The ‘Philips Core’ Greaney refers to was drilled from Stone 58 during conservation work at Stonehenge in 1958. The location of the core remained a mystery until Robert Phillips, a representative of the company who did the drilling work, returned it to the UK from his home in Florida. Stone 58 was one of several Stonehenge sarsens at the site that had toppled over in the distant past. During conservation work in the 1950s, a longitudinal crack was discovered running through the stone. To conserve the stone, three cores around 2.5cm in diameter were drilled through its full thickness (around 1m) to insert metal rods.
Two of the cores then disappeared, though part of one was rediscovered at Salisbury Museum in 2019. The third core was given to Robert Phillips, who worked for the drilling company, and went with him to the USA when he retired. Phillips returned the core to English Heritage in 2018 to provide material for research, before he passed away in 2020.
In 2022, film footage from the 1950s was uncovered at the Phillips' home showing the drilling of this invaluable ‘core’ sample. The footage was shot in 1958 by engineer Robert Phillips and shows colleagues drilling through one of the largest Stonehenge megaliths, removing three slender cores of silcrete and preparing to replug the holes. This was part of the effort by heritage conservationists to raise and preserve the fallen trilithons, the two vertical sarsen stones with a third across the top, which are now so iconic to the monument.
These films showing the original drilling of the sarsens at Stonehenge now have a home at the University of Brighton’s Screen Archive South East and add to records of the prehistoric monument’s twentieth-century heritage. Seeing the sarsen trilithons being worked on and the important sarsen core emerging reveals fascinating detail on the processes of the times. The footage is remarkable in not being created for government or official purposes. Instead, it gives an informal record of the site, the engineers’ work and the reactions of excited tourists. Together with the surviving core samples, they provide important documentation of Stonehenge itself and the ways global heritage has been preserved and studied.
Professor David Nash was in contact with the Phillips family following his work using the core. He says, "I was so excited when the Phillips family contacted me about these films. They are incredibly valuable, as they show in some detail how the coring was carried out at Stonehenge in 1958. More importantly for our research, we can now identify exactly which of the three cores we were able to analyse to figure out the source of the giant sarsens".
Jane King from Screen Archive South East said: “The Robert Phillips films really bring to life the specialist and essential work undertaken to preserve one of the sarsen stones. It is thanks to the British Film Institute and our local authority partners that the University of Brighton’s Screen Archive South East is able to take the necessary steps to preserve, digitise, catalogue and make publicly available these unique films. Importantly, we thank the Phillips family for depositing the films with the archive, thereby ensuring their long-term preservation and access.”