A Zest for Life – the story of Alexander Keiller

Author: Lynda J. Murray
Publisher: Morven Books

Alexander Keiller was born on December 1st, 1889. At the age of 9, he became the sole heir to a fortune amassed by the Keiller dynasty during the previous century. What did he do with this money, and how it both coloured and tainted his life, is the subject matter of the book. Keiller lived life to the full, socialising, driving fast cars and skiing, but also conceived a vast love of Avebury. He invested his time and money in uncovering and protecting the monument and village.

Avebury is a village in Wiltshire, roughly half-way between Devizes and Marlborough, built alongside and partly within an enormous earthworks ("henge") consisting of an outer bank and an inner ditch. This dates back about 5000 years. Along the perimeter of the inner ditch once stood nearly 100 massive stones and within this great circle a further two (possibly three) smaller - but still huge - circles of stones. Relatively undisturbed for millenia, the stones were "rediscovered" by antiquarians like Aubrey and Stukeley in the 17th century. By then they had proved a handy source of building material to the local population. Gradually they were toppled, burned and broken up. Some stones received the same treatment for religious reasons. Others were toppled then buried. The same thing happened to the stones which formed two long processional avenues either side of the henge.

Under Keiller's direction, lost stones were dug up and re-erected, broken stones were stuck back together with cement and iron rods, ramshackle buildings were demolished and thick undergrowth removed.
Avebury is so enormous that the job must have been daunting beyond belief. It took meticulous care, sheer physical effort and sackloads of cash. The job was never fully completed and it probably never will be. The Second World War bought work to an end and Keiller never recovered the energy for the task in the later 1940s. That Avebury - and the West Kennet Avenue in particular - is so glorious now is entirely due to the efforts of Alexander Keiller, the subject of this biography.

The MSMT supported the publication of this book by financing the acquisition of the rights to photographs supporting the section on Keiller's motoring interests.

Out of print

Published 1999

Price: £

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