Video: The Battle of the Beanfield, Free Festivals and Traveller History with Andy Worthington on Bristol Community Radio


Is the UK on the verge of a second traveller revolution? A question posed in a Bristol Community Radio show in August 2018, featuring Andy Worthington and New Age Traveller Sean in discussion with Tony Gosling (Photo: Alan Lodge).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.


Last week I was in Bristol for a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the new documentary film about the cynical destruction of council estates, and residents’ brave resistance to the destruction of their homes, which I narrate. The screening was at the People’s Republic of Stoke Croft, a pioneering community space in a once-neglected area of Bristol that has now started to be devoured by the insatiable profiteers of the “regeneration” industry. My article about the screening is here, and a brief report about the screening is here, and while I was there I was also interviewed by Tony Gosling for Bristol Community Radio, which is based in the PRSC complex.

Tony and I have known each other for many years, through a shared interest in Britain’s counter-culture, and it was great to take part in his politics show for the station as the author of two very relevant books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. Although we discussed the film, that interview has not yet been broadcast, because Tony’s primary focus was on discussing the traveller community of the 1970s and 80s, the free festival scene, focused particularly on Stonehenge and Glastonbury, and the Battle of the Beanfield, on June 1, 1985, when, with Margaret Thatcher’s blessing, 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD violently decommissioned the convoy of vehicles — containing men, women and children — that was en route to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

To discuss the above, Tony had also contacted Sean, a veteran traveller, who still lives in a vehicle, and still upholds the DiY values of that time. We had a wonderful discussion over 40 minutes, which Tony has put on YouTube, illustrated with traveller photos by Alan Lodge, and which I’ve cross-posted below.

The discussion began with Sean, a sprightly and articulate 66-year old mechanic (whose skills were invaluable to the travelling community) talking about life on the road in the 70s and 80s (prior to the Beanfield), the reasons people took to the road (because of Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of the economy), and what life was like travelling in small convoys, and constantly being harried by the police.

I joined in to discuss specific aspects of this history, notably my recollections of the mass discontent that led to the traveller and free festival scenes exploding the the 1980s, and, with Sean, discussing the important chain of events that ultimately led to the Beanfield, beginning with the extreme police violence at Nostell Priory, a festival in Yorkshire in the summer of 1984, when, as Sean remembers, one particularly violent act involved a pregnant woman being assaulted. Crucially, Nostell Priory took place just after the police violence at Orgreave, as part of the Miners’ Strike, and while it remains apparent that a full investigation into Orgreave should take place, its remit should also include an investigation into what happened at Nostell Priory, and everything that followed, up to and including the Beanfield. For first-hand analysis, see this chapter from The Battle of the Beanfield, featuring an interview with Phil Shakesby, aka Phil the Beer, who, sadly, died in 2010.

After Nostell Priory, the police harried the convoy back to southern England. Some joined a peace camp outside RAF Molesworth, in Cambridgeshire, which was meant to be the second cruise missile base after Greenham Common, where a celebrated women’s peace camp had been established. That camp, the Rainbow Village, was evicted in February 1985 in the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops in modern British history, symbolically led by defence secretary Michael Heseltine, and from then on those who were intending to set up the Stonehenge festival were constantly harassed, on the basis of an injunction preventing 84 named individuals from going anywhere near Stonehenge, leading, eventually, to the brutal events of the Beanfield.

Is the UK on the verge of a second traveller revolution?

It is always worthwhile to discuss this history, because it not only shines a light on serious crimes committed by the state, and on how the establishment has no patience whatsoever with upstarts asking questions about land ownership and land reform, but also reminds us how even comparatively recent history can seem ancient, as we continue to endure the hugely materialistic times we are currently living in, overlaid with a cynical “age of fear”, opportunistically introduced after the 9/11 attacks, that has done away with any notion that living in Britain involves any kind of meaningful “freedom.”

Of more contemporary relevance, revisiting the travellers’ movement of the 70s and 80s also led to a discussion of whether the time is ripe for a second traveller revolution, a valid question given that the circumstances that prompted the first — work problems and housing need, essentially — are as pressingly relevant now as they were then. We may not have 3m unemployed in quite the same stark manner as in the Thatcher years, but unemployment has been carefully hidden through decades of bureaucratic subterfuge, and for those who are in work the perilous reality for many is that they are part of the rise of the precariat — plagued by zero hours contracts, and a stunning absence of anything well-paid and protected.

On the housing front, the situation is far worse than it was in the 70s and 80s, as unfettered greed has been dominant for the last 20 years, sending house prices spiralling out of control, and also leading to a hideously overpriced rental market, a situation exacerbated by the savage decline in social housing over the same time period.

Nowadays, of course, it’s much harder than it was 30 or 40 years ago to simply buy an old vehicle and take to the road, but the impetus is certainly there. Figures are heard to come by, and the government likes it that way, but above and beyond the horrendous rough sleeping figures and the estimates of vast numbers of sofa surfers, stories emerge regularly of working people living in their cars and vans, and anyone who has paid attention while walking or cycling around cities will have found people living in every liminal space imaginable — homeless people in parks, and others living in tents, in underpasses, or in scraps of generally unmonitored woodland, for example, and in January this year rural homelessness also emerged as a topic crying out for further investigation.

In addition, although the Tories cynically and brutally outlawed domestic squatting in 2012, huge numbers of empty commercial premises are now squatted. Then there are people living in containers, and in caravans — a whole under-explored area in which, I strongly suspect, the traditional efforts to prevent people living in caravans all year round are falling away spectacularly, as are the supposed restrictions on people living in tents. During my West Country holiday that preceded my Bristol visit, it was common to find seasonal workers living for the whole summer season in tents.

I can’t see any immediate way that there could be a second traveller revolution, but I could certainly see some kind of situation in which the marginalised in modern society, who are more numerous than anyone in authority wants to acknowledge , could start to become more organised, and to cause the establishment the same kind of headaches that were widespread from the 70s to the 90s, and which were only stifled by the soporific New Labour project, and the excuse for the suppression of civil liberties that was provided by the 9/11 attacks.

The time is ripe for some kind of housing-based insurgency, given the establishment’s comprehensive failure to do anything to stem the chronic flow of wealth from the poor to the rich, which continues to make life harder, with every passing year, for those in society who aren’t wealthy. It is something of miracle that major civil unrest hasn’t already happened.

Note: Also see here for the show, which is also available as an MP3 here, and which, after the section on travellers, also featured an interview with the inspiring activists Grandparents for a Safe Earth.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to a 40-minute radio show I did last week in Bristol with Tony Gosling and a fascinating 66-year old New Age Traveller called Sean, discussing the Battle of the Beanfield, free festivals and traveller history. It was a great discussion, and, as always, it’s good to shine a light on the state’s crimes and abuses of that time, but what was also interesting was how our discussion led to wondering if a renewed travellers’ movement could arise given that the current economic situation for huge numbers of people is at least as harsh as it was in the 70s and 80s, when thousands of people first took to the road.
    I fear that it is not possible, but it would make sense morally, with so many people homeless, sofa surfing, squatting in empty commercial properties, and living in cars, vans, caravans, tents and containers, as they are squeezed so relentlessly by the unfettered greed that has been driving Britain’s housing market for the last 20 years.
    Tony put the show on YouTube, accompanied by photos by Alan Lodge, and I hope you have time to listen/watch, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    HA!!! You must be reading my recent posts, Andy. I’m being forced out of my wonderful bungalow which doubles as my Video Studio where I have shot my recent programs. The property is being sold to make way for those four-story corporate luxury condo complexes that have spread through Southern California like a cancer. I am now priced-out of all possible rentals and roommate situations. My only alternative is to seek mobile shelter. I have begun an active search for an RV-Camper.
    There are areas in the Southwest (and in inland cities) where NOMADS have begun living in RVs and Campers. There is also a place called “SLAB CITY”. However, I would not recommend this place to anyone. The inhabitants are lawless, thievery is rampant and the Meth Labs are plentiful.
    YES. I will soon be what you call a “Traveller”, Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m so sorry to hear about greedy developers forcing you out, Sanchez, but impressed by your resilience and positive outlook. What are we to do, though? I regularly see videos here on Facebook showing the scale of the tent cities in L.A., which are just the tip of an iceberg of homelessness across the US, but there’s no fundamental challenge to the prevailing notion that there should be no limits on housing profiteering, and that anyone who isn’t rich exists simply to be screwed as much as possible.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Rick Tringale wrote:

    Looks bigger than our Toyota Corolla, Sanchez Montebello. Hope you get it! We are now at 3 Years, 3 Months, and 12 Days in the Corolla, but have 3 Fall and 3 Spring Semesters completed at the same time with only 2 Failed Classes. This Country of Mine is such a Shithole now. Stay Safe, Brother! 🙂 –Rick & Susana

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    Thank you Rick and Susana.
    Wow. Over 3 years. That’s quite a stretch of time. But also quite a considerable amount of savings in rental costs.
    Los Angeles in my home town. Some parts are shit holes, but more importantly, it has become overly crowded and the leaders of LA and Long Beach are allowing more and more of these mega-condos to be built. Thus, the reason for my departure from what was my dream house. Like other cities such as San Francisco, it has created this new generation of people that can no longer afford conventional housing.
    I stubbornly refuse to let this stop my work.
    This will be an entirely new experience for me. Doing all possible homework to prepare in-advance. Trying to keep my budget low-enough to be able to install solar panels to be off-grid as well. The sun is quite intense here in most parts of So Cal. and that addition to the vehicle will ensure stable power to keep my indie gig doing video producing/editing work alive.
    I wish you guys all the best!!! Be safe. 😉😉

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m frankly in awe of yours and Susana’s resilience, Rick, but as you say so accurately, “This Country of Mine is such a Shithole now.” As Sanchez notes, those in charge in L.A. and Long Beach have joined the new gold rush out of San Francisco, cannibalistically creating wealth by screwing every penny they can out of ordinary working people. Here in London it’s not unusual now for people to pay 70% of their income in rent.
    So taking Sanchez’s optimism as a starting point, there is now a “new generation of people that can no longer afford conventional housing” – a powerful denunciation of the result of the establishment’s laissez-faire approach to profiteering.
    But is it enough to hope that enough people squeezed like this can somehow manage by living in vehicles, putting the problem back on the individual, or is there some way it can become a political hot potato so that those with wealth and power are forced to address it as they damn well should.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Rick Tringale wrote:

    With America being such a massive surveillance state, as well as having the highest percentage of its population imprisoned in the 1st world, there is not a lot that can be done quickly. Those 2 conditions limit us. We do not wallow in our suffering though. We protest, make phone calls, and have meetings with our lawmakers to push for legislative limitations on rental rates. We vote for reform in the housing markets. We struggle to corral safe and affordable housing one day again. We persevere and push municipalities and law enforcement to allow us to exist in such an unhoused state versus ticketing and arrest. We seek better ways to live, and prop each other up. Being unhoused is definitely a 24 hour a day job.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rick. I’m just permanently frustrated that the scale of the problem isn’t reflected in greater pressure to demand change. Someone with money needs to step forward to take up the housing crisis as one of the most pressing issues of our time.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Nick Jewitt wrote:

    Thanks for all the effort you put into interesting posts and photos, Andy.
    It seems homeless people are everywhere including here in Bangor. These people don’t get counted in the allegedly low unemployment figures. I’m glad to say I sometimes see people talking to them and helping them out. Our local hostels are over subscribed but do their best.
    I do little enough activism on the street but today some of us are going to the seventh annual re-veiling of a statue of the explorer HM Stanley in Denbigh who was from that area. Some of us at least don’t appreciate the way he assisted Leopold to begin the exploitation of Congo and the mistreatment of its people. Local artist Wanda Zyborska has created a “condom”, which comes out each year and covers the statue for a short time, while speeches are made and songs are sung.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your support, Nick. Great to hear about your protest today, and thanks for the perspective on homelessness in Bangor. It’s very clearly a one-way street in modern Britain (and the US as well, of course), in which the only future currently imaginable is one in which more and more people end up homeless, their hopes of a room over their head strangled by the loss of social housing, by government benefit cuts and by a killer combination of preposterously high rents, agents’ fees, deposits and service charges.
    We need a revolutionary change, which obviously we won’t get from the Tories, even though they’re now claiming to care about a predicament almost entirely of their own making:
    But I don’t see Labour riding to the rescue either. Not only are a majority of Labour councils committed to the destruction of social housing and in bed with private developers, as the fall out from the NEC telling Haringey Council to drop its deal with Lendlease demonstrated, but Jeremy Corbyn’s fine talk about wanting to tackle housing injustice will mean less than nothing unless we don’t leave the EU and destroy our economy.
    For the Haringey story, see:

  11. Tom says...

    When I lived in Japan, I spent a lot of time in Tokyo. One night I went thru Tokyo Station. In one section (roughly 100 yards), it was crammed full of homeless people in sleeping bags, tents, cardboard boxes and more. It was around 11:30. The next morning around 6:30, it was completely empty. Where did all of them go? No idea. But maybe that’s one of the worst things about being homeless. I’ve been homeless twice, and hundreds of people walk by you as if you don’t exist.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, I wouldn’t wish that invisibility on anyone. It’s what homeless people say is the worst thing about their predicament – the refusal of a majority of people to even acknowledge that they exist.

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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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