Anarchist Communist Group (Surrey)
Travellers’ life-style further threatened.
A brief history of The Grove at Stonehenge by a Surrey member of the ACG
The so-called ‘battle of the bean field’ lives long in the memories of the traveller community. The modern ‘war’ on ‘new age travellers’ was declared on the 1st of June 1985. Around 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence were in Wiltshire to “decommission” the convoy, which consisted of around 500 new age travellers, free festival-goers and environmental activists. The police were thwarted in their efforts to arrest the majority of the convoy via a roadblock and the travellers then occupied a pasture field and an adjacent bean field, establishing a stand-off that was only broken late in the afternoon, when, under instructions from on high, the police invaded the fields en masse, and violently assaulted and arrested the travellers — men, women and children — smashing up their vehicles to try and make sure this new nomadic movement would never be able to function again. The threat over intervening years has never gone away...Margaret Thatcher is a most hated figure among the traveller community.
The Drove is a by-way which runs yards from Stonehenge and is used by the travellers as well as tourists. This sanctuary for the traveller community was home for roughly 30 people, some of which had children who attended the local school at Lark Hill at the time I was there. However, the numbers would swell too many hundreds at celebration times, such as equinoxes, renewing ties with communities from all over the country. It has to be said that like most communities, it has a different mix of personalities which on occasion could become fiery but on the whole, it was party time.
The pressure on the traveller community to disperse is always around. There are frequent police ‘drive-bys’. Council notices to move on or face having your home being towed away. The army train up and down The Drove and there occasional inspections by National Trust operatives, NT are guardians of the land that surrounds the monument. Even the local farmer adds to the faces of disapproval. However, the biggest bully in terms of outright hostility to travellers is English Heritage. The Stonehenge monument site is a big earner, for instance, check this BBC report from April 2011.
Access to the stones is a ‘cash cow’ which garners support from all those intuitions that gain from it. There have been clashes between security guards and travellers protesting the right for free access to the stones and keep The Drove open (Save The Drove Facebook page).
In fact, the by-way was closed to motorised traffic on the 12th of July 2018. However, this was deemed illegal and overturned by a High Court judge but by the time of that ruling, the community had been further scattered.
So although The Drove is now open, the intended damage has been done. The proposal of a tunnel under Stonehenge, for traffic on the nearby A303, ratchets up still further travellers’ fears that The Drove will only open for limited period.