-ahead in late June 2003.   It is of passing interest to note that the Conservative Party have returned to advocating building entirely new roads as of July 2003).   Steven Joseph of Transport 2000 (an independent national body concerned with sustainability and solving transport problems in the 21st Century), discussing the major archeological devastation caused by the road building at both Tyford Down and Newbury, said of the government's road widening policy:

"This is a binge of road building with virtually nothing safe from the bulldozer.  The Government is trying to build its way out of congestion but it won't work.  All it will do is lead to bigger, wider traffic jams.  It seems that the Government aims to keep the UK the most car-dependent country in Europe".

Even government commissions have warned that upgrading roads is an illusary solution.  Talking about the widening of the M25, Professor David Begg, the Chair of the government Commision for Integrated Transport, said this, "it went from three lanes to four, within one year traffic increased by one third, negating the benefits".

What is not stated, but also true, about the current crisis on the roads, is that moving goods round in an advanced consumer society is a very large operation.  Goods often travel miles away from their intended markets, only to to be shipped back for their eventual sale.  And since a large part of the infrastructure in the UK, the railways, is practically defunct, freight has been forced onto the roads.  Even the increased use of canals and boats, where possible, has not given much alleviation to what is a growing problem.  In addition to the freight pressures being placed on the roads, record numbers of vehicles are being sold to the public too.  All of this means that more of us are trying to get on the same amount of roads, or roads that aren't adapting as fast as we're buying,  hence  -  gridlock.  Neither the government nor the rail companies are likely to invest the funding necessary for the railways to offer any serious answer to congestion.  So no new solutions are being given serious consideration, because of a seemingly unswerving ideological commitment to privatisation (despite the dismal results so far) and the short-sighted attitudes prevailing in our heavily consuming western credit-economies.   

Why does the widening scheme need to go through the World Heritage Site?

Not only is Stonehenge considered a monument of national interest but its World Heritage Status means that this is considered to be an important artifact for all humankind.  As a signatory to the convention on heritage status, our government have an obligatory level of custodianship implicit under that World Heritage label.   The public bodies who manage the site, English Heritage and the National Trust, despite initially strong statements about 'protecting' the site, appear to have been fairly quiescent about the plans to dig slit trenches for the road-widening, seemingly irrespective of the archeological implications.   At the 2001 Annual General Meeting of the National Trust, a motion was raised calling for a reconsideration of the implications of a National Trust policy of silence with regards to the potential damage of road-building in the broader sense, and particularly with reference to the Stonehenge site.  It was defeated by 65,601 votes to 24,290.  

The project of the road upgrade and that of the visitors' centre appear to have become unhealthily combined.  For example, questions have been raised about the initial requests for tender for the franchise of the new upgraded visitors' centre (Young and Kennet 2000).  The allegation is that the initial invitation to tender focussed heavily on the commercial rather than the custodial aspects of the contract and also requested assistance in meeting the cost of the road upgrade, potentially creating another commercial pressure more likely to consider cost benefits rather than the integrity of the site.

Viewing the options and decisions as they are presented by the pro-lobby the issues seem very pragmatic, shortlisting ways to ease traffic congestion that can be terrible in high summer around this part of the A303.  Delicate negotiations between need and preservation are the achievement or curse of our society, depending on your point of view. Such negotiations are being played out increasingly around many of our towns and cities; between preserving the countryside and the pressure to increase the number of roads as a solution to our congestion problems, at least temporarily.  

What are the objections of the Opposition Lobby?

What argument does the objection lobby have to hold back the powers of pragmatism? Many think that the awe of history should suffice.  Primarily, the arguments seem to be coming from the archeological lobby and other groups such as the Pagan Federation, facing government departments more concerned with the excess of cars and the lack of roads.   The objections to development within the Heritage Site have centred on issues of history and custodianship.

"After all, the lifespan of the motor car will be roughly AD 1930 – 2030 – from the perspective of Stonehenge, the equivalent of a flint settling into an Aubrey hole" (Ellis 2000)

 This is the major argument against the proposed development; that it will create the cultural massacre of a context and monument that have evolved over five thousand years, creating long-term, irreparable damage to the archeology there, all for the short-term amelioration of the effects of our dying oil culture. The preservation of archeology in situ is also considered now the most appropriate method of conducting archeology, unless there is significant threat to the archeology by its remaining where it is.  By leaving the archeology in place, maybe in the future there will be more information to be gained, information that the invasive process of digging can't help but destroy. To me these are all very good reasons not to dig in the heritage site at all. By studying the achievements of the past, who knows what we might learn? Our history's importance lies in its ability to tell us about the past and to provide a reference point for who we are in the present, and if we are lucky we learn the lessons that history has to offer.

What is the symbolic significance of Stonehenge?

Stonehenge's World Heritage Status confirms it as one of the wonders of our world.  The deeper symbolic significance of the place is worthy of the books'-worth of debate it has generated and even then, it has to be acknowledged that these are all only speculations about the ways in which Stonehenge had significance for those who constructed it.  The creation of such a thing as the henge today, using modern techniques and equipment, would still represent a considerable achievement.

As part of the research I did for this article, and aware of my own ignorance of the proposed plans, I decided to ask a small number of people interested or active in politics what their feelings were about Stonehenge and about the proposed development. This anecdotal information gave rise to the name of this article, from the incredulous response that greeted my initial questions about the proposed development "What?! They're going to build a tunnel under Stonehenge?".  Most were not aware of the proposed development but all expressed strong feelings of concern.  Most also made an identification with Stonehenge as part of their consciousness of land and identity.   Some also identified a direct connection between the issues of peace, the oil industry and the threat to Stonehenge. 

Stonehenge is, however, not just a place of academic interest.  To me as a pagan it is also a piece of earth magic that is awesome.  HOW can I stand by and let that be destroyed, even if only through the subsequent traffic vibrations, if not the initial digging?  If, as pagans, we do nothing to protect such places and bring about a sustainable world, when we allege that we believe in the divinity of nature and our interrelationship with it all, then who will?   I don't believe that there should be any development close to Stonehenge at all, and I also believe that preventing any attempt to damage Stonehenge must also go hand in hand with solving the broader problems that are creating the current threat to the planet.  What we need to do is press for a rethink about where the world is heading in the next thirty years.  

What can I do?

For me this is where the debate really starts to take off into the questions of what we as a global society want to hold as valuable in the coming century.  Why, after world summits like Kyoto, when we know that the world's thirst for energy is bankrupting many of the planet's resources, do we continue to consume so agressively?  Estimates range from 2010 to 2030 before there is a serious decline in the world's oil supply – hence the projected demise of the motor car by Peter Ellis earlier in this article.  However, many species face extinction, either directly or indirectly, because of the methods and levels of our consumption.  These questions, like our original question, appear to leave us with several choices.

Increasing numbers of people are recognising that the choices seem to be being taken for us, without reference to us ordinary people.  In the face of a worsening global situation, those stakeholder interests that drive big business seem to have decided that everything is 'business as usual' and 'the devil take the hindmost'.  This adds a sinister turn to Mr Bush's statment about US energy consumption in response to the Kyoto Accord on environmental issues; "our lifestyle is non-negotiable".  This, has meant that in its push for oil the wealthiest country on earth has devastated first Afghanistan and now Iraq (Afghanistan was to have had a pipeline, still unable to be built because of the instability of the country, and Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, currently in the process of being privatised).   In South America too, in Columbia, at the beginning of July 2003, the national oil industry was not only privatised forcibly but the oil fields were also militarised with razor wire and guns.  Many there believe this is in order to make the oil more available to the US and their multi-nationals.  This is not a fringe view: just as the Iraq war was being declared 'won', it was described by the Money Programme on BBC 2 as "what may become known as the first of the wars for oil".  The stakeholders that lie behind the multi-national car, oil and subsidiary industries, as well as other industries, are driving the world's economies and, therefore, our societies.  Those who should protect the interests of the people, i.e. the politicians, are themselves intimately linked with these industrial stakeholders, often they are the same people at different times.  George Monbiot (2000), in his book 'Captive State: The Corporate Take Over of Britain', refers to a 'revolving door' between the two arenas.   The concerns over the increase of energy consumption, the inevitable and increasing shortfall, the resultant ecological effects, all suggest a future that will provide some grave difficulties and challenges to face.  To face those difficulties and challenges after destabilising cooperation in the world through  warfare seems like species suicide.  Yet, faced with the inevitable decline of our current way of life, multinational stakeholders and their political front men appear to have decided to do just that.   Instead of trying to face the future by strengthening and supporting existing international structures they have instead, using our sovereign states, pulled off the first oil heists of the new century.

Questions have begotten questions that have taken us away from the simple dichotomy of option 1 or option2 to a much more complex view of the situation that has Stonehenge as its centre.    When attempting to face such levels of complexity we often feel powerless and hope that a shrug and a plaintive, "what can I do?", will absolve us.  But it is no good hoping that responsibility has been taken from us with the arrival of our sense of powerlessness.  We are not absolved, at least not if we profess to live in a democracy.  It is the responsibility of citizens within a democracy to make sure that democracy functions, and if not, to find out why and fix it.  Each person has to take back their own reponsibility to change things because that is what democracy requires - participation.  When we get out there and meet others doing the same it can be suprising how many of us there are! Perhaps a few more of us opting into the National Trust, for instance, could have affected the outcome of the 2001 AGM vote. The environmental lobby has shown tactic of active participation to be very effective against road building companies in the past.  

The large stakeholders can afford to bombard us with information about their vision of the world.  This can affect us to such a degree that we become only spectators of the world around us.  Our representatives, even if we voted  for them (and the majority of the UK population did not), are so caught up in these forces of change that they cannot hear those they purport to represent. The large oil interests, particularly in the US, who have decided to make war on others for their resources, will not listen unless large numbers of people make their objections known because, owing to the activities and effects of these stakeholders, democratic structures in our western democracies have stalled.  Democracy, therefore, in order to survive, has to become reborn as a new and vital participatory movement.   1-2 million in London, and others all over the world, on February 15 2003, did not change the mind of those who have chosen war as the 21st century option, but it did raise the profile of the war, and neither the US or British administrations are out of the woods with regards to the current public enquiries into their motivations for the war.  On September 27th 2003 another day of international demonstration has been called, with London the UK 'local'.  Everyone who can, who wants the world to be different, who wants more tolerance and assistance within the global community, needs to be there.  If each person brings their share of power, collectively we can bring pressure to bear for the values of life, not death.

Stonehenge is just one of the battle grounds where these visions of the world are colliding. The issues and dilemmas that are facing us in the 21st Century are represented right there; those wider questions we need to ask ourselves at the beginning of this century, rather than the questions that fulfil our short term pragmatic drives.  Do we want a world in which everything is subsumed to the needs of the market? Do we want the world we live in to be consumed in order to fuel the consumer societies of the western world?  Do we want to live with the levels of human degradation that the chain of consumption inevitably creates, or with the levels of violence that will be necessary to maintain the consumption levels of our current western lifestyles in the face of that suffering?  Are we prepared for the levels of hatred and anger that will be engendered by the plundering of others' resources and the resultant impoverishment of large parts of the global community? Such policies, as we know, will breed desperate people, who will do desperate things.   Do we want to let the 'fat cats' who have plundered from the pensions of ordinary people in Britain and the US, dictate a policy of violence and annihilation against other ordinary people in the world who dare to try to oppose them, people like us?  Or do we want the earth to be held in respect and custodianship for the generations who come after us? 

Stonehenge and its roadbuilding project represents that dilemma.  Unless ordinary people fight for a better future, apparently those currently in positions of industrial or political power will not, either because they are implicated in the wider global fiscal scandals (Enron's shadow is long, yet the emergence of other scandals suggests that it was not an anomaly in the system just a 'bridge too far' of what was, and is, accepted practice) or because they have no more material power than you or I to change things.  But as a pagan I believe in the interrelational view of the world that Eliphas Levi referred to as 'the chain of sympathies', down which I also believe the changing effect of magic cascades.    I also believe in myself as a co-creator within that relationship.  Accordingly, I have come to believe that as a pagan it is my responsibility to be counted as voice aganst the lawless, destructive global society for which the major industrial and political stakeholders in the US and Britain currently stand.  My responsibility is to speak about custodianship for our earth and our knowledge, and the defence of areas like Stonehenge has to be central to that.  

I think, at best, the road plans for Stonehenge are an attack by the forces of banality, destroying what is beyond comprehension; at worst this is an attack on the mystical heart of our land by the forces that seem to want to consume the world.  During the Second World War, Dion Fortune and others fought the magical battle of Britain, using the energy from the ancient pagan symbols of the land against the possibility of a Nazi invasion.  In the world of 2003 the interests of the United Kingdom, are now subsumed to the interests of corporations.  I wonder what Dion would make of the threat to Stonehenge in the light of that?

References and Beyond!

Time to take the earth energy back I'd say!  These below are the references.  However, I would strongly suggest that putting 'Stonehenge road building' into your search engine will throw up the same stuff (and more) I have used here.

Ellis, P. (2000) British Archeology, Issue 55, October

Levi, E (1958 [1885]) Transcendental Magic, London.

Monbiot, G. (2000) Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, Macmillan: London.

Young, E. and Kennet, W. (2000) 'Stonehenge: The Saga Continues', Journal of Architectural Conservation,No 3, November, pp70 – 85.  (Steven Joseph is quoted in here)


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