Case Study – The Battle of the Beanfield

From the 1920s, crowds came to the monument on midsummer mornings, partly to watch the sunrise and partly to watch the activities of the neo-pagan modern “Druids”, who consider themselves to be the heirs to the pre-Roman Druids that Stukeley thought had built the monument (the first record of Druids holding meeting at the stones is from 1905 [Chippendale 1990, 29]).

A popular music festival was held at the site from 1974 onwards, and by 1983, there were over 800,000 visitors per year to the site, with a particular concentration of visitors wanting to be at the stones for the festival, which was held around thetime of the summer solstice.

Access to the stones was becoming increasingly difficult, with contested interpretations and perceived appropriation becoming matters of dispute. After disturbances at the 1984 festival, the National Trust and English Heritage declared that no festival would be allowed in 1985. The site was fenced off with barbed wire, a legally-enforceable “exclusion zone” was established four miles (6.4km) around Stonehenge, and a heavy police presence intended to dissuade would-be festival goers from attending.

During the afternoon of 1st June 1985 a convoy of 140 vehicles carrying approximately 450 people which was headed for Stonehenge was stopped at a police road block 11km from the site. It was then contained in a field before being attacked by up to 1000 police officers in what became known as “The Battle of the Beanfield”. Almost all of the members of the convoy were arrested, and numerous eye-witness accounts reported the police using violent tactics against men, women and children, including pregnant women (Worthington, 2005). The police were employing tactics that had been developed during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, the longest and bitterest industrial dispute in late twentieth century Britain.

The police denied all of the allegations against them, and because they had been wearing riot gear without distinguishing numbers it was almost impossible for individual police officers to be prosecuted. However, six years later, 21 people won cases against the police force (Wiltshire Police) for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage as a result of the damage to themselves and their property.

A further 200 arrests took place in 1986, at a time when Douglas Hurd, the then Home Secretary, described the travellers as "nothing more than a band of medieval brigands who have no respect for the law or the rights of others", and on June 5th, Margaret Thatcher told the nation that her government was "only too delighted to do anything we can to make life difficult for such things as hippy convoys" (Carey 1995).

By 1987 plans to hold further Festivals had been abandoned. English Heritage’s ban on access to the stones remained in place until 2000.