Moving the Avebury stones for British Summer Time

Published : 01 Apr 2016 Last update : 04 Apr 2016


For April Fool's Day 2016 we ran the following news story, did you fall for it?

Avebury stone circle is the world's largest prehistoric monument, a World Heritage site set in the heart of Wiltshire. This ancient site was primarily used as a time-keeping device that worked in a similar way to a sundial. Unfortunately, the adoption of British Summer Time has disrupted the accuracy of the site, creating a weighty challenge for our team of rangers.

When daylight savings was adopted in 1916 it meant that the Avebury stone circle was no longer accurate for six months of the year. Since we acquired the site in 1942, we have been accounting for the change by moving some of the stones in line with the clocks changing.

Video

Moving the Avebury stones

Take a look behind the scenes at Avebury to discover more about how we move the stones for British Summer Time.

'Avebury is an astonishing monument to the Neolithic people’s ingenuity.’ said Joe Oak, one of our rangers at Avebury. ‘We want to make sure that the stones are as accurate as when they were first put up. It’s a huge effort, but it’s worth it to preserve the integrity of the site.’

How we move the stones

Each of the stones weighs several tonnes, and it takes our team a whole day to relocate the ones that need moving. This time round it’s even trickier as 2016 is a leap year, and we have to move another stone to account for the extra day.

Today we use forklifts and trailers to help move the stones, but back in the 1940s they relied solely on manpower and teams of horses. They also had ‘dog navigators’, who acted as guides for the placement of the stones.  

In the 1940s, the stones were moved by teams of horses
Archive image of horse team preparing to move Avebury's stones
In the 1940s, the stones were moved by teams of horses

Now we use more scientific methods and carefully measure the re-alignment based on historic archaeological surveys, but to keep the tradition going we still have our ‘dog navigator’ Oliver to help out on the day.

‘This is Oliver’s fourth year on the job, and he’s a dab hand at it.’ said Joe. ‘He was specially trained for the task, and we use him as a second opinion to check that our calculations are correct. It’s amazing how close the results usually are.’

Each stone weighs several tonnes, so we use machinery to move them
A family trying to move the Avebury stones
Each stone weighs several tonnes, so we use machinery to move them

Our ties to the creation of British Summer Time

Avebury is not our only place with ties to British Summer Time. The originator of the idea was William Willett, a successful businessman who was a keen supporter of outdoor activities. It's said that he first hit upon the idea when he rode his horse through Pett’s Wood early one summer morning, and noticed how many people were still asleep with their blinds drawn, even though the sun had risen.

Willett began to think about changing the nation’s clocks, and published his idea in a pamphlet called ‘A waste of daylight’. Although William died before his ideas were adopted, it was his pamphlet that paved the way for British Summer Time. When a block of land in Petts Wood was donated to us in 1925 it was renamed the Willet Memorial Wood, and a commemorative sundial was built at its heart, permanently set to British Summer Time.

Thanks to Willett’s idea, there’s even more time to get outside and visit National Trust places during the summer months. With your support we can continue to care for sites like Avebury and Pett’s Wood, and keep them available to enjoy for ever, for everyone.

Discover more at Avebury

World-famous stone circle and on-site museum at the heart of a prehistoric landscape.