A Brief History of Green Gatherings
There is a long tradition in England of radical (and not so radical) groups holding summer camps or gatherings out of doors.
This was envisaged as a less formal opportunity for members and friends from across the UK to gather at a camp for four days with some invited speakers and entertainment. Glastonbury music festival was not running that year and Michael Eavis agreed to let the organisers use his Worthy Farm fields to hold the gathering from 7th-10th August.
Although attended by travellers and tipi folk it was primarily billed as an Ecology Party members event, the Saturday night concert was open to the public. For more detail see the Ecology Party Gatherings 1980 & 1981 article.
The gathering was extended to 6 days and billed as "The ecology movement as a whole is coming together" and was explicitly open to all, not just EP members. This was the occasion when a small group from Die Grünen (the German Green Party) presented an ornamental jug to the Gathering as a gift from Petra Kelly and Die Grünen.
In 1982 the gathering was titled "The Greens Are Gathering" and was again held at Worthy Farm at the end of July. Each of the six days was given a different theme. It featured a Green Women Gathering within it. It also produced a "Green Declaration" which was much debated by the many groups in attendance. It aimed to clarify and extend the political underpinnings of the green movement.
The Gathering now explicitly aimed to "bring together those involved in radical, alternative and green activities - ecologists, anti-nuclear campaigners, feminists, libertarians and many others working for a freer, safer and more just society".
The organising group changed its name to "The Green Collective" and was separate from the Ecology Party.
In January 1983 the Local Government Act introduced licensing requirements for all "public entertainments". This caused some problems for the Glastonbury Music festival as the local council imposed many conditions, but the Green Gathering was not an entertainments based ‘festival’ and the Collective argued that the law did not apply to it.
It was however one of the reasons Michael Eavis then asked the Collective not to hold any further gatherings in Pilton village, as "this village ain’t big enough for the two of us". Not wanting to leave the greens in the lurch he instead offered the Collective the opportunity to hold a gathering inside Glastonbury Festival. This later become known as the Green Fields.
Following a small is beautiful’ philosophy the Collective then began encouraging and supporting local gatherings and events that would maximise attendance and minimise travel time. A 1983 gathering was held at Glastonbury but moved to Lamberts Hill Farm. There were also gatherings planned in Torness, Upper Heyford, Kettering, Cambridge, Bradford, Barnstaple, Norwich, Cumbria, London, Sharpness, Greenham Common, Penwith, Gravesend, Glamorgan, Otmoor and Cheltenham.
It is unclear how many of these actually took place (and there may have been others - please let us know) but here is a selection of flyers for ones that did happen:
The Glastonbury Gathering was the largest in 1983. It was also plagued by heavy handed policing (see video in panel on right) and a virulent tummy virus which swept through the camp site.
In 1984 after much difficulty finding a legal site the main Gathering moved to the Molesworth RAF based, the proposed second cruise missile base in the UK. After the gathering many at the gathering remained on site establishing a Green Village. Joined by others this later became known as the Rainbow Fields Village. [see separate article on Molesworth]
The Molesworth Rainbow Village was finally evicted by the military in a massive operation early in 1985. Occupants were forced onto the road and formed a "Rainbow Convoy" which was hounded around the country until a final confrontation with police as they headed for a midsummer free festival at Stonehenge. Known as "the battle of the beanfield" this was an attack by police on the convoy - Wiltshire police were subsequently convicted of assault, criminal damage and wrongful arrest.
From 1984 with the government under Thatcher determined to stamp down on "alternative" lifestyles it became almost impossible to hold large gatherings. Regrouping, the Green Collective continued to organise the Green Fields area at the Glastonbury music festival, and The Green Roadshow to facilitate smaller local green gatherings.
A proposed European Green Gathering in East Anglia in 1985 had to be cancelled after the site owner withdrew following pressure from the police. Smaller local gatherings and events were able to be organised 'under the radar', especially if billed as a fete or fair which did not require a licence.
A list of the local gatherings and events extracted from the Green Collective Mailings and Green Line magazine diary and reports can be found in the article "Local Gatherings" - some of these may not have actually taken place, and others may have happened that were not listed - if you have memories of any of these events please do get in touch.
These Green Roadshow gatherings continue to this day - Andy Hope can still be found promoting Green Roadshow events at the Green Fields in Glastonbury Festival 35 years later.
In 1993 the Big Green Gathering Company was formed to restart the larger events. More detail on the Green Gatherings, the Green Collective and related matters can be found on this site tagged as 'gathering' and linked from the Green Gathering History Exhibition article. See also this article on the current Green Gathering website for more detail on the post 1993 Gatherings. The Green Gathering remains the primary interchange point for the broad green movement beyond the purely political Green Party.
Author: Roger CO
Published: Fri Jul 7 2017
Last updated: Tue Jan 23 2018