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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [1 January 1872]1


My dear Father,

I went to Stonehenge yesterday. about 434 m. from Salisbury I saw an old ridged & furrowed field (which shepherd at Stonehenge said had been so out of memory)2

The hill sloped perhaps 7o at top to 10o or 12o 34 way down & then gradually lessened its slope to the valley.

The ridges were straight down the slope & faint and seemed to terminate in a common transverse furrow at the bottom of the steepest pitch, & therefore some little way from base of slope.

It was so gastly cold I could not stay long, meaning to go again, unless anything else turned up.

I unfortunately did not examine carefully enough transverse furrow

Beginning at top of slope

depth of furrow— 5 18 inch deep
70strides down— 4 " deep
60 " lower 5 14 "
10 " " 4 14 "
10 " " 5 "

I do know what the interval is between these two measurements.

18 strides from transverse} furrow was 312 deep
furrow where the other ends
8 strides nearer transverse} " " 312 "
4 strides nearer transverse} " " 312
furrow (i.e. 4 strides from it)

This is quite incomplete, and should be measured all again; it wants 2 or 3 persons to do it quickly.

at Stonehenge itself little was to be made out. the main outer range of stones with flat ones on the top were all of same level and therefore certainly had not sunk.

A pair of large ones with top one fell in 1797; these have made a great indentation in the ground, and have squeezed some of their corners into the ground, but they are undermined by rats or rabbits and are of such gigantic size that nothing could be told as to the work of worms.

In several places the outer stones have fallen outwards and broken in two, and these great blocks are all sunk in the grass at various angles.

I examined one which may have lain for many centuries as the fracture between the two halves was quite weather worn. By means of my trowel I found that this was sunk at the spot I examined 10 inches into the mould (it was evidently worm mould v. full of worms); the shepherd said the earth had probably been disturbed there, but I could see no signs of it and the turf was smooth all round the block. at almost 8 yards from the point outwards and falling about 10 inches to a foot, I found the depth of the mould above the mixed flint and chalk to be 512 inches and at a depth of about 4 inches I found a bit of tobacco pipe.

I should think therefore the blocks had long sunk as deep as they could, tho’ by driving my skewer (of 6 inches) down down at bottom of my trowel hole (of 12 inches deep) I did not find the bottom.3

I found I had reached bottom of stone on that side by being able to drive my skewer underneath it at right angles to my trowel hole. The two halves of the stone I think have sunk to the same amount into the soil as they are about the same level above it namely 2 ft; a corresponding stone standing up is about 2ft 10 inches in depth which agrees with this one, but they are not very regular, and the block may easily have sunk on certain points as far as the rubble so as to prevent this block sinking any more on the side I examined.

round many of the buried (not round the upright) stones the angle between the turf & stone was filled with turf to the height of 3 to 4 inches


this turf was pretty evidently caused by worms as the castings were coming out between the stone & the upper edge of the turf, and in some cases in the little slope itself. this turf band was not all round the blocks, and as far as I could decide anything, there was no band of turf where the stone went sheer (perpendicular) down. the irregularities in the stone were mostly filled in. As this patch pointed out by the shepherd as having been untouched during memory of man I send you particulars on another sheet.

I go tomorrow to examine a field which I hear on first rate authority was corn about 50 years ago & has not been touched since.

I also hear of a similar field in Beaulieu Park which I hope to go to soon as well as the Abbey armed with an introduction.4

Your affect Son | WED

CD annotations

3.1 faint] underl red crayon
3.2 furrow] ‘or sort of ditch’ added after pencil
5.1 furrow] ‘, or sort of ditch.—’ added after pencil
6.1 Beginning … slope] ‘Not at bottom of slope.’ added pencil
6.2 depth … 5 " 6.6] ‘6 miles from Stonehenge’ added pencil
9.1 at … worms. 10.4] ‘if built on chalk no sinking’ added pencil
9.2 not sunk] ‘or all sunk equally’ inserted pencil after ‘sunk’
11.1 In several … angles. 11.2] scored red crayon; ‘several’ and ‘stones’ underl red crayon; ‘this looks like subsidence’ inserted pencil after ‘outwards’
12.4 the shepherd … pipe. 12.8] ‘But why has more mould accumulated close to stone than at distance of 8 yards   Did not block indent the mould?’ added pencil
12.3 10 inches] underl red crayon
12.3 into the mould] ‘mould’ underl red crayon
12.4 full of worms] underl red crayon
12.6 8 yards] underl red crayon
12.7 512 inches] underl red crayon
12.8 tobacco pipe.] underl red crayon
13.1 I … bottom 13.3] ‘Is turf abruptly higher close to stones?’ added pencil; ‘of mould.?— [altered from ‘of what? mould?—’]’ inserted after ‘bottom’
15.2 filled … inches] scored red crayon
15 diagram turf … turf] ‘How [wide] is this little slope?’ below ‘turf’, left of diagram; ‘How big?’ above ‘stone’; ‘Perhaps from falling, if so only at fallen [end]below ‘stone’; ‘— This seems very curious & perhaps explains my query on p. 4— I do not understand’ above ‘turf’, right of diagram
15.3 this turf … itself. 15.5] scored red crayon
15.7 the irregularities … filled in.] scored and underl pencil
16.1 I go … introduction. 17.2] crossed pencil
Bottom of second page: ‘Jan 1st 1872’ pencil
Top of letter: ‘William thinks of no use | Jan 1. 1872’ pencil


The date is established by CD’s annotation.
Stonehenge is a group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. William’s observations of the field are given in Earthworms, p. 296.
CD gave William’s observations at Stonehenge in Earthworms, pp. 154–6.
William examined the buried pavement at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire on 5 January 1872; CD himself visited in 1877 (Earthworms, pp. 193–7).


Earthworms: The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms: with observations on their habits. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1881.


Worm action at Stonehenge.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 105
Physical description
ALS 8pp ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8137,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20