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Aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history

Much has already been published about Avebury in the twentieth century, and I am sure much more could be added. But in all these accounts one man and his legacy – Alexander Keiller. Without him the stone circles would not look like it does today, and without his efforts to restore, conserve, understand and promote the prehistory then in all probability the many Neolithic monuments in and aaround Avebury would not have been sold to the National Trust, and the place would not subsequently become part of the same World Heritage Site as Stonehenge.

Keiller was a complex man. He inherited the family's marmalade-making business while still a child, and sold it about a decade later. He used the money to finance a car manufacturing company, with designs that rivalled Rolls Royce. Although that business failed because of the First World War, he retaind a life-long interest in design and engineering. He also had a deep interest in Scottish witchcraft and the occult, amassing an important collection of books on the subject (see Keiller's occult connections) He relaxed in the autumn by shooting grouse on the family estate in Aberdeenshire, then went to Switzerland in the winter as he was an accomplished skier, all the while enjoying good food, female company – and vermouth.

Only in the 1920s did his attention turn to Avebury, initially spending the summers excavating on Windmill Hill. In the 1930s he came to excavate in the henge and along the West Kennett Avenue, re-erecting the megaliths. He bought Avebury Manor, and used the 'well room' – often referred to as the Keiller room – in the Red Lion as his 'office' when directing the excavations.

Although technically an amateur archaeologist, Keiller's standards of excavation were far higher than those of his contemporaries. His enquiring mind was able to interpret what, at the time, were novel collections of flint and pottery. Until the 1970s the early Neolithic was known as 'Windmill Hill culture' simply because of Keiller's pioneering analyses. Not until the 1990s did academic archaeologists begin to match, and then supercede, Keiller's innovative interpretations. And, even in the light of more recent understanding, he was basically correct to a remarkable extent.

The articles in this section either concern Keiller's occult interests or other aspects of the paranormal. One is a fictionalised account of a plausible meeting between Keiller and the man who did most to instigate the 'occult revival' in Britain, Gerald Gardner. Another is an entirely fictional work, although the opening paragraphs are written in the style of Mary Butts (1890–1937) who, although little-known now, would in all probability have been read by both Keiller and Gardner.

Articles about aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history

Avebury ghosts

Keiller's occult connections

Halloween 1938

Mary's annunciation

photo gallery

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Copyright Bob Trubshaw 2015

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Articles about the prehistory of Avebury and environs

Overview of prehistoric Avebury and environs

Altars not burial mounds

Henges – brands or performances

Henges – dead or alive

Simulacra photos

Sound in the prehistoric landscape

Avebury sunrises and sunsets

Avebury and environs in the Roman period

Articles about Anglo-Saxons in and around Avebury

What was a bury?

St Afa

East Kennett: the church on the boundary


Wiltshire battles

Understanding the Wansdykes

Articles about Medieval life in and around Avebury

Overview of medieval Avebury and environs

St James' – from minster to mother church

St James dedications in Wiltshire

Skew passages

The alien priors

Medieval graffiti

The 'barber-surgeon'

Articles about aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history

Overview of twentieth century Avebury

Avebury ghosts

Keiller's occult connections

Halloween 1938

Mary's annunciation

photo gallery