Stonehenge and the summer solstice: past and present


Before I became a chronicler of the men detained without charge or trial in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I wrote a book about the British counter-culture, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, which told the story of Britain’s most iconic ancient monument from the point of view of those who have sought to make it their own in the face of opposition from the government and the archaeological establishment: festival-goers, travellers, anarchists, eco-activists, Druids and other pagans.

I also compiled, edited and contributed chapters to The Battle of the Beanfield, produced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that brutal day in June 1985, when, having destroyed Britain’s mining communities, Margaret Thatcher turned her jack-booted attention to another “enemy within”: the travellers and political activists who had replicated the Greenham Women’s anti-nuclear protest at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, and who were viciously set upon by police from six counties — and the Ministry of Defence — as they tried to make their way to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual free festival, an anarchic free-for-all, the likes of which are now but a distant memory.

As thousands gather at Stonehenge for this year’s solstice gathering, I thought this might be a good occasion to commemorate the long struggle for access to Stonehenge by offering The Battle of the Beanfield at a specially reduced price of £9.95 (normal price £12.95). Click on the link above for details.

And as a reminder of what all the fuss was about — and how despicable it was of successive governments, from Margaret Thatcher to John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, to use political protest and the demand for alternative lifestyles as an excuse to savage our civil liberties — I present below a gallery of Stonehenge solstices past and present, as featured in the books.

The summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1956

Revellers at the solstice in 1956. © The estate of Austin Underwood.

Druids at Stonehenge solstice, 1960

Druids at the solstice in 1960. © Gerald Ponting.

A ceremony at Stonehenge, 1974

A ceremony at the first Stonehenge Free Festival, 1974. © The estate of Austin Underwood.

The Stonehenge Free Festival 1978

A bucolic moment at the 1978 festival. © Roger Hutchinson.

The 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival

An aerial photo of the last Stonehenge Free Festival, 1984.

The Battle of the Beanfield

Police brutality at the Battle of the Beanfield, June 1, 1985. © Tim Malyon.

Stonehenge banner, 1988

A banner commemorating another police assault on the crowd excluded from Stonehenge at the 1988 solstice. © Jo Bradley. The solstice exclusion zone remained in place until 2000.

Defiance at the spring equinox, 1989

Defiance during an occupation of Stonehenge at the spring equinox in 1989. © Alan Lodge.

The V.E. Day occupation, 1995

An occupation on May 8, 1995, the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day, organized primarily by supporters of the massive anti-road protest movement of the mid-1990s. © Adrian Arbib.

The solstice at Stonehenge, 2003

The summer solstice in 2003.

For an update from 2009, see: It’s 25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

7 Responses

  1. Mark Poole says...

    Hi, thanks for keeping some record of the stones and their ongoing story.
    I was there in 1989, I think. The police scattered from the eastward crowd who’s front liner’s had to pick up and move forward the prefab barrier’s from getting crushed. It was then I saw the Police run out of the way and the stone were liberated. It was so cool to watch copper’s trying to grab the ankles of new age travelers whom were lighting up chillums on top of the stones to the cheers of the crowd.

  2. celestial elf says...

    Great Post, Stonehenge over the modern times 😀
    thought you might like my King Arthur’s Summer Solstice at Stonehenge machinima film Bright Blessings, elf ~

  3. sid hope says...

    Are you aware of a new campaign drive to re-establish a free festival near stonehenge, I emailed you before but had no reply. The campaign desperatly needs some media attention ,I’d be grateful for any advice on how to highlight our cause/ do you know any journo’s who might be sympathetic check out sids F.B. page

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Sid,
    For promotion, I’d say your best bet would be to try and establish a web presence – get a website, post on it regularly (say once a week, at least), and tell everyone you know about it. If you have material available, I can probably mention it on the solstice, when the maximum number of people are interested.

  5. Jef f K eyes says...

    … we are all here now , watch what happens …

  6. Graeme de Lyons says...

    Hi Andy, thanks for all your work . Certainly heard your name before – as likely spoken with you – i certainly remember ‘Tash’ Lodge….

    Anyway the reason I’m contacting u now, is this week I was sent a couple of your pics by a reminiscing friend I haven’t seen in 30 years. Sadly we share some traumatic memories of those days (as well as more recently) but both stoked to see me looking so carefree dancing, waving my dreads about in front of the stones in the pic below the tapestry. Unless my dyslexia is creating another problem, I think that one is undated. But we think Winter Solstice ‘89. Can u agree? Also I’d like to use the pic as a profile on my website once it finally gets built – in part proving my credentials as a counsellor who may be able to empathise with young people who feel disenfranchised. Can u let me know details of any permissions I might need (including re the other people in foreground). Cheers

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Graeme. It was apparently the spring equinox 1989, I think according to Tash, whose photo it is. You may want to get in touch with him regarding any permissions. What a great photo, though!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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