Kenneth Marks – 1978 Speech on Festivals at Stonehenge

Below is the text of the speech made by Kenneth Marks, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, in the House of Commons on 31 July 1978.

I wish to thank the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) for his unfailing courtesy in his dealings with my Department about solstice events at Stonehenge —one of our most important monuments, if not the most important monument—and for his generally understanding attitude to the difficulties that face us all—government, local authorities, the police and local people—in this matter. Although the hon. Gentleman has spoken strongly tonight, I agree that he is justified in so doing.

Last year’s debate on Stonehenge ended at 5 a.m. This debate will end at about 1 a.m. Perhaps tonight we should have invited the druids and the festival folk to come to listen to this debate and then to go on to the Terrace to watch the sun rise between the stones of County Hall and St. Thomas’s Hospital.

In my speech almost exactly a year ago I said:

“I should like to make it clear, to avoid misunderstanding, that the Department has neither encouraged nor condoned the free festival at Stonehenge. It is unauthorised and entirely unwelcome.”—[Official Report, 27th July 1978; Vol. 936, c. 903–4.]

That is still the case, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the need to try to improve the position.
Let me try to summarise what happened this year. The Department erected a dannert wire triangle around the monument of Stonehenge. The Wiltshire police guarded the monument from 16th June until 27th June. The vanguard of the festival people arrived on 16th June and again encamped in a field to the east of the Fargo Plantation owned by the National Trust and farmed by Mr. Wort. Most of the time it was wet and rather chilly. This probably kept the attendance this year to about 2,000.

The site of the encampment is of archaeological importance as there are burial mounds there and it forms part of the “cursus”. Less damage was done to farm and woodland than in 1977—the National Trust suggest approximately £1,000 worth. The Trust has promised to provide a detailed costing in a few weeks’ time. The Stonehenge circle was open ​ and free to all on the day following the summer solstice; the druids held a midday ceremony there and this was followed by a gathering attended by about 250 festival folk. All passed off uneventfully. Probably because the larger recumbent stones were covered with tarpaulin, negligible damage appears to have been done to the monument. By 27th June only a handful of festival folk were left and the dannert wire around the main site was removed on 28th June.

Although the free festival can be said to have passed off without damage to the monument or to life and limb, no one who was involved with events there can be entirely satisfied. Certainly not my Department, which had to spend thousands of pounds for police services and on the erection of dannert wire which made the immediate area look like a concentration camp; not the general public, who saw all this; not the police, who had to deploy precious manpower day after day on patrolling trespassers; not those attending the festival, who claim that, against their will, they had to squat illegally in insanitary conditions; not the National Trust, which saw its property damaged; and finally, but by no means least, not the tenant, Mr. Wort, whose farming was again disrupted for three weeks and who bore the brunt of the damage.

The hon. Member for Salisbury suggested an ex gratia payment to the tenants of the Trust whose land was invaded, in particular Mr. Wort. I have every sympathy with Mr. Wort and others whose property was damaged. As I sought to make clear last year, my Department is under no legal obligation to them and to make payments to them raises issues of considerable importance. Nevertheless, I accept the hon. Member’s argument that there are very special circumstances in this case and although I can give no firm commitment about it—there will have to be a number of negotiations—I shall certainly consider very carefully with my noble Friend Lady Birk what he has said and shall do all I can. I can go no further at present, but I hope to receive a detailed costing from the National Trust soon.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that we should let these people on to the Department’s land. We considered this carefully, and this year we did not fence all the Department’s land, but the festival ​ folk still did not go on it. There are problems. There is no water, though I expect that that could be dealt with. It is archaeologically very sensitive and is very close to the monument.

The hon. Gentleman has also suggested that a form of licensing system is the answer to the problems, but that was not the view of the majority of members of the working group on pop festivals in their second report published in January. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House on 19th January that the Government share that view.

This sort of trouble is so rare nowadays that it would be inappropriate to use the Night Assemblies Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That could have repercussions on many other peaceful events throughout the country.
I said that the Department’s land is archaeologically sensitive, but so is the land on which the festival folk camped. Miss Mellor of the Festival Welfare Services, to which the Home Office has given a grant, through the National Council of Social Services, distributed maps showing the various barrows and processional routes. These, together with notes urging people to have consideration for the sites, were helpful and, as far as I know, there was no damage to any site.

There would appear to be three options for future years. The first would be to seek to mount a really massive police exercise in the hope of breaking the habit of annual festivals at Stonehenge. I do not think that such an exercise would be feasible or successful and I think this course must be rejected out of hand. The second is for my Department to continue to safeguard its land as in the past. Obviously, Stonehenge must be protected, not only from these festivals, but from all the other visitors. But as I have already acknowledged, the effect of doing this is less than satisfactory to all the parties involved.

The third option—and it is the one that I and my colleague propose to adopt—is to seek further discussions with the Trust and the local authorities, including the police, to see whether other arrangements for accommodating the festival can be made. Exactly how and where I honestly do not know. We shall, however, seek genuinely to find a solution.