Wood, John

Choir Gaure, vulgarly called Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, described, restored, and explained ; in a letter to the Right Honourable Edward late Earl of Oxford and Mortimer.

Oxford, printed at the Theater 1747.

Reference: 13914
Price: £1,650 [convert currency]

Full Description

8vo. 119 + (1)pp, engraved plate with image of King Bladud, 5 folding engraved plans (a minor paper fault towards the top of pp 103-4 involves the loss of six letters of text on each page). An unrelated early nineteenth century engraved view of Stonehenge, from a drawing by John Britton, is bound in as frontispiece. Mid nineteenth century quarter morocco, cloth sides, all edges gilt (the binding in excellent condition). A good, fresh, clean copy.

A pleasing copy of the first and only edition of this remarkable little book by the architect John Wood (1704-1754), creator of Queen’s Square, Bath, and of much of the present-day street plan of Bath’s city centre. Wood had become interested in the megalithic stone circle at Stanton Drew, south of Bath, and had formulated a theory that the stone circles there and at Stonehenge and at Avebury were the ruins of “stately colleges” occupied by Druid priests up to the date of the Roman occupation of Britain. A conversation on the subject in August 1740 with Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, the celebrated book collector, encouraged Wood to make a detailed survey of the site of Stonehenge, correcting an inadequate one carried out by William Stukeley in the 1720s, and he presents the results of this survey in the present volume, set out in the form of a letter to Lord Oxford dated 15 December 1740. The survey had been carried out over three days, commencing in rain and sleet on Michaelmas Day, 1740, and both text and plates show the considerable care that Wood had taken to obtain correct measurements of the stones and of their relative positions. Although Wood’s letter to Lord Oxford was not to be published until its appearance in the present book in 1747, the architectural and constructional data and numerological theories set out in the letter had a material influence on passages in Wood’s Origin of Building, 1741, and in the first part of his Essay towards a Description of Bath, 1742, and the book is important both for its part in Wood’s own intellectual development and as one of the earliest published accounts of the application of proper surveying and measuring techniques to a prehistoric European site. What lends it an added character of its own is the incidental detail which Wood provides about his days on the Stonehenge site : the first day there, on which he was accompanied by the amateur architect Col.James Moyser (c.1688-1751) and by a barrister son of Bishop Burnet, was disrupted not merely by the weather but by “idle people returning from Weyhill Fair, particularly a couple of lusty young fellows who bore the marks of a late fray, and seemed not only to admire the shape of my horses … but the colour of my watch” ; Wood’s solution was to keep them “disagreeably employed at a proper distance from us, under the notion of their standing for objects to direct my instruments to”. The day was further enlivened by the unexpected appearance in a sedan chair of the society beauty Lady Frances Hanbury Williams and a female friend ; while Wood records that the site’s only permanent resident, “Gaffer” Hunt, an elderly carpenter living in a “smoaky little hut” which offered shelter from the weather, was sufficiently alive to the requirements of Stonehenge’s tourist trade that he “always kept measuring rods in his cottage”. Although the book is held in older libraries, we have only previously handled one copy of it ourselves (now in the library of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal), and no copy ever featured in the series of catalogues issued by the Weinreb firm. Harris/Savage 921 ; BAL Cat 3700.