Stonehenge restoration project replaces 60-year-old hidden penny

For the first time in more than 60 years, Stonehenge will undergo significant restoration to cracks and holes in the stones, in which a penny was hidden in the 1950’s. The prehistoric monument in Wiltshire is one of the most famous landmarks in the UK, having been added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986.

Senior Curator for Stonehenge, Heather Sebire, explained that “four and a half thousand years of being buffeted by wind and rain has created cracks and holes in the surface of the stone, and this vital work will protect the features which make Stonehenge so distinctive.”

Laser scans revealed deep cracks in the lintel stones, joints and concrete mortar that help to uphold the finely balanced structure. Erosion has also taken place due to the impact of extreme weather caused by the climate emergency.

The weather is changing. We’re getting more extremes – the stones dry out in the hot weather and puddles form in the torrential rain,” warned Sebire.

Some unsympathetic repairs in the 1950’s have contributed to the damage too. Old photographs show men smoking pipes stood on top of the stones to inspect them. Health and safety was almost non-existent, with no ropes, helmets, or safety harnesses in sight. Now, scaffolding has been erected for the conservation project which will be taken down whenever work is not underway.

English Heritage have invited back one of the subjects of the photographs: 71-year-old Richard Woodman-Bailey, the son of the then chief architect for ancient monuments, TA Bailey. Woodman-Bailey will replace a halfpenny that he placed under one of the lintels in 1958 when he was a young boy visiting his father on site. For the occasion, the Royal Mint have struck a special commemorative 2021-dated £2 silver coin featuring an image of Britannia.

This symbol of Britain first appeared on UK coins 2,000 years ago, and has been carried by visitors to Stonehenge for centuries,” said Rebecca Morgan, Director of Collector Services at The Royal Mint. “This is the joy of collecting coins; they tell a story that connects generations.

Specialist conservators Strachey Conservation have been contracted by English Heritage to carry out the restoration work. The team will take up to two weeks, after which the stones are expected to stand for many more hundred years. 

Yet the conservation work in not without risk. “God forbid that one of the stones falls down,” jested Sebire. “But we hope we’re doing the best job possible with the most up-to-date technology.”

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