THE CENTRAL SOMERSET GAZETTE REVIEW: HOW HIPPIES HERALDED A WIERD, WONDERFUL ERA

Laura Linham, Central Somerset Gazette, November 27 2014.

The story of Glastonbury’s alternative community has been charted in a book by Bruce Garrard. Free State looks at the arrival of the first ‘flower people’ in the town, and how they changed the landscape of the small Somerset market town.

In his introduction, Mr Garrard writes: “The idea for the book originally came from Gareth Mills at The Speaking Tree – who suggested I write a history of alternative Glastonbury from the early 1970s to the present day – a sequel to Patrick Benham’s book The Avalonians.”

After years of hostility from locals, Mr Garrard sees the Millennium as the cut off point for his book – a time when he saw the attitudes towards the ‘alternatives’ in the town beginning to change, after they arranged for the Tor to be lit with flares. “The ‘alternatives’ had done a magnificent job, on behalf of the whole town,” he writes. “Something subtly changed after that.”

The book notes how the first reference to a ‘new style’ of visitor appeared in the pages of the Central Somerset Gazette in 1967, when we reported two ‘flower people’ being arrested for possession of drugs.

Before long, articles and stories about ley lines and extraterrestrial beings were being published by magazines like Gandalf’s Garden, who in the spring of that year published several articles about Glastonbury, including ones by Geoffrey Ashe and antiquarian John Michell. By 1970, the first ‘alternative’ cafe – The Temple of the Stars – had opened, and a farmer called Michael Eavis came up with the idea for a festival.

By the mid-1970s, alternative Glastonbury had crept into the High Street, with Pat Li Shun setting up shop selling clothes, cards and ‘unusual’ gifts. Next up was Gothic Image, which until the mid-1980s was ‘practically alone’ as a High Street landmark for new age visitors to the town. The owners were hauled up before the Chamber of Commerce and accused of bringing hippies into the town, while more mainstream businesses put signs on their doors saying ‘no hippies.’

Tucked away in a High Street courtyard, the Glastonbury Experience opened in 1978, quickly filling up with ‘alternative’ shops and cafes, and by the early 1980s the Goddess-worshippers began to arrive. As more traditional shops closed down, new, alternative businesses moved in.

But it wasn’t just the town centre that was seeing changes – by 1985, a hippy convoy had rolled into Greenlands Farm and tensions were reaching boiling point. The orchard at the farm filled up with travellers, with ivic leaders demanding the farm be cleared by riot police and townsfolk wanting the hippies ‘run out of town.’

That same year, The Declaration of the Free State of Avalonia was issued, along with its own newspaper, the Times of Avalonia, a satirical retort and act of ‘guerilla journalism’ in response to the coverage the community were getting in the local press.

By 1988 the town was establishing itself as a centre for spiritual learning with the creation of the Library of Avalon, and by 1990 wholefood and organic shops were beginning to pop up in the High Street.

The new decade saw the town centre shaping itself into a ‘new age mecca,’ with crystal shops and ethical clothing shops joining those already in the High Street and, in 1996, studies showed that more than 40 per cent of visitors coming to the town were here for the alternative attractions. And by the turn of the century, an uneasy peace had broken out between the traditional Glastonians and the ‘alternatives.’

“In 1982, there was an estimate that 10 per cent of the population of Glastonbury was alternative,” writes Garrard. “The total number of alternative-style shops in the High Street [now], and the size of the new wholefood shop compared to the co-operatively run venture of the early 1980s, would both tell roughly the same story.

“Glastonbury’s alternative population is now almost certainly larger than that of the remaining traditional Glastonians.”