How Britain’s ancient heritage first came into focus

Geoff Ward
5 min readFeb 17, 2024

2024 sees the 300th anniversary of publication of the ‘Itinerarium Curiosum’, a major work by pioneer archaeologist William Stukeley which launched the popular appeal of stone circles

A view of part of the stone circles of Stanton Drew, near Bristol, UK, drawn by William Stukeley who visited the site in July, 1723.

For fifteen years, William Stukeley, the leading antiquarian of the eighteenth century, was out and about, touring the countryside and, uniquely, romancing the stones of prehistoric England and Wales.

Then, in 1724, he published a major work in London: Itinerarium Curiosum, Or, An Account of the Antiquitys and Remarkable Curiositys in Nature or Art, Observ’d in Travels thro’ Great Brittan. Now, in 2024, we have its 300th anniversary.

Stukeley (1687–1765) brought about a wide appreciation of Britain’s ancient heritage, in particular its megalithic culture, at a time when it was under threat of widespread destruction by industrial and agricultural change.

Early in the pages of Itinerarium Curiosum, he declares that the purpose of his landmark tract of topographical, historical and archaeological material was to ‘rouse up the spirit of the curious among us’ and to encourage the people of Britain to ‘look about them and admire their native furniture: to show them we have rarities of domestic growth’.

Indeed, his thoughts on the druids contributed greatly to the romantic revolution and the ‘druidic revival’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

William Stukeley.

At the same time that he was putting together Itinerarium Curiosum, Stukeley was taking a special interest in the great prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire, visiting them regularly and studying their layouts and dimensions.

Much later, he was to publish the works for which he is best remembered: Stonehenge: A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids (1740) and Abury: A Temple of the British Druids (1743). He was the first to identify the Stonehenge Avenue and Cursus, his names for these features remaining in use today.

But, first, in his 1724 ‘itinerary of curiosities’ he describes less well-known places, including the triple stone circle…

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Geoff Ward

Writer, journalist, book editor, poet, musician and tutor in literature and creative writing (MA and BA Hons degrees in English literature).