Saturday, September 24

‘It was my playground’: growing up in the shadow of Stonehenge | Stonehenge

He remembers the larks flying overhead and the violet dogs in the forest, as well as his father’s battles with the moles and his all-night shifts when the Druids arrived for the summer celebrations.

Especially Jean Gray, whose father, John Moffatt, was the custodian of Stonehenge in the 1930s, remembers the fun of the great stone circle as his extraordinary childhood playground.

Grey’s story has emerged as part of a project called Your Stonehenge run by English Heritage to collect stories from people with personal ties to the prehistoric Wiltshire monument.

Now 91 years old and living in Melbourne, she contacted the conservation charity to describe her unique childhood.

Jean Gray at Stonehenge in 1936.
Jean Gray at Stonehenge in 1936. Photography: Unknown / Jean Gray

Father and daughter, along with Grey’s mother, Emily, and her younger brother, Ian, lived in a cabin provided by the Ministry of Works near the stones. His father, a World War I veteran originally from Glasgow, worked on the stones from 1934 to 1938, and Gray was five when they arrived.

“Dad was the custodian of the stones,” he said. “He mowed the grass, maintained the area, and made sure no one hurt them. From time to time school groups would come by charabanc [a bus or coach] for a tour, but I remember it was empty most of the time. It was my playground. “

In summer the grass was knee-high, dotted with buttercups, and the larks nested in the bushes. Gray remembers lying on her back and watching the birds high in the blue sky. “Most of the time it was a quiet and safe place to play around the stones. Without restrictions.”

It could be difficult, especially in winter. “There was no gas, electricity, hot water and only one outdoor bathroom. We were very poor. Salaries from the Ministry of Labor were not very generous and the rabbits my father caught helped supplement our diet and in the fall we were going to grow like mushrooms. “

The school was about three miles away. In the morning, Grey’s father would take her there on his motorcycle, but she had to walk home. “Fortunately, the traffic was not very heavy in those days.” But it’s the bright days of June and July that stick in his mind. “Even now, 70 years later, Stonehenge has a lasting place in my memory: the summer days and the larks.”

The Custodian's Cottage and Cafe at Stonehenge.
The Custodian’s Cottage and Cafe at Stonehenge. Photograph: Historical Archives of England

Susan Greaney, a historian at English Heritage, said: “A personal story like this really brings Stonehenge’s more recent past to life. Although demolished in 1938, we can see the house Jean lived in from old photos, showing the cabins, their large back gardens and also mushroom rings scattered across the landscape, as she describes. “

Greaney said the number of visitors was increasing by the time Gray was living there because cars were becoming more common and Stonehenge was seen as a perfect day.

More than 100 people are needed at Stonehenge now to show visitors the place, maintain it and protect the monument. “It should have been complete for him,” Greaney added. “People have been visiting Stonehenge for centuries, but not many people can say they lived there – it must have been an amazing place to grow up.”

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