Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice: On the 28th Anniversary of the Last Free Festival, Check Out “Festivals Britannia”

So today, as 14,000 revellers at Stonehenge faced a rainy summer solstice morning, with some of them, at least, echoing the reverence that those who built this giant sun temple over 4,000 years ago had for the great axis of the solar year, many of those in attendance may not have known of the long struggles that enabled them to party in the world’s most famous stone circle, or of the free festival that sprawled across the fields opposite Stonehenge every June for 11 years from 1974 to 1984, or of the brutal suppression, in 1985, of the convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental activists heading to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, who were violently set upon and “decommissioned” in what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

Those who want to know more can check out my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, and can also find out more via my most recent article on the Beanfield, three weeks ago, and my recent radio interview, which I posted yesterday. However, I believe this is also an excellent opportunity for people to watch “Festivals Britannia,” a 90-minute long BBC4 documentary by Sam Bridger, first broadcast in December 2010, which I’m posting below in six parts, as available on YouTube.

This is an important programme, with excellent commentators and some astounding footage (including dreamlike Super-8 footage from the ’70s by Chris Waite, and equally dreamlike images from the last great gathering of the tribes, at Castlemorton in 1992), even though watching it was a rather surreal experience, as its narrative arc seemed to be drawn entirely — but without credit — from Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: On Eve of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, Andy Worthington Discusses the Battle of the Beanfield and Dissent in the UK

Listen to my interview here!

A month ago, I was delighted to meet up with — and be interviewed by — an old friend and colleague, Tony Gosling, a journalist and broadcaster, who also has a long-established mail order service, Culture Shop, making videos and books on important political topics available. For many years, Tony has sold videos and DVDs of “Operation Solstice,” the documentary about the showdown between new age travellers and Margaret Thatcher’s government that took place on June 1, 1985, in a field in Wiltshire, when police from six forces and the MoD savagely “decommissioned” a convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental and anti-nuclear activists, assaulting men, women and children, and destroying vehicles.

The government succeeded in preventing the convoy from reaching their planned destination, Stonehenge, where they had intended to establish the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival — a huge free event that was a gigantic inspiration for all kinds of dissidents, but was, of course, feared and despised by the establishment.

After I published my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, in June 2004, a social history of Stonehenge that was, essentially, a wider British counter-cultural history, in which the Battle of the Beanfield was pivotal, I swiftly followed up with another book, focusing specifically on The Battle of the Beanfield, through original essays, transcripts of interviews with people involved on the day, and excerpts from the police log, which was published on the 21st anniversary of the Beanfield in 2005. Read the rest of this entry »

Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society

27 years ago, a convoy of vehicles driven by refugees from the chronic unemployment of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain — commonly described as new age travellers, but also including environmental and anti-nuclear activists and land reformers — was set upon by police from six counties and the MoD, en route to Stonehenge, to establish what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, an anarchic annual event that drew tens of thousands of visitors every June.

Cornered in a field by the A303, the convoy members — including women and children — were eventually set upon by the police in a distressingly violent manner, albeit one that was typical of life under Thatcher, bearing remarkable similarities to the violence meted out to the miners at Orgreave, in South Yorkshire, the year before.

I was one of those visitors to the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983 and 1984, and the freedom and anarchy I experienced there helped to shape my belief that there are many different ways to live, and that dissent is a vital part of any functioning democracy. However, in the year that followed the Battle of the Beanfield, laws were implemented to try to make sure that the right to gather freely — and in huge numbers — would never be able to happen again, although they were not immediately successful. The new age traveller culture was severely damaged, but dissent reemerged unexpectedly in the form of the acid house movement , or rave culture, and was followed by the road protest movement, and groups like Reclaim the Streets, which helped to fuel a worldwide anti-globalization movement by the late 1990s. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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