Battle of the Beanfield

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Battle of The Beanfield
Date 1 June 1985
Location Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Causes High Court injunction prohibiting access to Stonehenge, large police operation with the claimed intent of enforcing the injunction.
Result The 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival was prevented from taking place amid violent, controversial and disputed events.
Parties to the civil conflict
Wiltshire Police
Injuries and Arrests
Injuries: Dozens[1]
Arrests: 537[1]
Injuries: Unconfirmed

The Battle of the Beanfield took place over several hours on 1 June 1985, when Wiltshire Police prevented a convoy of several hundred New Age travellers from setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival in Wiltshire, England. The police were enforcing a High Court injunction obtained by the authorities prohibiting the 1985 festival from taking place.[2] Around 1300 police officers took part in the operation against approximately 600 travellers.[1]

On the day the convoy of travellers encountered resistance at a police road block seven miles from Stonehenge. Police then smashed the windows of traveller vehicles and some travellers were arrested whilst the rest broke into an adjacent field. A stand-off consequently developed that persisted for several hours.[1]

Eventually the police launched a final attack during which the worst of the violence is purported to have taken place. According to The Observer, during this period pregnant women and those holding babies were hit by police with truncheons and the police were hitting "anybody (that) they could reach". When some of the travellers tried to escape by driving away through the fields, The Observer states that the police threw truncheons, shields, fire-extinguishers and stones at them in an attempt to stop them.[1]

Dozens of travellers were injured, 537 were eventually arrested.[1]

Two years after the event, a Wiltshire police sergeant was found guilty of Actual Bodily Harm as a consequence of injuries incurred by a member of the traveller's convoy during the Battle of the Beanfield.[3]

In February 1991 a civil court judgement awarded 21 of the travellers £24,000 in damages for alleged false imprisonment, damage to property and wrongful arrest.[3] However the traveller's £24,000 award was swallowed by their legal bill as the judge did not award them legal costs.[4]

Historical Context and Preceding Events[edit]

The general public has utilised Stonehenge for centuries as a place for casual visitors and a place for special occasions. Stonehenge’s solar alignment was discovered in the 1800s, which caused the focus of celebration to turn to the solstices. In 1901, Stonehenge was fenced off and an entry fee was imposed. However people, including neo-druids, continued to celebrate the solstices at Stonehenge.[5]

Festival goers inside the stone circle at the 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival.

In 1970's Britain a free-festival scene emerged. The People's Free Festival at Windsor ran from 1972 until 1974 when it was aborted by the authorities. In 1975 the festival switched to Watchfield but did not prove successful at the abandoned military site. Consequently The People's Free Festival at Stonehenge, which began in 1974, became prominent.

In 1984 the Department of Environment passed management of Stonehenge and the surrounding land to English Heritage.[5]

Many different groups came to the Stonehenge People’s Free Festival, including those belonging to pagan religious groups. The festival grew in size. Critics said that in 1984, the festival had resulted in the destruction of archaeological information and on the site itself, "holes had been dug in Bronze Age barrows for latrines and as bread ovens, motorcycles had been ridden over them, churning the surface. Fences had been torn down, and a thousand young trees cut down for firewood". [5] The clean-up cost upwards of £20,000, besides the priceless archaeological information that was lost.[5] Land owners also claimed that trespassing, recreational drug use and bathing naked in rivers had occurred. A civil high court injunction was consequently imposed prohibiting the proposed 1985 festival from taking place.[2]

The events[edit]

After staying the previous night in Savernake Forest, the Convoy on the morning of 1 June numbered up to 140 vehicles, most of them buses and vans converted into living spaces; it is estimated they contained 600 people.[2][1] The police had laid down an exclusion zone four miles (6.4 km) around the perimeter of Stonehenge, which the convoy hoped to breach. The Convoy met resistance when the police set up a roadblock near Shipton Bellinger about seven miles (11 km) from Stonehenge. This was achieved by tipping three lorry loads of gravel across the road. According to The Observer, the convoy evaded the main roadblock on the A303 by slipping down a side road but were then met with a second roadblock.[1] At this juncture the police claim that some traveller vehicles rammed police vehicles in an attempt to escape the roadblock.[6][2] At around the same time the police smashed the windscreens of traveller vehicles and arrested occupants.[6][1]

Most traveller vehicles broke into an adjacent field,[1] by driving through a hedgerow according to one source.[6] A stand-off consequently ensued.[2][1] Travellers made attempts to negotiate with police[2] but the officer in charge, Assistant Chief Constable Lionel Grundy, ordered that all travellers be arrested.[1] There were outbreaks of violence during which several members of the Convoy received head injuries. An ambulance was allowed through to take them to hospital.[4] Police Officer Bernie Lund, who was on scene, claimed that during the stand-off, petrol bombs and sticks were thrown at officers.[2] However travellers who were also present have strongly refuted claims of serious violence towards police. Alan Lodge told the BBC, "The idea that this is two opposing armies having a pitch battle in a field in medieval style is completely false - this was an ambush that happened on a small, mild mannered bunch of people - hippies, for God's sake".[2]

At 7pm officers in riot gear entered the field and launched a final attack.[1][4] Pregnant women and those holding babies were hit by police with truncheons according to The Observer,[1] who also noted journalist Nick Davies stating that police were hitting "anybody (that) they could reach".[1] When some travellers tried to escape by driving away through the field police allegedly threw truncheons, shields, fire-extinguishers and stones at them to stop them.[1] The Observer and The Independent report that traveller's vehicles were smashed and set on fire.[1][7]

The large majority of the travellers, over 500, were arrested.[1][4]

Most independent eyewitness accounts of the events relate that the police used violent tactics against men, women and children, including pregnant women; and purposely damaged the vehicles used by the convoy.[8][9] Official figures said eight police officers and sixteen travellers were taken to hospital with minor injuries.[citation needed] One traveller suffered from a fractured skull[citation needed]

The miners' strike ended earlier in the same year, and comparison was made[by whom?] with the tactics that were used by the police during the strikes. The news section of the Police Review of 8 June 1985 reported "The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners' strike were implemented."[citation needed]

There were insufficient holding cells in local jails to hold all those arrested. Convoy members were transported throughout the Midlands and even to northern England.[4] Not all children and parents ended up in the same region.[6] The Convoy vehicles were all towed to a single site where they could be claimed after their owners were released from custody.[citation needed]

Media coverage[edit]

Photographic evidence of the police action is extremely scant. Freelance photographer Ben Gibson, engaged by The Observer that day, was arrested on charges of obstruction. Although he was later acquitted, the arrest removed him from the scene. The Observer later claimed to have lost the negatives during an office move. [10][unreliable source?]

Another freelance photographer, Tim Malyon, was chased from the field by police.[10][unreliable source?]

ITN Reporter Kim Sabido was present and recorded a piece-to-camera in which he claimed that he had witnessed "some of the most brutal police treatment" that he had seen in his entire career as a journalist. He also remarked on the number of people that had been struck by police including those "holding babies in their arms". He felt that an inquiry should be held into what had happened. Sabido later claimed that when he went back to the ITN library to look at the rushes, most of the footage had "disappeared, particularly some of the nastier shots.[11]

Some of the missing footage has since been rediscovered, and was incorporated into the Operation Solstice documentary shown on Channel 4 in 1991.

In interview, Sabido later summarised the event;


Nick Davies reported for The Observer:

Legal action[edit]

After nearly six years, a verdict was given in the court case taken out by twenty-four of the travellers, who had sued Wiltshire Police for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage as a result of the damage to themselves and their property.[3]

In the main, they were only able to take action against the police force – it proved difficult to pursue charges against individual police officers as none of the riot police involved had been wearing identifying numbers. Despite this, one police sergeant was convicted of an assault occasioning actual bodily harm on a member of the Convoy.[3]

The police radio had been recorded, and was used in evidence against Wiltshire Police. It was to prove inconclusive as there were gaps in the recording at vital points.

The travellers had left from Savernake Forest, land managed by the Earl of Cardigan (David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan) on behalf of his father, the Marquess of Ailesbury. Lord Cardigan decided to follow the convoy on motorbike, together with his friend John Moore.

Lord Cardigan witnessed the events, and later testified in court against Wiltshire Police, saying that he had seen a heavily-pregnant woman being "clubbed with a truncheon." He was criticised as an unreliable witness by several national newspapers. On Monday 3 June 1985, the editorial in The Times even went as far as to state that being "barking mad was probably hereditary", probably a reference to a previous Lord Cardigan's involvement with the Charge of the Light Brigade. Lord Cardigan started legal action against The Times, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror for their attacks on him, and received written apologies and damages from each.

Lord Cardigan also described how he was approached by the police the following day, who wanted permission to remove travellers who were still at Savernake:[10]

After four months of hearings, twenty-one of the travellers were successful in their case and were awarded £24,000 in damages. The judge refused to award them their legal costs, thereby significantly reducing the amount received.

Their barrister, Lord Gifford QC (Anthony Maurice Gifford, 6th Baron Gifford), stated "It left a very sour taste in the mouth."[10][unreliable source?]

Aftermath and Legacy[edit]

Following the events of 1985, the four-mile blockade of Stonehenge was maintained for future summer solstices.[2] Consequently conflict between police and those trying to reach Stonehenge continued to take place every year.[2] Neo-druid leader Arthur Uther Pendragon was arrested on each and every summer solstice between 1985 and 1999 whilst trying to access Stonehenge.[2] In the summer of 1988 around 130 people were arrested and in 1989 that figure rose to 260.[2]

For the 1999 summer solstice English Heritage granted "limited access" to Stonehenge to neo-druids. This access permission was later rescinded when 200 New Age travellers broke on to the site. 20 people were arrested.[12]

The Summer Solstice once again being observed at Stonehenge, in 2005.

From 2000 onwards English Heritage have operated an "open access" policy to Stonehenge on summer solstices with very few arrests or conflict with police reported.[2] In 2014, approximately 37,000 people observed the summer solstice at Stonehenge.[13]

Cultural references[edit]

Singer Roy Harper's song "Back to the Stones" refers to the Battle of the Beanfield. It was recorded in 1989 and appears on his 1993 live album Unhinged.

The Levellers' song "Battle of the Beanfield", from their 1991 album Levelling the Land, was inspired by the Battle of the Beanfield.

Dahm the Bard makes a reference to the event in his song, "Sons and Daughters (of Robin Hood)", in his 2012 Antlered Crown and Standing Stone album.

British progressive-rock band Solstice wrote a song which comments on the Battle. "Circles" is found on their 1997 album of the same name, and includes what sounds like reporting from the battle, with Kim Sabido's voice-over.

The song "Itinerant Child", by Ian Dury and Chaz Jankel, which appears on the 1998 album Mr. Love Pants, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, was inspired by Dury's experiences during the incident.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "The Observer - Twenty years after, mystery still clouds Battle of the Beanfield"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "BBC - Summer solstice: How the Stonehenge battles faded"
  3. ^ a b c d Hippies clash with police at Stonehenge (1985), BBC News archive Accessed 22 January 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e What happened next? | From the Observer | The Observer
  5. ^ a b c d Chippindale, Christopher (June 1986). "Stoned Henge: Events and Issues at the Summer Solstice, 1985". World Archaeology. Perspectives in World Archaeology 18 (1): 38–58. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979988. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Ed. Andy Worthington, 2005, The Battle of the Beanfield, Enabler Publications, ISBN 0-9523316-6-7
  7. ^ a b The Independent - Twenty years on, the peace-loving festival fans still bear the scars of the Battle of the Beanfield, by Arifa Akbar, Accessed 01 August 2014.
  8. ^ The Battle of the Beanfield, Edited by Andy Worthington Accessed 22 January 2008.
  9. ^ "Police damage to vehicles" BBC article
  10. ^ a b c d The Battle of the Beanfield, In A Criminal Culture? by Jim Carey, Accessed 22 January 2008.
  11. ^ Operation Solstice documentary, first broadcast on Channel 4 in 1991
  12. ^ "BBC - Stonehenge visits cancelled"
  13. ^ "BBC - Summer solstice celebrated at Stonehenge"
  14. ^ Birch, W. Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (2011), London: Pan Books, ISBN 0-330-5114-83, p.329.

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