Wally Hope - A Victim of Ignorance
Neil Goodwin tells the story of the life and death of one of the founders of the Stonehenge Free Festival
Squall 11, Autumn 1995, p.28.
Perched on a stone beside a bronze statuette of the Indian goddess Shiva, a small oak box carries the epitaph: WALLY HOPE, DIED 1975 AGED 28, A VICTIM OF IGNORANCE. For twenty years the box that once contained the ashes of the man who founded the Stonehenge Free Festival has made regular appearances at Stonehenge gatherings.
Each year friends and former acquaintances, druids and festival-goers, preserve his memory by becoming official keepers of the box. It is the closest the modern Pagan/Hippy movement has to an icon; a lasting testament to torture and death at the hands of an intolerant regime.
Penny Rimbaud, author of the book ‘The Last of the Hippies’, first met Phil Russell, alias Wally Hope, in 1974. She describes him as “a smiling, bronzed, hippy warrior”, whose ideas were “a strange mixture of the thinking of the people he admired and amongst whom he had lived”, including peasant Cypriots, Masai herdsmen and North American Indians. During their first meeting in London he outlined his plan to claim back Stonehenge from the government and make it a site for free festivals.
“What is evil but good tortured by it’s own hunger and thirst?”
- Phil Russell, 1974
The Hippy movement was to join a long list of youth cults that had laid claim to Stonehenge as a social and spiritual centre. During the ‘40s jazz bands played there regularly. Crowds of Beatniks, complete with regulation duffle coats and ‘doss bags’, danced within the ancient circle throughout the late ‘50s. In the ‘60s Mods gathered in great numbers to join the solstice celebrations, and The Beatles hung cardboard effigies of themselves from the stones in 1965.
Ten years after the acid prophet, Timothy Leary, advised people to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”, rock festivals had firmly established themselves as a unifying force among the world’s youth. Under the shared flag of Rock ‘n’ Roll diverse political and social groups had come together to form a mass movement for change. It was Wally’s vision to reinforce that trend through the Stonehenge Free Festival, and continue a centuries-old tradition of festive gatherings at the monument.
Thousands of fliers and posters were printed and distributed. Invitations were sent out to such varied celebrities as the Pope, the Duke of Edinburgh, British Airways air hostesses and the hippies of Kathmandu. For nine weeks, with only a battered old cassette player to provide the music, a few hundred people braved the wet weather at Stonehenge.
Wally Hope was delighted: “Our generation is the best mass movement in history, experimenting with anything in our search for love and peace. Our temple is sound. We fight our battles with music - drums like thunder, cymbals like lightning, banks of electronic equipment like nuclear missiles of sound. We have guitars instead of tommy guns.”
The monument’s official keepers were understandably less enthusiastic. A Notice to Withdraw was eventually served on the festival site. The festival-goers had agreed that, should the authorities intervene, they would answer only to the name of Wally, after a much sought-after lost dog at an Isle of Wight festival years before.
Ludicrous summonses against the likes of Phil Wally, Sid Wally and Chris Wally set the scene for a colourful showdown at the High Court in London. Fleet Street loved it. The Wallies of Stonehenge appeared in the press daily, flashing peace signs and preaching the power of love.
“We were attempting to say that festivals were good for the heart and soul of the country,” recalls Sid Rawles, a founding member of the Windsor Free Festival. “They were cheap holidays. We felt that a lot of inner- city problems could be solved just by allowing people to come out into the countryside and have a good time.”
“A tradition had been born. But Wally Hope had pushed a thorn into the side of the system, and the system was not going to let him get away with it again.”
Although they were ordered to vacate the land, the trial ensured massive publicity for the free festival movement. Wally Hope sensed victory, and sang to the waiting press: “We have won, we have won. Everybody loves us, we have won.”
“In a way they had won,” says Rimbaud. “A tradition had been born. But Wally Hope had pushed a thorn into the side of the system, and the system was not going to let him get away with it again.”
From Stonehenge the Wallies travelled to Windsor Great Park for the third Windsor Free Festival. It had been the idea of a former civil servant called William Ubique Dwyer to hold rock festival in the Queen’s back garden, an event that, in the words of David Holdsworth, former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, “cocked a very public snook at the Establishment in a rather sensitive area”.
On the morning of the sixth day, six hundred of his men moved in to clear the site. There were 220 arrests, and 116 reported injuries.
“I saw a pregnant woman being kicked in the belly, and a little boy being kicked in the face,” recalled a bruised and depressed Wally Hope. “All around they were just laying into people. I went to one policeman who had just knocked out a woman’s teeth and asked him why he’d done it. He told me to fuck off or I’d get the same. Later on, I did.”
In the Winter of 1974, preparations were made for Stonehenge II. Wally’s bizarre dress- sense of middle-eastern army gear and Scottish tartans became a familiar sight around London. In May 1975 he set out for Cornwall in his rainbow-striped car.
The next time Penny Rimbaud saw him was inside a mental hospital. He was almost unrecognizable; transformed within a month from a healthy confident young man into a physical and mental wreck.
“He had lost a stone in weight. He was frail, nervous and almost incapable of speech. He sat with his head hung on his chest. His tear-filled eyes had sunk, dull and dead, into his skull. His hands shook constantly in the way that old men’s do on a cold winter’s day.”
An independent doctor diagnosed his condition as ' being chronic dyskinesia, a disease brought about through the overdose of correctional drugs such as Modecate.
Slowly the truth emerged. Two days after leaving London Wally had been arrested for possessing three acid tablets. Having been refused bail, with his right to a phone call denied, he was held in prison on remand. He was alone and hopelessly ill-equipped for what was about to happen to him.
A week later he developed a rash from his prison uniform and was sent to the prison doctor who diagnosed his condition as schizophrenia. Massive doses of the ‘chemical cosh’ Largactil were then prescribed, and administered by force.
“By the time he was dragged into the courts again,” says Rimbaud, “he was so physically and mentally bound up in a drug- induced strait jacket that he was totally incapable of understanding what was going on.”
Wally Hope’s fate was sealed. He was ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act 1959 and committed to the Manor psychiatric hospital near Salisbury for an indefinite period. The second Stonehenge festival went ahead with thousands in attendance, while its founder and spiritual leader lay sick and motionless only a few miles away.
Wally Hope, now a nervous and gibbering wreck, was eventually released. An independent doctor diagnosed his condition as being chronic dyskinesia, a disease brought about through the overdose of correctional drugs such as Modecate. For this there was no known cure.
Penny Rimbaud looked after him throughout his final days:
“At night he would lay in his bed and cry; quiet, desperate sobs that would go on until dawn. We tried to teach him to walk properly again. His left arm would swing forward with his left leg, his right with his right. Sometimes we were able to laugh about it, but the laughter always gave way to tears.”
On the third of September 1975, unable to face another day, perhaps hoping that death might offer more to him than what was left in life, Phil Russell, alias Wally Hope, overdosed on sleeping pills and choked to death on the vomit they induced.
Weeks later, while giving evidence in the coroner’s court, the police officer responsible for investigating his death dismissed him with the line: “He thought he was Jesus Christ didn’t he?” A verdict of suicide was later reached with no reference to the appalling treatment he had suffered in hospital.
For people like Penny, Phil’s death signalled the end of an era:
“Along with him died the last grain of trust that we, naively, had in the ‘system’, the last seed of hope that, if we lived a decent life based on respect rather than abuse, our example might be followed by those in authority.”
Like the Kent State University killings a decade before, when five protesting students were shot by the US Army, the British Establishment had shown that it too was prepared to kill its young rather than accept diversity and change.
Wally’s death coincided with a growing tide of anger and distrust amongst Britain’s youth. A year after his death the Sex Pistols released ‘Anarchy in the UK’, and vocalised popular distaste for the dominant culture. Punks soon replaced hippies as public enemy number one. “Up to that point they had truncheoned us out of Windsor Great Park and arrested us at every opportunity,” observes Sid Rawles. “Then punk arrived and all of a sudden they were putting their arm around your shoulder and saying: ‘well, of course, you old hippies are really nice people. You believe in peace and love. Look at that lot!’”
Wally Hope’s ashes were ceremonially scattered at Stonehenge in 1976. It was to be another eight years before the state put a violent end to the Solstice gatherings during the infamous Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. In the intervening years Stonehenge became one of the most famous festivals in the world, attracting tens of thousands of people and spawning bands like Hawkwind, Gong and the Magic Mushroom Band.
Twenty years after his death, Wally’s last known statement provides a tragic reminder of Britain’s last great hippy:
“The first dream that I remember is of myself holding the hand of an older man, looking over a beautiful and peaceful valley. Suddenly a fox broke cover followed by hounds and strong horses ridden by red-coated huntsmen. The man pointed into the valley and said, ‘That, my son, is where you are heading.’ I soon found that out, I am the fox.”
Read letters in reply to this article from Nigel Ayers and Penny Rimbaud here
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