Job seekers of an archaeological persuasion, pay attention: the holy grail of heritage jobs could be yours. Stonehenge needs a new manager and if there were ever a workplace with “a unique set of demands”, this is it. The salary is around £65,000 and the closing date is 5 May.
The new general manager, employed by English Heritage, will be the chief custodian of Britain’s oldest national monument. It is the first time the site has had an overall manager and the new man or woman at the top will be responsible for the biggest changes at the site in a generation, with a state-of-the-art visitor’s centre set to open at the end of the year.
They will also take charge of a team who have worked alongside the ancient stones for years, from the people in the gift shop to the night watchmen.
He or she will have to get to know the people for whom the 5,000-year-old stones are a place of enormous spiritual meaning – from Druid chiefs and prophets of Armageddon, to Siobhan the local shaman. “They’ll need broad shoulders,” says Bea Carroll, one of Stonehenge’s stewards. “Every day brings something different.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the people passing through Stonehenge come from overseas. It is a place that the British often take for granted – but the Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Germans don’t. Nearly two-thirds of the million visitors each year come from abroad.
They come for all sorts of reasons. Simon Banton, 48, another steward, recalls three German ladies who visited in 2012 as part of an end of the world tour. “They were taking crystal skulls to several famous world sites – Machu Pichu, the Pyramids – with the intention of opening stargates, in time for the end of the Mayan calendar.”
It’s that kind of place. For every camera-clicking tour group, there is someone who feels a deep spiritual connection with the site.
Siobhan Peal, 62, visits most days. She is “not a Druid”, but is Stonehenge’s “honorary shaman”, she says. She walks clockwise around the stones and waits for people to come and talk to her, which she says (and Simon confirms), they do on a regular basis.“This is a place where there is balance,” she says. “I feel that I have to be in this place – and people find me.
A mix of history and legend is ever-present in the day-to-day life of the people who work at Stonehenge. Things can get even spookier at night, when a contracted security firm takes over , leaving three or four men alone, in the dark, with the ancient stones.
Mr Banton recalls several night watchmen who say they have seen drifting lights over the path that runs from the stones down into Salisbury Plain. Others have talked of an unaccountable smell of roses.
Vic Ronning, 62, is a former publican who has worked at the site for 16 years, taking care of maintenance. He recalls one night when security reported a disturbance. In the morning a fake polystyrene “new stone” was discovered. “We got rid of it, but we never got to the bottom of who put it there,” Mr Ronning says. “Probably students.”
The tatty old visitors’ centre built in the 1960s is soon to be no more. The entire site, with the A344 running right alongside the stones and the busy A303 within sight and earshot, was branded “a national disgrace” by MPs as long ago as 1989. Under the new plan, which will finally come to fruition this year, the A344 will close along with the old car park and visitors’ centre, but the A303 will remain open. A new museum will open a mile and a half down the road. Managing the move will be top of the new boss’s to-do list.
“The beauty of this particular job is that they will be coming to it at such a pivotal time in Stonehenge’s history,” said Tim Reeve, English Heritage’s historic properties director, who will be choosing the new manager. “I’m looking for quite an unusual person who will be able to blend running a major attraction – it’s a business, lots of money and people passing through it – while also being a guardian to a very, very special place.”