originally published June 10, 2012
It’s one of the great mysteries of the earth. And it’s the locale for today’s tome of historical weirdness. This is the story of the Wallys.
The original Wally was a British guy called Phillip Russell. Phil fell in with a group of late-era hippie counterrevolutionaries who called themselves the Dwarves. He adopted the name Wally Hope, taking his first name from a popular festival cry. It was a thing at music festivals in the early 70s for people to shout out “Where’s Wally?” when the sun went down. This was either a tradition started by a lost dog at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, or else it was a drug thing. Actually, it was probably a drug thing.
In true Yippie tradition, Wally felt it was time to take back something which had been ‘stolen’ by the government. That something was Stonehenge. According to Wally, it should be a sacred site for free music, free space, free minds… Wally had big dreams. And those dreams were set in motion with his 1974 Stonehenge Free Festival.
Wally and his group handed out leaflets and arranged for some publicity through Radio Caroline, one of England’s infamous floating pirate radio stations. Around 500 people showed up. The headlining act was a synthesizer-based electro-group named Zorch. I’ve found three sources discussing this festival, and the only commentary offered on the quality of entertainment was that the PA system was crap.
The festival was timed with the summer solstice, when Stonehenge was packed with tourists, superstitious bead-slingers and druids who believed that the monument emitted some funky solstice magic from within its stones. When the festival ended, Wally persuaded a handful of revelers to stick around and camp out.
And camp out they did. In fact, they wouldn’t leave. On the field behind the monument they set up a kind of hippie commune, and called themselves the Wallies of Wessex. This wasn’t a protest, and not so much a be-in as it was a pseudo-scientific study. Wally and his gang felt that they could come to truly understand Stonehenge, to unravel all its heavenly mystery, just by hanging out there for a while.
The ‘hang out’ scientific method is inscrutably effective (I think that’s how we learned how the Grand Canyon was made, right?), but WallyWorld (a much better name) ran into a snag. That snag was the British government.
The Department of the Environment and the National Trust wanted to evict the Non-Flying Wally-endas (a much worse name). The only way to legally do so was to file a High Court injunction against each squatter on the premises. The Wallinators (ooh!) knew about this, so they each changed their names to Wally so as to confuse the authorities.
In August they showed up in court. It was a freakshow, a media gigglefest. The Times declared that they were a ‘strange hippie cult’, and went on to describe such hippie highlights as the 12,870-year-old Egypt Wally, who wore bells around her ankles and declared a close affinity with the white negative. There was Kris Wally, who climbed a lamp post outside the courthouse, and Sir Walter Wally, who preached about peace, understanding, and hot dogs. It must have been a hell of a show.
The High Court was not amused, however, and they ordered WallyWorld to be closed.
The camp packed up and moved across the road, literally a few feet away. They set up once again and got comfy. This was common ground and they were out of the tourists’ way, so there was no real worry about getting booted. The gang hung out until the winter solstice, at which point they decided that they’d learned all they needed to from Stonehenge, and they set up camp in a squat house in nearby Amesbury village.
Wally Hope took off for Cyprus (he claims to have once met Jesus Christ there), but the Wally dream lived on. The following May, as everyone was gearing up for the 1975 Stonehenge Free Festival, Hope stopped by the squat house to check on the gang. An unexpected police raid ensued, and Wally was locked up for having LSD in his possession.
Apparently British authorities determined that the best solution for someone possessing an illegal psychotropic substance would be to lock them up in a mental institution and squeeze as many drugs into their system as possible. Wally was institutionalized, his brain hurled to the brink of implosion by a strict regimen of pharmaceutical battery.
For ten weeks he was drowned in Largactil (Thorazine in American parlance) and Modecate (used to treat schizophrenia and manic bipolar disorder). Wally was released in August, but those who knew him said it was a different Wally that showed up after that treatment. He died on September 3 from choking on his vomit after taking sleeping pills.
It’s a tragic end for someone who became a folk hero among dozens of distorted youth. Wally’s death was ruled a suicide, but those who were closest to him called it state-sanctioned murder. From where I sit it sounds like a heinous side-effect of a deeply misguided justice system.
Luckily, Wally has a legacy. The Stonehenge Free Festival kept rolling every year into the 1980s, featuring a lengthy callsheet of bands, including the Thompson Twins.
In 1984 the whole thing imploded. The High Court decided they’d had enough of the festival, and issued an exclusion zone around the monument, preventing any sort of formal gathering. A convoy of hundreds of hippie revelers (now known as “new age” because Hippies were a classic-rock concept at this point) moved in, and were confronted by police with riot gear.
The story is, like any story, open to debate, perspective and exaggeration. But the subsequently court-sanctioned version of the truth states that the convoy was blocked from moving forward, not allowed to head back with their vehicles. After hours of negotiation attempts, police moved in, smashing love-bus windows and throwing rocks at longhairs. Almost everyone was arrested, and subsequent retellings (and photographic evidence) demonstrate a lavish, balls-out production of inhumanity and lack of sense by the police.
A lawsuit followed, and 24 of the travelers pulled in a thousand pounds apiece in rewarded damages.
It was an unquestionably weird ending to the festival, as weird as the monument itself. Maybe the government was worried that the Wallys had almost spent enough time around Stonehenge to have uncovered its mysteries. Maybe those mysteries were meant to stay hidden.
Maybe people just got really scared of hippies in the 80s, and there’s nothing any deeper below the surface than that.