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Battle of the Beanfield, 2009


Battle of the Beanfield, 2009
Acrylic and spray-paint on canvas
250×300 cm (98 3/8 x 118 1/8 inches)

This impressive painting by its scale is a direct reference to a well-known and sad event in Britain’s history when, in 1985, an injunction to forbid a Festival led to an open-air battle between Police and “New Age Travelers”. In his usual humorous take, Banksy depicts several police officers in riot gears, running and playing in this very field as if they actually were the festival goers, the facts are less bucolic…
Battle of The Beanfield, Mocco Museum, Amsterdam
Britain was a divided country in 1985. Unemployment figures had risen to more than three million, there were riots in Birmingham and Brixton, inflation was high and the pay gap grew wider. The miners’ strike had ended in March, after a rancorous year-long dispute that signaled the end for the national coal industry. In that context, on June 1, a clash between Wiltshire Police and “New Age Travelers” became known as The Battle Of The Beanfield, scene of one of the biggest mass arrests in English history.
Determined to enforce a High Court injunction that banned the Stonehenge Free Festival from taking place, 1,300 police in riot gear outnumbered the travelers by more than two to one. Dozens of travelers were injured, over 500 travelers were eventually arrested. This represents one of the largest mass arrest of civilians since at least the Second World War, possibly one of the biggest in English legal history. According to various media reports, the authorities were very violent towards men, but also towards women and children.
The Battle of the Beanfield took place over several hours on 1 June 1985, when Wiltshire Police prevented The Peace Convoy, made of several hundreds of “New Age Travelers”, from setting up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival, in Wiltshire, England.
Around the same time police smashed the windows of the convoy’s vehicles and some travelers were arrested. The rest broke into an adjacent field and a stand-off consequently developed that persisted for several hours. According to the BBC “Police said they came under attack, being pelted with lumps of wood, stones and even petrol bombs”. However, it seems the travelers were not armed with petrol bombs and that police intelligence suggesting so “was false”.