Druids take up arms over display of bones at Stonehenge

King Arthur Pendragon says 'the spirit of Arthur has returned to have the ancients reinterred at Stonehenge'

The sun will today make its lowest pass across the winter sky, glinting off the roof of Stonehenge’s newly opened £27m visitor centre. As it does, a mile-and-a-half away from the low-slung, post-modernist building designed by architects Denton Corker-Marshall, up to an estimated 2,000 druids will gather among the prehistoric rocks to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

King Arthur Pendragon says that this year, alongside the blessings, prayers and healings, members of the Council of British Druid Orders (CBDO) – of which he is Battle Chieftain – may be driven to hitch up their robes and embrace “direct action” in the next stage of their dispute with English Heritage over the public display of excavated human remains inside its shiny new building. 

“If English Heritage thinks I’m going to go quietly into the night then they’re mistaken,” says Pendragon. “They’ve picked on the wrong druid.”

Born John Timothy Rothwell, Pendragon, 59, whose father was a sergeant in the Army, changed his name by deed poll 27 years ago after a friend told him he embodied the spirit of the legendary king. The conversation confirmed Pendragon’s long-held suspicion, and he is now the leader of what is believed to be the largest druid order in the world. He says he could summon its “thousands” of members at will with a “call to arms”. For Pendragon, their cause is clear: “The spirit of Arthur has returned to have the ancients reinterred at Stonehenge.”

Experts believe two of the three sets of remains on show at Stonehenge are 5,000 years old, while the third is thought to be 500 years younger.  Their excavation was overseen by Mike Parker Pearson of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who says the skeletons belonged to members of a royal line, the priest caste – or even the builders or architects of Stonehenge itself.

Despite the ancient nature of the contested remains, Pendragon has embraced the technological age.

“I’ll be getting in contact via email with all the tour companies that use Stonehenge and encouraging them not to come,” he says. “I’ll also be carrying on a picket at the new visitor centre and I’m not ruling out direct action on a number of the places involved, which includes English Heritage’s head office. We’ve already done a protest outside their regional office in Bristol and I intend to do protests outside Salisbury Chapel’s museum and the Duckworth Museum, which owns the remains.”

Many of his fellow druids are veteran activists, having been involved in the Newbury Bypass, Twyford Down and Manchester Airport protests. The CBDO, says Pendragon, will be prepared step up its action in the New Year: “If you hear about druids chaining themselves to things, it will probably be us,” he says.

English Heritage said yesterday it was working with police to accommodate the CBDO’s protest, adding that a request made by Pendragon in September to replace the real remains with replicas was considered “very carefully” before being rejected.

“English Heritage believes that authenticity is important to tell England’s story,” it said in a statement. “We use real objects and artefacts because we believe they are the best way for people to come close to history. We only use replicas when the real item is not available.  Research shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.

“Stonehenge is the focus of a ceremonial and ritual landscape shaped over 1,500 years. The exhibition puts at its centre the people associated with it and as such, the remains have a rightful place in the exhibition.”

The new visitor centre, which opened last week, replaced a “temporary” structure built in 1968 that was only designed to accommodate 100,000 people a year – a tenth of the number that visit the 4,500-year-old stone circle.

Pendragon, who lives in Salisbury with his druid priestess wife, says he wears full robes at all times, with some exceptions.

“I don’t robe up to go down the shops and I don’t robe up when I’m riding my motorcycle, which is really the modern iron steed. There’s no difference from what I do now to what the ancient Arthurs did. I’m still riding around the country, banging heads together.  As far as I’m concerned there are three Arthurian ages. There’s a pre-Roman, archetypal Welsh Arthur, a post-Roman, Dark Ages Arthur, and a post-Thatcher Arthur. That’s me.”

Whatever has come to pass among the hallowed stones by sunset today, Pendragon says that he is prepared for a long battle. “You’ve got to remember that Arthur, long before Schwarzenegger, was the guy to say: ‘I’ll be back’.”

Read more: Before Stonehenge - did this man lord it over Wiltshire's sacred landscape?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas
film
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee