Glastonbury Town In the Seventies

I recently received an email from Normal For Glastonbury reader David Taplin, he’s been visiting the town since he was a young hippy in the seventies. He’ll shortly be moving back this way – to Street this time. He sent me a fascinating and funny account of his time here and agreed to me sharing it with you, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

“I was in and out of Glastonbury between 1971 and 1973 for varying lengths of time, initially attracted by the usual tales of extraordinary myths set in extraordinary landscapes. I spent not a few nights in the tower on the Tor – once in an apocalyptic-style thunderstorm chanting the Hare Krishna mantra all night with half a dozen others and expecting imminent and dramatic death by lightning-strike every minute.

Mostly I was a guest of friends in a caravan parked on the Godney Road. In those days, caravans were parked semi-permanently in lay-bys all round Glastonbury’s outskirts, much to the disgust of certain locals, who would regularly hurl stones and other missiles at the vans on their way home after closing time. On one occasion, a stone shattered the window of a caravan and showered the baby sleeping inside with broken glass, luckily causing no physical harm. Once, we thought we were ready for them and surrounded a car which stopped outside at 11.30 one Saturday night (not that being menaced by half-terrified hippies armed with little more than righteous anger would have been much of a threat to burly drunken farmers’ sons) only to find a desperately apologetic innocent who’d stopped to tell us she’d just run over our cat.

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Memories of that time are a tad disconnected and vague (well, we might have been a little stoned just occasionally). A poor girl hanged herself from a tree branch in a hippie camp in Wick Hollow. A band called Welfare State played live in Wirral Park. We visited a squat in the Assembly Rooms and went to evening lectures in the then Abbey Cafe by mystic luminaries such as John Michell and David Phillips. It was in a kind of terrapin hut in the, then, Lamb car park and run by a lovely couple called Chris and, I think, Aileen. The jukebox in there seemed permanently stuck on a single by Duncan Browne called “Journey”, at least during ‘72.

If we ever strayed into any pub other than the Lamb (now the Who’d a Thought It) or the Rifleman’s (which I believe was long ago called St. Michael’s Inn) we were firmly and immediately told to leave. We weren’t barred because we were dirty or smelly or tried to sell illegal drugs to other customers, it was enough that we had long hair and the men had beards; though we were also banned from the launderette after some idiot put his cow-muck encrusted sleeping-bag through one of the machines with unfortunate and unpleasant consequences.

And then there was Rollo the Druid, cycling around in clanking armour – once while I was at a birthday party in Street, he appeared dramatically in the kitchen in full shiny kit and brought a huge sword crashing down on the birthday cake on the table. It failed to actually cut the cake but instead shattered the icing which pinged, shrapnel-like, across the room. Again, fortunately, there were no casualties.

Fond memories too of cycling over to West Pennard to sample and buy half-gallons of semi-psychedelic scrumpy from a farm; then wobbling our way back to the Godney Road with demijohns swinging from the handlebars and the road appearing to swim ahead of us. Invincible? Us? Of course! Oh yes, and being collared scrounging from the skip at the back of the Co-Op in Silver Street by a furious local dignitary (possibly the Mayoress) “Beggars! In Glastonbury!” “No; we’re not begging; save your outrage for a system which wastes food like this!” we replied, in suitably sanctimonious tones.

Some of my friends in the caravans had in fact managed to sign on (one rather doubts the easy possibility of this these days ) so every couple of weeks we’d cycle over to Street and try to hold our collective breaths as we passed the reeking Morlands factory, always unsuccessfully. It was actually possible to still taste the miasma as we rolled into Street to the dole office.

Of course, there were beautiful days on the Tor (and Chalice Hill) feeling that we were at the centre of the world. It was less visited then and often completely deserted in winter, and had no path or steps to the top. As for the town itself, I imagine someone enterprising has already cornered the market in selling “Ha! We won!” T-shirts and badges. Returning after all these years now to Glastonbury for good (or at least just down the road to Street, which looks very smart and rather prosperous these days – probably largely due to being Clarksville) is quite an emotional feeling; it’s changed but then so have I, and it really feels like coming home”.

David didn’t have any photos from his time in Glastonbury in the Seventies, but I found an album of pictures of the town in that period from by Mike Lidgley on Flickr, which Mike kindly gave me permission to use on this post. If you love old photos I highly recommend checking out his Flickr albums, there are thousands of wonderful pictures, many of which were taken in the South West.

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All photographs copyright Mike Lidgley.

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