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A Modest Proposal

A MODEST PROPOSAL for a workable Stonehenge Festival – by Val Dobson
(From Noname 3, Autumn ’88)

After the last Stonehenge Festival (held in 1984) the National Trust (owners of the land on which it was held) made a big fuss about the expense of clearing the rubbish from the site – this expense was used as one of the excuses for banning the festival he next year. (The real reasons for banning were deeply political, but that’s another story, not to be told for years, if ever.)
I was there, and there certainly was a lot of garbage left behind – along with a dozen trashed vehicles, a great pile of cans & lots of glass. Any organisation with imagination and flexibility would have trucked all this stuff along to scrapyards and recycling centres, exchanging it for wodges of cash. However, ‘flexibility’ and ‘imagination’ do not describe the NT, so the probability is that all this valuable scrap simply got taken to the nearest rubbish tip (followed, no doubt, by a chortling convoy of scrap-dealers.)
Wondering about the fate of this rubbish got me to thinking about the internal economic system of the Stonehenge Festival. Or rather, the lack of a system. Generally regarded by the British press and by politicians as a flagrant example of layabout, dole-scrounging, workshy anarchy, the Festival was actually a Thatcherite’s dream. It was the epitome of the free market principle – anything and everything could be bought, sold or traded, with no taxes, no VAT, no bureaucracy, no paperwork, no controls. The permafrost heart of the Adam Smith Institute would have melted at the sight – had anyone from that august body actually bothered to soil their shiny shoes and their shiny souls by visiting the event.
For anyone who wanted to make money (legally or otherwise), the opportunities were all there – they needed no more than a little stock or capital. Lots of people made it a working holiday, making enough money to keep them off the dole for weeks or months afterwards, and a few earned enough to give them the means to stay off the dole for life. There were some ‘trickledown’ benefits too – the local Quakers ran a food stall which raised hundreds of pounds for charity.

That led me to thinking about what might have happened had the authorities taken a different attitude to the Festival. Certainly, providing the basic services had been quite a burden financially – toilets, piped water and rubbish clearance doesn’t come cheap – but why couldn’t the annual Solstice gathering been seen as an opportunity rather than a problem? There was no logical reason why the National Trust, English Heritage & Wiltshire County Council could not have joined forces, worked to make the Festival a success AND recouped their expenses as well, by running a variety of commercial ventures in and around the Festival.
For instance, they could have followed the Quakers’ example and opened a stall, selling everything from garbage bags to guide books (to save costs, staffing could have been by volunteers – there would have been no shortage).
Or they could have run a tent-hire business.
Or a mobile laundrette.
Or run their own bus service to and from the Festival.
Or sold firewood culled from NT forests (this would have stopped people cutting live trees in the nearby woods).
Or run raffles (“Today, your chance to win a signed first edition copy of New View Over Atlantis!”)
Or sent people around with buckets to collect money – 10 pence each from 50,000 people adds up to an awful lot.
Or run an on-site recycling centre, buying scrap metal, glass and other resalable rubbish from people (this would have solved most of the garbage problem).
Or organised guided tours for the many foreign visitors (“…and now we come to Mrs. Normal’s famous Cafe, where you will have the opportunity to sample real English tea in a unique atmosphere…”).
Or sold souvenir T-shirts.
Or struck a deal with Alan Lodge and put his photographs of the Festival on postcards.
Or sold licences to the commercial hamburger stalls.
Or sold the TV rights (“…now HEX-TV takes you entirely live over to Stonehenge, England, where we join a worldwide audience in watching the 5,000 year-old Solstice Summer Ceremony, performed by the ancient and magical Druid Priests of Albion…”).

…Or indeed anything at all.
The Festival was only seen as a ‘problem’ by the National Trust, English Heritage and (most especially) the Tory government. All that was needed was a shift in viewpoint, a change of perspective. There are lots of annual public gatherings in Britain – Cowes Week, Derby Day, the Edinburgh Festival, the Welsh Eisteddfod, the Notting Hill Carnival, Blackpool Beach on any sunny summer Bank Holiday and so on. All are welcomed and supported by the local authorities concerned, chiefly because of the large amounts of extra revenue that they generate. So why can’t the Stonehenge Festival join the list?

Links: (Note: I haven’t yet checked if any of them still work)
The Stonehenge Campaign:
The Stone Circle Webring:
Photographer Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge (mentioned above), now has his own website. He was the nearest the Stonehenge Festival had to an ‘official photographer’. Included on his site is a page giving his eye-witness account, with photographs, of 1985’s Battle of the Beanfield, when the Festival had just been banned; out-of-control riot police attacked a peaceful Convoy making its way to Stonehenge. Read it now: