Stonehenge and the surrounding area have often been a point of controversy and according to Matt Pike, on this week’s Journal Podcast “it was a real centre of protest.”

Matt has worked at the Stonehenge Visitor centre for 10 years.  

He said: “Stonehenge has been the centre of protest and counterculture for a really long time, and that seems to be most evident at the solstice.”

Salisbury Journal: StonehengeStonehenge (Image: Photo Agency)

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During the solstice of 1986 or 1988, it was a scene of mass riots as people tried to get close to the stones.  This year, there was only one protest but previously, some people died. 

The Stonehenge free festival grew and grew from 1974, it was a big counterculture movement that culminated on Stonehenge. In 1985, the National Trust and the very newly formed English Heritage, stopped people from going to celebrate the solstice.  

Matt said: “Believe it or not, Keir Starmer is involved in this.”

“Arthur Pendragon is a very interesting chap. Effectively; he started protesting in the wood near Stonehenge, which is called Fargo wood and dressed as King Arthur, in armour and with a sword, picketing and raising what he called a war chest.

“A barrister who was very much into human rights, Keir Starmer, took the case to try to get access into Stonehenge but very narrowly lost. At first, Arthur was offered the chance to come in with some select friends, but he said it should be everyone.”

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The history of Stonehenge ownership is also controversial.

Matt said: “Sir Edmund Antrobus owned Stonehenge. It was in his back garden.

“But there was a lot of pressure to protect the stones. He tried to sell the monument in 1880 for £50,000 but still wanted to be able to hunt or fish around the area.”

Eventually, stones fell over and the pressure on Sir Edmund Antrobus continued. He employed someone to stop the stones from falling but said he would not pay for the repairs so had a fence erected around the monument. People then had to pay a shilling to visit the stones.

Matt said: “So, there were protests.”

Listen to the complete interview about Stonehenge with Matt Pike

When Sir Antrobus died during World War I, Stonehenge went up for sale and it was purchased by Cecil Chubb with his wife’s money and he specified that people in the area could go in for free. 

Many celebrities have visited the monument over the years.

Read more: The battle to save Stonehenge begins

Matt said: “I once helped Ozzie Osborne and Jack Osborne onto a bus and had a chat with them. There was a documentary and quite a few pieces were filmed at Stonehenge.

“The weirdest day was when President Obama came to visit. It was a very strange day at work. You turn up and no one is telling you what is going on. People were walking about with dark glasses on and earpieces in.

He added: "Sometimes, Stonehenge can be the centre of the world, it is the news.  It’s an exciting place to be and I never really tire of it.”