Happy Summer Solstice to the Revellers at Stonehenge — Is it Really 27 Years Since the Last Free Festival?


This is a bleak summer solstice as far as the weather goes, but no doubt for many of the thousands of revellers at Stonehenge last night (an estimated 18,000 people in total), it was, nevertheless, a memorable occasion, as it remains essentially unprecedented for tens of thousands of people to gather in a field at night, mingling amongst the stones of one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, without some famous rock star or other strutting their stuff on a floodlit stage.

I haven’t been to the solstice for six years, having visited every year from 2001 to 2005 — after the wilderness years, from 1985 to 1999, when a military-style exclusion zone was declared, to keep out those who had not learned that they were unwelcome after the dreadful events of what is known as the Battle of the Beanfield — but every year I think about those converging on the ancient stones, and wait for the first reports and photos, to find out whether the sun shone at dawn, and to hear from those who were there.

My interest, as some of you will know, stems from the visits I made to the Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual riot of anarchy and alternative lifestyles that occupied the fields around Stonehenge for 11 years, from 1974 to 1984, until it was suppressed with unprecedented violence in 1985, when an advance convoy, heading to the stones to set up the festival, was ambushed by the massed forces of Margaret Thatcher’s militarized police, and decommissioned with savage violence at the Battle of the Beanfield.

I chronicled those events in my book The Battle of the Beanfield, published in 2005 and still available, but the bigger picture of the travelling festival scene, and the central importance of Stonehenge, was based on my visits to the free festival as a student in 1983 and 1984, and the research I undertook between 2002 and 2004 that led to the first detailed alternative history of Stonehenge, entitled, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, my first book, published exactly seven years ago, which is also still available.

As the years pass, those who were significant figures in the countercultural story of Stonehenge pass away — John Michell in 2009, and Sid Rawle last year. They are not the only ones. Roger Hutchinson, who designed the iconic Stonehenge poster reproduced below, also died on September 3 last year. 57 years old, he had fought a long battle with lung disease, and was commemorated here and here.

Roger had been incredibly helpful to me while I was researching Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, and several of his photos appeared in the book with his permission. I was also pleased to notice that he was interviewed for “Festivals Britannia,” a feature-length BBC4 documentary about the free festival scene (which mirrors the story I told in Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion), which was first broadcast last year, and is currently available to view on iPlayer, having recently been repeated.

To mark the solstice, to remember those ever more distant festivals, and also to remember Roger, I’m posting below some more of his photos. The first one was posted by Rob Young, author of Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, who wrote, in a blog post following Roger’s death last year:

Roger’s photos of various free festivals of the 1970s, such as Windsor and Stonehenge, remain some of the most evocative and otherworldly of their kind. True to the spirit of these communal gatherings, he pointed his lens as much at the crowds as at the rock action on stage, and the exquisite misty colour lends the pictures a magical, idyllic, even timeless quality.

The other photos originally appeared in Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion.

Roger Hutchinson's poster for the second Stonehenge Free Festival, 1975

Roger Hutchinson’s poster for the second Stonehenge Free Festival in 1975. Photo by Roger Hutchinson.

Revellers at the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1975 relax at the River Avon (photo by Roger Hutchinson).

Revellers at the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1975 relax at the River Avon. Photo by Roger Hutchinson.

Tipis at the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1977 (photo by Roger Hutchinson).

Tipis at the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1977. Photo by Roger Hutchinson.

The Stonehenge Free Festival 1978

A bucolic moment at the 1978 Stonehenge Free Festival. Photo by Roger Hutchinson.

Note: For further information see the excellent Festival Zone website, and also see my articles, Stonehenge and the summer solstice: past and present, In the Guardian: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, Remember the Battle of the Beanfield (in the Guardian), It’s 25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival, The Battle of the Beanfield 25th Anniversary: An Interview with Phil Shakesby, Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2010: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, RIP Sid Rawle, Land Reformer, Free Festival Pioneer, Stonehenge Stalwart and The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

34 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Christine Casner wrote:

    Good morning from across the pond, Andy!!! One more day I need to rest. We live to “fight” another day, LOL!!! ♥

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Neill Le Roux wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this Andy..

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Morning, Christine, and thanks, Neil. You’re most welcome, of course. I generally only manage to revisit the important history of Stonehenge, state oppression and the people’s resistance once or twice a year, but I feel it perhaps has a bit more bite this year than previously, given the current occupants of Downing Street.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Allison Lee-Clay wrote:

    Wonderful, thank you.
    Amazingly, I’d never heard of the ‘big fat gypsy’ Battle of the Beanfield
    Damn, that’s demented.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, very much so, Allison. It was the year after the Miners’ Strike, when Thatcher and her cronies, so desperate to kill the unions, not only defeated the miners but also decided to close down as much British manufacturing as possible, just to make sure that there was no way the country could be held to ransom again by the workers. And so we turned to China, and began a process which has led to where we are today, with many of us regarded as surplus to requirements — especially the old, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed.
    The Battle of the Beanfield defined a spirit of resistance that will always resurface when people tap into their history — how we got where we are today, how we ended up with our civil liberties so thoroughly eroded, why we live in a bubble of consumerist hedonism that has nothing to do with freedom or choice or dissent …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jez Tucker wrote:

    27 years …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    How old are we getting, Jez? Ah well, I was watching “Festivals Britannia,” and was happy that I’d not said no when I was invited on a trip to Stonehenge for the festival in ’83 and when, one weekend in May 1992, I’d also agreed to head out with friends to a “massive rave” — in a place called Castlemorton. Now we’re back to Square One, ruled by Etonians who despise everyone who isn’t filthy rich, and with our fellow citizens largely demonstrating the typical British spirit of sitting still while their rulers kick them repeatedly in the head. I’m glad that I was around for some of the few occasions when people stuck two fingers up en masse, and I sincerely hope to see it again.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jez Tucker wrote:

    Too old, that’s for sure – and I refuse to go gracefully. If people are enjoying themselves en masse and no-one’s making any cash out of it they’re bound to fall foul of the law somewhere along the line these days. The 83 and 84 festivals are seared into my mind as how 20-30,000 people can gather, celebrate and live lightly without the consent of the state or interference from its instruments. It can be done and, like you, I hope we see it again sometime soon. Happy solstice Andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    And to you, Jez! And thanks again for the superlative work you did designing “The Battle of the Beanfield” book — still educating people six years after it was published!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Tony ‘TruckTone’ Freeman wrote:

    Shared – (see my profile pic, remember that one too?)

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tony. Yes, the “These Romans Are Crazy!” Asterix pastiche, from 1986, I believe. See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8433962@N05/3641358064/

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Jez Tucker wrote:

    Always a pleasure to work with you Andy. It’s not often a good project, that’s close to my heart, comes along. All power to you for your solid work on Gauntanamo too.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jez. I really do hope our paths cross again one of these days.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Bateson wrote:

    thanks Andy, from an anarchist who chooses to live an alternative lifestyle.. it’s really interesting working where i do.. you’d be amazed at how many people are starting to wander into metaphysical/alternative bookstores for the first time.. the one i work at has been on the same main street for 11 years and we get new local customers every day.. many are becoming disillusioned with their brand of faiths, politics and cultures are daring to explore alternative views.. not that we would ever tell them that we know why they’ve suddenly discovered us.. 🙂 times they are achangin’..

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Bateson wrote:

    oh, and btw – Happy Summer Solstice!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Andrea Sears wrote:

    I visited Stonehenge in 1974 when it was still possible to walk among the stones. It was and is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. I’d love to read your book some day. I have several on the topic. And Happy Solstice everyone.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Fiona and Andrea. Just wondering where you’re based, Fiona, is it Canada? Here we’re still losing bookshops at an alarming rate, which is sad, as it makes it harder for people to change their mindset when their dealings with books are through ordering online from a warehouse peopled by worker drones they never even see. Glad you’re in a shop that people can actually visit …

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Bateson wrote:

    yes, i’m in british columbia.. we’ve lost a few publishing houses here too, but there are people who still truly appreciate books.. you can’t touch or smell an electronic download, nor can you appreciate it’s aging appearance after being lovingly read and reread, then perhaps passed on..

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Bateson wrote:

    to add.. surprisingly, our new customers cover all age ranges, from teens to the elderly.. very nice to see..

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Steve Hynd ‎wrote:

    27 years… Thanks for making me feel old, Andy 🙂

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Liz Parker Siebeck wrote:

    ils sont fous ces romains! (changing my icon for the occasion)

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Liz Parker Siebeck wrote:

    I had NO idea that you had written about Stonehenge, Andy, as I have only been following your writing about Guantanamo.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I remember those events, although I was in Amsterdam at the time. Now I see some parallels with the threatened closing of Christiania, in Copenhagen. Both cases involve a desire by the authorities to stamp out displayed social nonconformism. Well, good reason to share this now.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, friends.
    Fiona, that’s a great defense of the power of the book as an object with which to interact.
    Steve, I’m sorry, mate, but if it’s any help it makes all of us feel old!
    Liz, welcome to my pre-Guantanamo world.
    And George, yes, Christiania is the last great target in northern Europe, I think.
    My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I was at the Parliamentary screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” organized by Caroline Lucas, and with our special guest Tom Wilner, who came over from the US especially. The screening drew a big crowd. Not so big on the MP front, but I think we all expected that, sadly. However, Caroline Lucas was an excellent host, and other MPs did turn up, including Michael Meacher, Jane Ellison (Shaker Aamer’s MP) and Mark Durkan, and we began formulating plans to take campaigning forward. I’ll try and write something more soon.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    On Fiona’s Facebook page, Andrew Baker wrote:

    I was at the Stonehenge festival in 1973 and 1976. Long hair and no clothes for 10 days.
    1976 was a very hot summer but at that time being without clothes for all this time seemed very natural.
    When we swam naked in a river near Avebury which wound through a Lord and Lady Arbuthnot’s estate we were ordered by several police too get out of the water. We stood there naked as they asked us some questions. One woman PC seemed to feel a subliminal discomfort and took of her police hat.
    We were taunted by the gamekeeper that he had work for us, idle long hair hippies. We accepted his offer and with blankets wrapped around the midrift transported tree logs through the town to the estate. We were then invited by her Lord and Ladyship to eat egg sandwiches on their lawn with them.
    Priceless memories.

  26. JonWor says...

    “and the research I undertook between 2002 and 2004 that led to the first detailed alternative history of Stonehenge, ”

    Here’s another alternative history: Hope you enjoy

    (3rd, 4th and 7th are the best.. 7th isn’t out yet)

    Of Hyperion we are told that he was the first to understand, by diligent attention and observation, the movement of both the sun and the moon and the other stars, and the seasons as well, in that they are caused by these bodies, and to make these facts known to others; and that for this reason he was called the father of these bodies, since he had begotten, so to speak, the speculation about them and their nature.’
    Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.67.

    Archaeologist’s site, for background story:


  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor McLintock wrote:

    Not to forget Brian Viziondanz who sat at the Round Table meetings with English Heritage and fought their closed minds with love and peace to get access reinstated to the Stones at the Solstice for the People who consider it to be their Spiritual Home : )

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Eleanor. My apologies. I really should have mentioned Brian as well. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, but we first met at meetings to discuss access and festival issues in 2002/03, at the grand old squat in Leytonstone that was the last vestige of the protests against the M11 link road, and in more recent years we used to bump into each other at various festivals and protests. He was, as you say, a tireless campaigner for access to the stones, and for peace in general, and I hope many people were thinking of him on the solstice.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Eleanor McLintock wrote:

    Well, I just had the honour of sharing the info that his ashes were well and truly scattered in and around the Stones and even rubbed into some of them, apparently a female friend threw his ashes into the air in the circle and anyone within a 6ft area was covered with Brian!! : )

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    That somehow seems very appropriate, Eleanor!

  31. Celestial Elf says...

    Amazing Post Andy 😀
    I hope you may like to share this message and machinima about the Ancient Guardian of Stonehenge too;
    For those who are interested in returning the Stonehenge Ancestors,
    I am sharing my new machinima film
    ”Stonehenge Is Our Temple”
    Please sign the e-petition in link below film and share the film so others will get the message, thank you ~
    Bright Blessings By Stone and Star, Celestial Elf ~

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Celestial Elf. Good to hear from you.

  33. Stan says...

    Brilliant pics’.I used to live in Amesbury, and went to the stones when I was 11 (1984),it blew my young mind.haha.Me and my mates swam most years at exact same spot in above pic(the wier) Really good memories of the travelers coming to town every year,total shame its been stopped.I remember listening to hawkwind and Susie siox while lying in bed.Any,good times. 🙂

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Nice memories. Good to hear from you, Stan!

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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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