Glastonbury's alternative community
1970 to 2000 and beyond
A5 Paperback, 390 pages fully illustrated
Published June 2014
Re-printed with revisions December 2014
Special price for copies bought from this website:
Front cover picture: Glastonbury Tor on Millennium night 31st December 1999, photograph by Richie Bond.
This book is the story of Glastonbury’s alternative community, and its growth since the late 1960s when the first ‘flower people’ began to arrive in the fabled Vale of Avalon. Today perhaps a third of the town’s population, and more than a third of its High Street shops, have come as part of this extraordinary influx.
As with many small country towns, Glastonbury’s traditional market economy has all but disappeared. What has replaced it, however, is very different from anything that has happened elsewhere.
This change has been a fascinating process, full of side-plots and sub-plots, struggles, conflicts, excitement and fun. It is chronicled here by someone who has taken part in much of it and who remains enthusiastic – after more than 40 years – about the on-going results of what has happened.
The nearby summer festival that has taken on Glastonbury’s name is well known; but this is only one strand of the story. The town itself has its own tale that has been waiting to be told. Here it is.
Some of it answers long-standing questions, some of it is surprising, and all of it put together makes a difference in the world.
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2: Glastonbury Fair
3: The View over Atlantis
4: The New Glastonbury Community
5: Hippy Invasion
6: Glastonbury High Street and the Assembly Rooms Trust
7: Seventh of the Seventh Seventy Seven (and other festivals)
8: The Goddess
9: The Great Pyramid of Pilton
10: Gog Theatre Co-operative
11: Carry Greenham Home
12: The Greens are Gathering
13: Friends of the Assembly Rooms
14: Glastonbury Camps
15: Greenlands Farm
16: The Glastonbury Experience
17: Somerset County Council and the new Assembly Rooms Trust
18: Stonehenge or Bust!
19: Harmonic Convergence
20: Srila Tirthapada
21: The Call
22: It’s All Part of the Process
23: The Realm of the 23,000 Things
24: The Community and the Arts Centre
25: A Centre for Spiritual Learning
26: Let’s not have an Arthurian Theme Park
27: Eighth of the Eighth Eighty Eight (and other travellers’ issues)
28: Glastonbury CND Festival
30: Community Share Ownership
31: The Assembly Rooms of Glastonbury Ltd and the Creative Arts Group
32: A New Age Mecca
33: Children’s World
34: The Guardians at the Well
35: Sound Proof
36: Community Development Trust
38: Reverend James Turnbull
39: The Glastonbury Music Scene
40: Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts
41: Millennium Eve
42: When does a Lifestyle become a Way of Life?
43: King’s Hill Bender Community
44: Glastonbury Conferences
45: South West Regional Development Agency
46: Assembly Rooms – The Great Debate
47: Agenda 23
48: Beyond the Year 2000
Extract (from Chapter 1):
Many visitors to the Tor have had strange psychic experiences including suddenly leaping into the air, feelings of weightlessness and disorientation, or disappearing into subterranean passages. In 1969 a group of night-shift workers saw a saucer-shaped object hover over the Tor, and later, a big fiery-red ball appeared over the hill and then moved rapidly over Glastonbury. In 1970 a police officer saw eight egg-shaped objects in formation over the Tor. (1)
These latter incidents were reported in the local newspaper – and were no doubt discussed enthusiastically by visitors on their night-time forays around the Tor and Chalice Hill. It was about the same time that Patrick Benham noted a centre-page spread in the Bristol Evening Post:
According to the report a group of unconventionally-attired ‘hippies’ were living in a gipsy caravan somewhere near the Tor … [for them] Glastonbury was a ‘power-centre’ at the point of intersection of lines of force known as ‘leys’ … Along these power-lines travelled UFOs, the vehicles of advanced extra-terrestrial beings … dimly remembered as ‘Gods’ in tribal myths around the world. The Gods were returning, and it was incumbent on mankind to respond with a changed lifestyle and a changed consciousness to meet the new dispensation of the Aquarian Age. (2)
Such ideas were spreading through the writings of the twentieth century antiquarian John Michell, and were being actively propagated by the London-based magazine Gandalf’s Garden. In the Spring of 1969 Gandalf’s Garden published several articles relating to Glastonbury, including one by Geoffrey Ashe who would soon be living in the town:
[Glastonbury’s] future is greater than its past. The phase of ruin and silence is ending. Britain will begin to be reborn when Glastonbury is. The giant Albion will begin to wake when his sons and daughters gather within the enchanted boundary, and summon him with the right words, the right actions, a different life. (3)
The band of Glastonbury hippies was still sufficiently small at any one time that they could all clamber over the wall of the Abbey grounds together, and all find room to sleep in the little wooden shelter just below the ruins. Nevertheless, by that December The Guardian was able to report that “their tents and flutes” were spread across outlying fields as well; and “Glastonbury has had a remarkable year. Hundreds of young people … have hitch-hiked and tramped into town from all over Britain, Europe and even America since March, looking for ‘vibrations’.” At the same time, “The arrival of the pilgrims … has led to paroxysms of righteous horror from some of the town elders.” (4)
By 1970 Glastonbury’s first alternative café, ‘The Temple of the Stars,’ had opened in the Lamb car park at the bottom of the town. John Michell painted a mural on one of the walls. As a business venture it did not last long however; by the following year it had reverted to being a transport café, ‘The Abbey Grill.’ (5)
It was in 1970 that the new counter-culture arrived in force in the Somerset countryside. In June the Bath Festival of Blues, having flown the previous summer from its modest nest-like beginnings in a park in the centre of Bath, landed at the Bath & West Showground near Shepton Mallet. The bands included the Byrds, Led Zeppelin, Country Joe and the Fish, Colosseum, Frank Zappa … 150,000 people turned up, on a site designed to cater for 50,000. The traffic jams were fifteen miles long. (6)
This had little direct effect on the town of Glastonbury, but Michael Eavis from nearby Worthy Farm, with his girlfriend Jean, slipped through a hole in the hedge to get in free. Afterwards he said:
There were so many interesting people, who seemed to be having such fun. I thought I must be missing out on something playing skittles and so on. (7)
Within three months there was a ‘mini-rock festival’ at Worthy Farm, starring Marc Bolan and T.Rex. Entrance was £1 including free milk ... The following year of course, Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill arrived and set in motion the legendary Glastonbury Fair of 1971.
(1) Frances Howard-Gordon, ‘Glastonbury – Maker of Myths,’ p 9.
(2) Patrick Benham, ‘The Avalonians,’ p 270.
(3) Geoffrey Ashe, ‘Glastonbury: Key to the Future,’ quoted in Patrick Benham, ‘The Avalonians,’ p 271.
(4) Jon Pepper, ‘The hippie Vale of Avalon,’ The Guardian, 20 December 1969.
(5) Conversation with Jan Oakley (2014).
(6) George McKay, ‘Glastonbury, A Very English Fair,’ p 94.
(7) Quoted in ‘The Radiator’ magazine (CND in the south and west), midsummer edition 1982, p 7.