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History of the Stonehenge Free Festival :1972-1985.


"Could that many people gather together today with only minimal communal organisation and such a relatively small amount of trouble but so much pleasure? The question is irrelevant. They would never allow us."


The festival site in 1984 , a working exercise in collective anarchy.... © Herb

    The prehistoric monument at Stonehenge has long held a fascination for the mystically inclined- and so it was only natural that those within the counterculture who believed that the ancients situated their sites at places containing special powers would want to hold a festival there. After all , at their best -when the music was right , when the people acted in unison and that rare communal ecstasy came to pass -( if only fleetingly) festivals could conjure up a heightened awareness . It was this search for IT that inspired many freaks to take the annual pilgrimage to the Henge , in addition to the general feeling amongst hard core hippies that their psychedelic explorations happened to mimic the mindset of the ancients , it was also an excuse to get down and party hard for ( as the festival progressed until its demise in 1985) increasingly long amounts of time. So, for a significant minority, the stones of the Henge became THE place to be to hold the hippie/punk/anarchist/bikie/ traveller ritual of FESTIVAL.

   Of course , for those who actually managed the site, it was just the opposite- they saw the festival attendees as a nuisance , despoilers of the monument (which undoubtedly, some of the less responsible members were ) and they opposed their presence almost from the outset. This however did not became a major problem until the 1980s, when the festival began to burgeon in size. reaching its peak of 30.000 in 1984 . In 1985 the festival was banned by the loathsome Thatcher goverment and excessively heavy tactics took place on the road to the stones . This was mostly instigated by the police and violently inflicted on those who were travelling to attend the festival , resulting in the infamous " Battle of The Beanfield ".

   A good account of the busting and violent trashing of the 1985 travellers convoy enroute to Stonehenge can be found here as well as a detailed account of how the Thatcher government attempted to supress the traveller movement in the 1980s . More links to other sites can be found by browsing Chronology which now covers the festival from 1972-85

Photo above courtesy of Luke B go visit his photo site , plenty more nice festy pix

     We are proud of the contribution we have made to Andy Worthington's sociological history of Stonehenge and the free festival scene in the UK .This new book gives a fascinating insight into the various countercultural obsessions with the Stones and provides a variety of new perspectives to many of the key events surrounding the Henge, such as the Battle Of The Beanfield and the more recent attempts to hold a celebration at the Stones during the Solstice.

Find out more about this great book by clicking on the image on the left and visit the Heart of Albion Press web site .

Lucy Lepchani sent me this piece which typifies the mystical beliefs and fervour of the hard core freaks who attended the Henge .

Anarchy, and it worked. A living model of our deepest, collective, most radical ideals in action- as give-and-it-comes-back-threefold, the power of creativity, and joy in simply celebrating our human capacity to enjoy, were the pillars of our temporary civilisation.

Although it is more honest to describe the numinous dynamics of Stonehenge Free Festival in poetic, esoteric language, it won't convey the magic appropriately. Instead, consider within your minds eye, an assembly of people going about their laid-back, daily business- and increasing in numbers daily, and each with their will focussed on the intention to celebrate summer at it's zenith- to create a living environment without a hierarchy- to create that as a space where art, music, costume, flavour, conversation, ideas, surprise, relationship and joy underlied both daily routines and human rights- to honour traditions and ancestors we remembered in our psyches and imaginations, rather than via establishment history and dictates- to manifest at least some of the emerging ideaologies and practical skills that belonged both to those ancestors, and the emergent nature-oriented, ecological zeitgeist.

The Poison Girls Stonehenge 79

Photo © Big Steve

Amongst the manifest equality and the sensuality there was a sense both of ownership and belonging, that gave vision to those of us who were young, and hope and just and juicy reward for those who were pioneers of the festival, and other festivals, and any freedom-oriented movement for and by the people. If you are reading this with the wounds of propaganda about drugs and debauchery blocking your vision, remember- that actually, these things happen everywhere, and, if they happen in an environment such as Stonehenge near the solstice, people are much more likely to make empowered, benevolent, creative decisions and to carry them through with this energy.

Such fun and love and strength and laughter and exploration and friends old and new and exchange of ideas and art and rhythm and initiation and co-operation as are beyond words. Men and women and children and youth- all colours and ages.And the sun came up over the stones as if it were, as it is, the meaning of life.

Chaos reigned as townies came out for the solstice, and coachloads of city tourists, alien to our wide-awake eyes with their litter-dropping, alcohol puking, grubby minds and groping paws. There was never enough firewood for miles, and woodland got damaged by people who knew nothing about green wood not burning- the toilet facilities were a disgrace upon the local authority. Litter got left, although dozens stayed behind afterwards and cleared tons. When the show was over...

Could it happen again? Are too many people too far from love, trust and freedom to recreate it anywhere near as well? Or could we do it better - learn from our mistakes? The answers, I believe, are the secrets of our ancestors - ours if we seek them out in all the ancient sacred places, and realise them.

Lucy Lepchani

   

The encampment 1980, indicates the extent to which the festival had grown compared to the early years © Bodge

   The festival was a unique social experiment which, for the most part , worked . It was many things to many people , but ultimately , it was seen by the government of the day as a threat to entrenched property rights and public order. A large scale exercise in collective anarchy could not be seen to be working in practice. The authorities decided to destroy the festival , because it was too successful. The irony is that a government which was constantly declaring that it was a bastion of freedom and democracy was at the same time severely eroding the rights of a significant minority of its citizenry and alienating them even further from mainstream society .

Any parallels with present day UK , USA , everywhere ?


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The site has grown a great deal in the past few years and I have expanded/redesigned various sections several times in an attempt to accommodate the new material. Here and there this has not been particularly successful regarding easy navigation. if you come across any sections where it is hard to find stuff, or links are outdated, let me know and i'll have a go at sorting out the problems .

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Great White Shark



Henge Documents


Henge History : 1972-1984


Peace Convoy.1982-85

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Free rock festivals of the 70s and 80s

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