Festival Eye ’90
To the people who go to Stonehenge for the spring and autumn Equinox’s and the winter Solstice, Wally Hope is a legendary figure. It was he who inspired the gatherings at Stonehenge that became the Stonehenge People’s Free Festival, which itself became the nurturing ground for a new travelling culture. Tim Abbott, who knew him, remembers…
More often than not, centuries pass before myths and ledgends come to take their full significance. In modern British folklore there are few characters who have evoked as much significance in as short a time as had Philip Russell, better known as Wally Hope.
I first met him at the Windsor Free Festival in ’73 where he was disillusioned by what was already happening to the “Peoples Free Festival”, notably the sight of someone going haywire on the gate demanding money from traders for the “free” festival.
As well as being a psychedelic anarchist he had a strong traditionalist streak, and was upset that the Queen’s back garden should be littered and fouled. He had a vision that it could be done in a purer way.
Later that autumn he arrived at my father’s vicarage in Wiltshire with a vision of a massive tribal gathering at Stonehenge the following summer. The Beatles and Bob Dylan were to be invited and so were coach loads of air stewardesses to join in the fun.
He left to spend the winter in Cyprus to meditate, dance in the sun and will it to fruition. He had been orphaned as a child and was due to inherit land and property in Hertfordshire when he reached the age of 30. He had a small income from a trust fund which gave him freedom to travel.
In the spring of ’74 he returned in a multi-coloured Ford Cortina with a tipi on the roof and spent the next couple of months travelling and writing to all major world leaders – Nixon, Mao, ‘Wilson’ – and stewardesses from every major airline, as well as Jefferson Airplane and friends.
In the event, a few hundred people turned up and were entertained by Zorch, a rather noisy generator, and occasional visits from the local constabulary. Rhonan O’Rhailly of Radio Caroline sat in his limousine suffering badly from hayfever and muttering about private television coverage of the proceedings being broadcast to Europe from an aircraft above the North Sea. Those who were not queuing at the free food kitchen were sold over-priced strawberries by Diane Cilento, a recent wife of Sean Connery.
At the end of July, the Department of the Environment took action to have those in residence removed by issuing a summons against Phillip Wally, Kevin Wally, Sir Walter Wally, numerous others (all with the surname Wally!) and Wally Woof the dog.
The case was heard in the majestic surroundings of the High Court in early August and the press featured the story during the “silly season”. On execution of the eviction order the encampment simply crossed over the fence fence and stayed till Christmas Eve.
During the winter a small squat had developed in some houses on the London Road in Amesbury, and it was during May of ’75 whilst visiting the squat that Wally was arrested for possession of half a tab of acid.
Being his usual exuberant self he promised the arresting officer a “cosmic kick in the balls” when it came to court. Instead he was detained under the Mental Health Act in the old Manor Hospital in Salisbury throughout the period of the ’75 festival. Almost all his visitors were refused access, including his guardian.
It is from these circumstances that the conspiracy theories develop and you can make of them what you will. It is unlikely that anything will ever be proved either way.
Wally was released once the festival was over in early July. He went to the government-sposored People’s Free Festival at Watchfield in August – and was dead by early September.
The coroner returned a verdict of suicide although he did not have access to Wally’s hospital notes which had apparently “gone missing”.
It is from the curious circumstances which surrounded his last few months that the myths and ledgends are created. His vision had a surreal clarity but his grasp of the necessities and realities of life was too fragile for him to challenge the establishment head-on and survive intact.
We shall remember him.
Wally Hope Appreciation society on facebook