The Stonehenge Free Festivals were the most important self-organised British music festivals of the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were a vibrant expression of the counterculture of the period, uniting New Age travellers, neo-pagans, squatters, political activists and peace loving hippies. Later, many punks began to attend as well. Entry to the Festival was free, and the bands played for free.

When and where[]

The first, very small Free Festival at Stonehenge is reported to have been in summer 1972, and to have been a gathering of people from the West Country of England who went there to celebrate the Summer solstice. The next one was in 1974, planned at a meeting at the last Windsor People’s Free Festival, and this was followed by a series of free festivals on sites next to the stones until the last one in 1984. The festival was always in the second part of June, so that festival-goers could experience the Summer solstice, with the sunrise over the stones. Fences were erected round the stones in 1977, but, for some years after, festival-goers and members of a modern Druid Order continued to be allowed free access on the eve/morning of the solstice.

Drugs and commerce[]

Although there were always lots of people smoking hashish and grass or taking acid trips, the early festivals were almost completely without hard drugs, and there was always a chill-out tent with helpers for people who were having bad trips. At the start, there was also little commerce on site, with groups such as the Hari Krishnas (and BIT ?) offering free food. Later festivals saw an increase in the sale of french-fries, sausages, veggie-burgers, beer and cider, and in the number of “head shop” stands. There was also an increase in the use of hard drugs and the number of dealers on-site, although the organisers and Festival Welfare Services tried to pursuade people not to get involved in the hard drug scene. Sometimes, people took it into their own hands to drive hard drug dealers off the site and trash their vehicles.

Numbers of festival-goers[]

The festival grew from about 3,000 people in 1975, 15,000 in 1980, about 35,000 in 1982, to 65,000 at the last festival in 1984. In 1977, about 1,400 people went into the stones for the solstice sunrise. In 1984, it was less than a thousand. This shows a change in the character of the festival. At the 1984 Festival, an Alternative Free Festival was set up on part of the site in an attempt to capture the non-commercial, hard-drug free character of the earlier festivals.

The Battle of the Beanfield[]

The attempt to stage the Festival in 1985 was thwarted by the poice, who, on June 1st, diverted the convoy of New Age travellers and mobile festival-goers into a field near Saverake Forest and trashed the vehicles, the so-called “Battle of the Beanfield.”.

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