The Archive . updated June 2023
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Stonehenge Free Festivals chronology.
1985- The end ?
What might have been - flyer courtesy Matt Hughes
1985. Another hapless Henge pilgrim finds himself on the way to the hooscow © Baz
In 1985 the festival was banned by the Thatcher government and in May the Battle of the Beanfield took place, with an estimated 1000 police ambushing a convoy of travellers on their way to Stonehenge, trashing their vehicles and doing their best to completely demoralise the hard core festival community .The week after , 38 football fans were killed in a riot at an away match in Europe which not only diverted attention away from this event , but also put the Stonehenge festival in perspective. To my knowledge, the festival never had any deaths occur, the mess made was unfortunate, but compared to the mayhem and cost that the average football match cost to the taxpayer in policing, the Henge festival was a mere pinprick. So why was so much effort made to destroy it ? Total drug related hospital admissions from the festival in 84 were five ,the policing cost of the Beanfield exercise was 800.000 pounds. Value for money ?
The Thatcher government has to go down as the most repressive and right wing government in 20th century British history. It had presided over record levels of unemployment , riots in the inner cities and the running down of the public health and educational systems . It was particularly intolerant of anything that transgressed its ideas of normality. Because there was so much unemployment and poverty in Britain in the early 80s , many people were taking to the road in old vehicles and taking up the travellers life as an alternative to festering in a tower block in some poxy town with no jobs and no future. The festival scene enabled travellers to spend most of the summer earning a living at the festivals from selling food , handcrafts and , in some cases, drugs.
Photo© Kirky and Julie-Anne
Also , the activities of the convoys were embarrassing and inconvenient for the government . It is far more comfy to live in a converted van in the winter than it is a to live in a tent - which meant that people could stay in places quite comfortably for months -places like Greenham common and other peace camps, which were an embarrassment to the Tories . Travellers were staying on crown land for months at a time, making a case for the land owned by the state to be allowed to house the people. They were congregating in large convoys which were difficult for the police to deal with and there were forces within the government who thought they could threaten the established order of property and wealth if they were allowed to continue to spread their ' subversive ' message .It would have been most convenient for the government to dispose of this threat , before the country was overrun with thousands of cheap mobile homes and their raggedy crews. Of course the festival goers played into the hands of the politicians by looking different , using various drugs and on occasions acting in a manner that would put Joe publics nose out of joint . However, regardless of whether all travellers were model citizens or not , the way that they were attacked in 1985 was a national disgrace -and their treatment was certainly more than was implied by Margaret- 'defender of dictator Pinochet'-Thatcher's remark " that we are only too delighted to do anything we can to make life difficult for such things as hippie convoys"- difficult appearing to be a euphemism for ' smash up your means of travel , terrorise your women and children , put down your animals and attempt to pass legislation that outlaws your very existence '.
The actions in suppressing free festivals in 1984/85/86 effectively destroyed a key part of the travellers world which had enabled them to exist as a homogenous group. No longer could they rely on the festival circuit as a means of obtaining a living or as a secure place to spend the summer months . Post 86 , forces that had not been such a major problem during the early part of the decade, such as the constant invasive harassment by the police and local authorities, the spectre of heroin ( which some say was encouraged by the police as a way of destroying the community ) and younger dispossessed elements who took to the trappings of the lifestyle , but not the ethics, meant that the travellers split up into smaller factions and were increasingly demonised by the media . It was not the end of the lifestyle by any means , but it was a major blow to the movement and the fundamental freedoms of the alternative society.
The walk to the Stones 1985 © Baz
Although most of us will agree that we need some sort of police force to maintain order and to protect citizenry, there have been many instances over the years when the UK government has used the police as a weapon against the very people they are supposed to protect. The UK police force has usually been used against groups that the government considers a threat to vested interest of some sort - thus police have been used to curb striking workers to protect the interests of employers and to disperse demonstrators to protect the interests of the UK govt of the day in cases where that govt deems those demonstrations threaten the credibility of its foreign or domestic policy . There have also been several instances where the police have been used to prevent the public from attending free festivals and in at least two cases the police acted with unnecessary force . The first was Windsor in 1974 and the other major instance was Stonehenge in 1985 . In both cases the police seem to have been seized with a sort of mass hysteria and taken on the very mob mentality that they themselves are supposed to prevent .
Why have the police acted in this way ? Possibly it may simply be resentment - I remember a friend whose father was a police sergeant in Swansea who told us that many of the force were infuriated that they had to police the Springbok rugby demo - because they had to give up their weekend leave- he predicted that they would give the demonstrators a hard time and it was one of the most violent demos of the tour- with police meting out very rough handling . However in the case of Windsor and the Henge we think it goes deeper. By its very nature the police force is generally composed of the more conservative elements in our society , its members like an ordered, predictable and rule following citizenry . Free festival goers are diametrically opposed to these principles, they like taking risks, they flaunt the law by their actions , they look and act differently. They are a group that the police are almost primed to hate . When government sanctions the suppression of such a group ,when the press chimes in and demonises the group with sensational stories , then an atmosphere is created that legitimises the brutal treatment of that group, because essentially they are dehumanised . It becomes easy to say that they deserve the treatment because they "live like animals and have no respect for anyone" - ( just look at a few of the comments the Beanfield footage has received on Youtube , you can see this attitude is still alive and well ) . It is what has happened to minorities everywhere over the centuries - the only advantage we have now is that the press are there to document most instances of abuse, but that still does not prevent instances like the Beanfield from being hushed up ,if the media are compliant and prepared to protect the authorities.
Fortunately these injustices have not gone completely undocumented and the campaign to return a festival to the Henge goes on - you can read all about the police actions and the freak campaigns to return the festival to the stones if you visit the sites below , which go into great detail as to what took place in 1985 to date .
Before you visit these links , read Paul's account of what happened to him at the Beanfield
For my troubles, I was in the Beanfield on June 1st 1985, lost 4 German Shepherds (3 of them only 8 months old) and was detained at Aldershot (on the army base as it turned out) for 3 days, to be bailed from Basingstoke Magistrates on the monday, with the usual exclusions and conditions. Took me over 24 hours to find the Police pound at Everleigh and retrieve my truck, whereupon I was promptly re-arrested for not returning a hire van on time (it was due back on the Monday). Apart from which the hire van (a brand new Ford Tranny) was utterly wrecked as the Police had used it as a type of battering-ram to stop the Rasta Bus on the Beanfield. I was re-arrested on the basis of 'Fraud & Deception of goods in excess of £10k' and driven all the way back to Lancs where I had hired the van. No charges were pursued by the police in Lancs, who were dumbstruck when I related my tale. Had to hitch back to Wiltshire and it was about June 10th when I recovered my truck and a couple of days after that until I learned of the fate of the dogs - a mine of disinformation existed over the fate of animals originally.
The Rasta bus vainly attempts to outrun the plod-
A pair of England's finest hassling the horses. © Baz
Was convicted in Salisbury Mags in 87, I think, of Criminal Damage and Obstructing the Police. Lord Cardigan, Nick Davies, etc, were there as defence witnesses. Lionel Grundy quite obviously and palpably lied under oath. I still have all the transcripts of the entire 10 day 'trial'.
Was one of the 24 who sued the Police at Winchester Crown and attended to give evidence around Armistice Day 1990 - I remember the poppies on sale in the court. Got a judgment in favour for the destruction of 4 dogs, damage to property, excessive force, etc, but NOT unlawful arrest and imprisonment. Judge ordered only half my costs (which were £101k) to be met by the police- they took the paltry £2100 damages I received, as payment for the £50,500 outstanding and told me I was a lucky chap and that was that! I'm sure you're aware of some of these details, but its good to relate them anyway. Thanks for listening.
Got onto your site by the way, from Tash's excellent site.
In a bit
Trouble ahead, trouble behind, on the way to the Stones 1985 © Baz
Since the police began smashing windscreens in the convoy on the main road , those whose vehicles were still intact retreated into a nearby field. Unfortunately once in the field there was no escape.
Having cornered the convoy in the Beanfield the old bill marshaled their troops on the edge of the field. Note the full riot gear the police are wearing, this despite there being no history of travellers resisting arrest violently in the past that we are aware of. This was obviously a pre-planned action and the authorities were looking to act in a specific way towards the convoys inhabitants .
No attempt was made to coax anyone out of the vehicles , basically it appears to have been full on threatening action from the start. The most incriminating footage of police violence mysteriously disappeared from the TV companies vaults , what is left is the tame stuff and that is chilling enough to watch .
Police rush one of the first buses
Thoroughly intimidated, this traveller cowers as he is prodded threateningly with a riot baton .
These unresisting travellers were verbally and physically threatened by police.
Having seen what happened to those who stopped on request the remaining travellers flee the police .
However there was no escape .
This particular plod went berserk ,enable to smash the side door he turned to the windows. A sergeant actually shouted at him to calm down .This mirrors what happened at Windsor in 1974 with some officers being way over the top in their dealings with the festival goers .
Girls inside the bus scream hysterically as police smash windows ( note that both officers have removed their ID numbers )
The brutal SWAT style Police response was totally over the top as most travellers offered no resistance.
Phil's bus burning
The end result of police "action"
The Rasta buses futile dash for freedom incensed the cops .They surrounded the bus and basically beat the shit out of it .
Before the police entered the field they delivered an ultimatum to the travellers . Our old mate Phil was interviewed directly after this and here's a transcript of his speech .
" What they want is for us to hand ourselves over for arrest like they did at Nostell Priory last year, they fitted us up, loads of us . Nobodies done anything about it and they are going to start doing it again. And we need help. We're genuine people just like yourselves and we need help right now . Please ! Help us, all of you , help us, stand by us."
Kim Sabido of ITN delivered this commentary,which was removed when the evening news bulletin was broadcast .
"What we've witnessed in the last half hour here has been surely some of the most brutal action by the police forces in Britain for a long time, whatever the causes the end product seemed to be just hitting out wildly by the police .Young women with babies in their arms were hit as well.
At one stage one of the cameramen from fleet street was arrested for being on this site - we were pushed and shoved to one side, but the worst of it all was that the people in those coaches who were trying to escape from the police were just grabbed , their windows were smashed and they themselves were just beaten , sometimes senselessly ,on the floor . "
Kim Sabido ITN
530 people were arrested at the Beanfield incident. Many children were taken into care, many vehicles and animals were destroyed . Why was so much energy and money spent on this action when these people represented such a minor threat to society ? Why use a sledgehammer to crack a nut ?
Tash - Is a photographer who was at the Battle Of The Beanfield and his story is recounted at his excellent site, which contains many photographs.
Alan Dearling Veteran of the travelling scene has five excellent PDF's on his site that deal with the free festival scene in the 70s and 80s.
Andy Worthington has written a book about the Beanfield . Andy is also the author of the excellent book about Stonehenge ; "Celebration and Subversion".
Operation Solstice- you can buy a video about the Beanfield which contains footage of police brutality which was "lost ' after the attack and never aired on TV .
Stonehenge Propaganda. - A site that tells something of the history of the travellers attempts to hold a festival outside the exclusion zone in 1985 and details the webmasters visits to Stonehenge from 1985 to the present day.
Greenleaf- History of the battles for Stonehenge.
Weed - more about Stonehenge( and other cool stuff ) at Weeds site
Tash- view his site map with links to all the Stonehenge pages, view his photo galleries which cover the solstice celebrations during the 80s and 90s
Hard Core Carvers- festival archive and info on contemporary festivals in the UK
Stonehenge Celebration-New site with focus on present Henge celebrations and links to many other Henge related issues and sitesMikes Stonehenge site -lots of Henge and Traveller links
Seizmic Activity -Henge links and more
Henge History :1972-1984