On this day in history : 1st June 1985 – The ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ takes place, near to Stonehenge…. More than 500 arrests are made as travellers attempt to reach the stones to hold an illegal festival….

The Stonehenge Free Festival ran from 1974 to 1984 – it is estimated attendance had grown to about 100,000 annually…. In 1984 the Department of the Environment passed the management of Stonehenge to English Heritage – and because of damage incurred to the stone circle and its surrounding area a High Court injunction was imposed to prevent the 1985 festival from taking place….

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Stonehenge Free Festival 1984 – Salix aiba at en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The New Age Traveller culture had developed in the 1970s as an alternative lifestyle…. Some 140 vehicles, mostly buses and vans converted to living space and accommodating around 600 travellers, had spent the night at Savernake Forest…. The following morning they had set off in convoy for Stonehenge – and managed to avoid a first roadblock on the A303 by diverting down a side road…. However, 7 miles from their destination they encountered a second roadblock; 500 police officers, council vehicles and 15 tons of gravel dumped on the road barred their way….

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Photo credit : Alan Lodge – fair use

What actually happened next is somewhat disputed…. The police claimed their vehicles were rammed; stones, lumps of wood and even petrol bombs were hurled…. Whereas those in the convoy described how they were ambushed; the windows of their vehicles smashed, they were beaten with truncheons and women were dragged along by their hair….

Some 200 fled into a nearby field, many were women and young children…. The police told of how a stand-off commenced…. Through negotiation some of the travellers left peacefully around 4 hours later…. However, at around 7pm a second police attack took place as some travellers tried to escape by driving across the fields…. It is claimed the police threw truncheons, shields, stones and even fire extinguishers to try and prevent them….

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Photo credit : Tim Malyon – fair use

This was the first test of English Heritage’s ban on Midsummer festivals at Stonehenge…. Around 1,300 police from 6 different forces took part…. In total 537 arrests were made and 24 people needed hospital treatment; 16 travellers and 8 police officers…. A carnage of damaged vehicles and fires were left behind….

Two years later a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of causing actual bodily harm…. In February 1991 Winchester Crown Court awarded £24,000 to 24 travellers who had sued the police for wrongful arrest and damage to property…. The police were cleared of wrongful arrest….and the £24,000 awarded was swallowed up by the legal bill of the travellers, as legal costs had not been awarded…. In 2000 English Heritage lifted the ban that had been imposed on festivals at Stonehenge…. Druids and revellers now enjoy limited access….

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Photo credit : Simon.Wakefield via flickr

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