Flyer courtesy of Kate O'Callaghan Some travellers at Pilton preparing to leave
"We have been in close co-operation with other forces who have been dealing with them" said Chief Inspector Peter Barnes, head of community relations at Norfolk police headquarters today. He appealed to city people to help police this year if the hippies came to Norwich. "This year we are asking the public to let us know if incidents are happening - if thefts are occuring. Let us know and we will deal with them," Chief Inspector Barnes promised.
The Harford land earmarked for the travellers site was quite close to the previous festival site but across the river. The local authority put running water and toilet facilities on. CI Barnes said "In all respects it is a better site." That was the carrot.
At Eaton Common the approach road used by the travellers last year was been dug up and blocked off to vehicles. Mr Peter Rowbottom, city council principle assistant engineer, said, "We have to look at the existing sewer which runs along from the top of the track at Marston Lane down to the Scout Headquarters". It was not known how long the work would take, he added. That was the stick. It meant no vehicles could reach Eaton Common.
A police spokesman at Glastonbury where several hundred of the convoy were camped said there was no sign of the convoy starting to roll. They had been camped there for over ten days, originally on a site opposite the Glastonbury people. On the grounds that the convoy "had a reputation for violence and anti-social behaviour" it was put under a state of siege by the police with people being relentlessly stopped and searched.
The eagel-eyed may be able to spot Norwich in the top left.
CITY POLICE ALERT AS HIPPY CAMP STIRS was the headline in The Eastern Evening News on the 2nd of August 1983. The article promised that police would be on alert "for a possible hippy invasion of Norwich". The national media had led the public to believe that the Convoy was a rampaging army of "medieval brigands." Official tone fed this fear as the police said leave could be cancelled for many Norfolk officers if the Peace Convoy arrived in the city. Travellers were showing no signs of moving from Pilton near Shepton Mallet (AKA Glastonbury) but Norfolk police were poised with military-style plans for the possible arrival of the convoy in Norwich.
The monitoring of the previous free festivals had been a success but the police took a lot of criticism for being too relaxed and the national media campaign against the travellers gave the police a possible mandate of public support. This was an important landmark in subtle changes in the role of the police. From events like this the police would turn into Margaret Thatcher's private army - an army that would smash the miner's strike and come back to brutally finish off the Convoy at the Battle of the Beanfield.
Well - a good place to start in the history of '83 is somewhere else - Al Stokes took a lot of photos which you can see at UKrockfestivals .
Well after all that "close co-operation" and "observations" by the police who were saying that there was no sign of the travellers stirring the very next day a converted van pulled on to the Harford site in Norwich and the first of the convoy had arrived.
But, what the City Council had not advertised was that the Harford site was an old rubbish dump. Norwich's trash had been dumped here for decades and then covered with soil and left to fester and rot.
John, 28, from Carlisle, and Liz, 26, from Manchester, left the camp at Shepton Mallett, where the convoy had stayed the past 11 days, the night before and pulled into a layby on the A11 near Norwich in the morning to sleep. They were woken by police who showed the way to Harford tip but they could not find the levelled corner of the tip which had been earmarked by the city council. Liz said; "The council must have a really strange opinion of us if they can shove us up here out of the way." "This site is a health hazard, there are lots of kids and dogs with the convoy and they are going to run around and cut themselves on glass and other rubbish". She said there was not enough room - "we don't like to live cramped together" - the big buses and trucks would get stuck in the soil, which has been softened by recent rain. "I can't imagine people staying here for long, because its such a bad site," she said. John said he would be unable to sell hotdogs and hamburgers from his van because of the flies from the rubbish, which also attracts rats. He said; "There will be people arriving between now and Friday in dribs and drabs and the main convoy will be arriving during that time. What the convoy decides about staying here or not will be a joint decision. I can't see people being very happy with the site." Then they drove off to wait in a layby on the A11 for other members of the convoy. "We could warn them against the site - its not fit to live on," Liz said.
Gaaah! The Convoy is coming! On the outskirts of Norch. Photo on the left credited to Janet Henbane. Behind the red horsebox is the beautiful Firefly you can see below.
As the convoy headed through Wiltshire, authorities in Suffolk were preparing to keep the hippies away from Sizewell car park, from where the council took legal action to evict them in 1982. The car park entrance was blocked each night as part of the "work being carried out by Suffolk Coastal District Council up to the cost of £4000". It also installed steel gates, concrete manhole rings, and built a ditch as precautions in case the travellers returned, said council chief executive Mr Derrick Blay, in a letter to local residents.
Sizewell was the location for The Pure Energy Fair in '82 where the Peace Convoy camped on the beach and supported the Anti Nuclear Campaign against Sizewell B - a nuclear power station of the same type which had malfunctioned at Three Mile Island in the States.
I digress - back to 1983 and the struggling, straggling unwanted convoy headed - DESTINATION NORWICH. Emboldened members of the so-called press wrote thus: "Members of a so-called peace convoy camped on private land at Elveden gave visitors a hostile reception this morning. My attempts to make contact with the hippy group was greeted by abuse and threats of physical violence. And a photographer attempting to take a picture of the unofficial camp from the roadside was sworn at by the hippies who threatened to confiscate his camera.
The incident was witnesses by police who were keeping an eye on the group of at least 50 people who set up camp on land opposite Elveden war memorial yesterday evening. Afterwards a policeman said he did not know when the convoy plan to move on or where to.
Photographer Mr Andy Abbott, of the East Anglian daily Times was approached and threatened by three men as he attempted to take a picture. When I asked the group about their plans I was given a less than friendly welcome. I was first accused of being a plain-clothed policeman and then members of the group parried my questions with enigmatic answers before advising me in strong terms to leave.
A member of the convoy defended their right to be on private land which is part of the Elveden estate. "This is all part of God's garden. We have the right to go or stand anywhere on this earth," she declared...
*Poilce last night counted 29 vans of Hippies at the Harford tip site in Norwich and they said they were maintaining a strong watching presence in the city.
Smush with the TUMT's 'Marybelle' Firefly in 1984. You can see it in the convoy pics above. A few years later it was burnt out by the Guardia Civil in Spain. Photo by Janet Henbane.
A police roadblock was set up at the Cringleford bypass with vans parked across the road with lights flashing. Bemused motorists were allowed through as the police waited to discover the Elveden convoy's destination but the law did not allow them to direct the travellers to a site. The convoy halted while the police asked where the travellers planned to go, then they drove through. One police van was hit a glancing blow as a gaily painted truck went past.
The newer convoy of about 30 vehicles met up with the other of 28 moving from Harford tip. The travellers kept contact with each other using CB radio and the advance party had warned the others of conditions at Harford.
The combined convoy blocked the road at Colney from opposite directions as they mustered spades and shovels and quickly filled in a ditch and made a new entrance to the meadow. As travellers swore at the line of police a saxophonist joined them. Tension filled the air as the travellers holding sticks and iron bars confronted the line of police on the bridge over the River Yare. Some rattled the sticks along the metal railings of the bridge while others shouted at the police..
The convoy bumped its way through the new entrance to the meadow over the river from Earlham Park. Once they had driven their vehicles on to the same meadow, which was used for the Peaceful Green Fair earlier in the summer, some of the travellers came back out on to the highway and taunted the police. But they melted back into the field when the police advanced at a run.
As the motley collection of caravans, cars, trucks and buses finally stopped in the meadow the atmosphere relaxed and most of the police presence disappeared. Les, father of 17 day-old Naomi, said "we have got about 40 or 50 children with us. We couldn't live on a tip." On a green site just yards from the river they were happier. There were about 200 travellers with another 200 expected. Although there were many knives and axes evident they were obviously useful tools rather than an exhibition of violent intent. They were planning to organise a peace festival in the next few days and thought they would stay about a fortnight.
There were no arrests. The police had no powers to stop the travellers camping on the site and the land owners would have to take out an injunction to get the travellers off.
You can just see one of the UEA's chimneys to the top right of this photo by Al Stokes.
University bigwig Mr John Wood said "The university takes a very serious view of any unauthorised occupation of its property." He said the travellers had broken a locked gate and filled in a ditch to gain access to the site. He blustered on, suggesting that a university education may not be all it's cracked up to be: "This was an entirely unauthorised entry - they neither sought nor have been granted permission to use university land. If they had sought permission it would not have been granted."
The next day the Chief Super Policeman issued a warning to parents to keep their children away from the camp because of possible health dangers. Yet the police were checking people entering and leaving the camp and a number of people had already been arrested on suspicion of possessing plants, I mean drugs. My keen Norvician brain (?) leapt to the conclusion that the clever kids knew of a secret way in.......
Anyway, the officials at the University spared no time in serving a summons ordering "persons unknown" to attend the High Court in London for the hearing of the university's application for repossession of the land. Or should I say attempted to serve a summons....As dozens of police officers stood by, out of sight, the brave few stepped forward - two police officers including the chief and four university officials. The travellers initially refused to allow them on to the site to put up the notices but then relented. When the officials put up the second of five copies of the summons they were hemmed in by jeering travellers, jostled and forced off the site under a barrage of one egg and one apple. Another official was tripped up - as they looked back they saw the summons they had manage to put up being burnt. Attitudes had changed over night apparently due to the problem of getting a deal for fresh water which led to the hostility.
Simon, one of the travellers said on the 18th of August; "We will not be staying here for more than the 28 days it takes for a court order to take effect." The Summer Dream Fair at Yew Tree Farm, Lyng was on from the 26th of August to the 29th and people from the Convoy had already been to talk to Jim Jordan the owner of the land and the organisers of the fair as well.
Mood in the city was mixed - letters to the local paper showed that most were baffled on how the travellers could afford to do what they were doing. Some could not distinguish the Convoy from the Peaceful Green Fair earlier in the summer but credited them for moving on to the marsh next to the park. "Cattle used to graze there and it is screened from the park. The only people I have ever seen there except the Green people a few weeks ago are one or two fishermen." Another wanted fresh, clean water provided for the Convoy and said "Let us find a little charity for these human beings who refuse to hide away in inner city slums and exist on the poverty line."
The Eastern Evening News from August 19th, 1983 and yes his name was Charlie Chaplin
I went to visit the convoy for the first time with Monkey - he had a job as a cleaner at the Gala Ballroom and he stole some beer or got some beer as a downpayment on his wages. We figured that they must be thirsty for beer if every time someone left they were searched so we took bags of bottled beer up. We got in to the camp by climbing over a fallen tree which bridged the river. We stumbled into the camp and traded the beer for hash. There was a pretty big fire which had burned right down and chillums and spliffs were smoked. Dogs wandered about. I was only just 19 and pretty blown away by the whole thing. The visit was cordial enough so that I wanted to revisit and take some friends. We had to finish the hash as we knew we were going to be searched by the police on the way out.
The next time I visited was with friends and during the evening - it must have been around the 12th or 13th of August as the Perseid meteor shower was intense and the night sky was alive with streaks of light. As we were staring at the sky in the dark a police van came bumping over the grass of Earlham Park, lights focused on us and a pat-down search was conducted. I had forgotten about the blim of hash in a matchbox and was arrested. We were all put in the van and taken to the checkpoint where the special search wagon was.
Monkey AKA Mark Thorpe - he was the most unscrupulous thief in Norwich. People would put him up as he was homeless and he would rob them of anything he could sell or use.
There was a woman in an absolutely hysterical state who most definitely did not consent to be searched and yet she was dragged into the van. Strip searching in the back of a van is not pleasant and was obviously done to send a message out.
Tension was rising and travellers, angry at the arrest of one of their number, smashed street lights and hurled concrete through a car window in protest. The ten travellers were going for a police car which sped off and turned on a local young musician breaking his windsceen.
Two days later and the convoy was off - travelling to Lyng where the owner of the land said "They are coming as ticket-paying stallholders, and have paid for 15 stalls. They will mingle with the rest - we want it to be a family affair. This fair has a very good relationship with the Convoy. They are ordinary people whose lifestyle has meant they are hounded by society and they sometimes rebel against it."
The bill for policing the Convoy in Norwich was "not less than £300,000," compared to the low-profile approach in 1982 which cost no more than £10,000. The cost emerged at a press conference at Bethel St police station the day after the Convoy's departure. Assistant Chief Constable John Hall said "I think we reacted to public opinion." 65 people had been arrested but some were from people who visited the camp. 52 of the arrests were for drug offences; cannabis, amphetamine and LSD. "We didn't find any heroin and we didn't find any cocaine" said Mr Hall.
There was a total of 702 searches, although some people were searched more than once. They had stopped 75 vehicles and 50 reports had been made for traffic offences.
As smoke from the rubbish fires drifted over the hot and humid deserted camp, two abandoned cars were towed and a solitary black dog wandered off looking for a new home.