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In Memory of Sid Rawle

September 1st, 2010

This year an unusual number of significant figures in the alternative and Druid worlds have been crossing the rainbow bridge to the Otherworld  (a euphemistic phrase for dying I know, but rather beautiful nevertheless – and one that reinforces the idea that death is not an end but part of a journey). Already this year Celtic scholar Alexei Kondratiev and Druid leader Isaac Bonewits have passed on in the USA, while over here the legendary John Michell, the well-known dowser Hamish Miller, Douglas Lyne, a moving force in the Order and friend of the old Druid Chief Nuinn, and Gordon Strachan, author of ‘Jesus the Druid’, have all died within a few months of each other.

And now a leading figure in the alternative world, and friend of the Druids, Sid Rawle has crossed the threshold, dying of a heart attack at the age of 64 on the last day of his Rainbow summer camp. Sid was a leading figure on the Stonehenge festival scene and was famously given custody of Dorinish, an Irish island, by John Lennon to start a utopian community. Sid’s Rainbow camp has hosted the Druid Network Camps over the last years as well many other kinds of camp. To get a feel for the kind of character he was, here are notes by a friend of his, Jeremy Sandford introducing the prologue to Sid’s book ‘A Vision of Albion’ which does not seem to be published yet:

Like him or loathe him, it’s been hard to ignore Sid Rawle. He never claimed for himself the title or position of ‘King of the Hippies’. That name was coined by journalists. Nonetheless, he is now that rare thing, a middle aged hippy who is still a hippy. He was in at the start and still trucking. He has never gone ‘straight’. His ‘alternative history’ is hilarious, sometimes angry, sometimes tragic, always remarkably filled with action.

He is the squatter to end them all, having squatted flats, houses, commons, forests, a village, boats, an island, an army camp, Windsor Great Park.

Property owners have urgently attempted to put locks on their houses, land, and daughters, when Sid has been around. It is Sid’s claim that each of our young men and women who could be ordered to die for their country in time of war have a right to, at any rate, a few square yards of meadow or mountain.

Sid believes that access to the land for the underprivileged is becoming harder, and that many obstacles are placed in the way of festival and conviviality. He has fought hard for these things. He has involved hundreds, sometimes thousands, with him. Through his personal bravery, crowd gathering propensities, and frequent appearances on the media, he has become something of a folk hero.

Surrounded by beautiful women and grubby children, he lived for some years in a tipi, and more recently in a converted G.P.O. van for half the year at the summer long series of camps he organises, the other half being spent in a rural prefabricated bungalow crammed with women and children.

Jeremy Sandford See

And here is the Prologue to The Vision of Albion by Sid Rawle

In the end it all gets back to land. Looking back, I see that a link that runs through my life concerns the right to land and property on it.
Shared out equally, there would be a couple of acres for every adult living in Britain. That would mean each family or group could have a reasonably sized small holding of ten or twenty acres and learn once again to become self sufficient.
The present day reality is the reverse, with some folk owning hundreds of thousands of acres and others owning none.
There’s talk of community in war time. We can be ordered to go and fight and die for Queen and country. In peace time is it too much to ask for just a few square yards of our green and pleasant land to rear our children on?
That’s all we want, myself and the squatters and travellers and other people in the many projects I’ve been involved with. Just a few square yards of this land that we can in wartime be asked to go out and die for.
And if we ever achieve that, what else? What else is what I call the Vision of Albion.
Albion, the most ancient name of this fair country. It was in Albion that the industrial revolution occurred. And I and many others now have a sneaking suspicion that in Albion will be forged the first post industrial society, a Green Community in this green land, living in equity and peace.
The Vision of Albion is a vision of one world united in love, a vision of unity in diversity. Not the same chant every day. Not everyone finding the same cure for the same ills. But a vision of all people uniting in love and respect for one another.
We have to find out how all us individuals in the world can have enough space to live in love and harmony, enough to be self-sufficient and be ourselves, and how to give everyone else this space. That is the vision of Albion, that is the Rainbow vision.
It is the Rainbow vision because the rainbow is the symbol of God’s promise. And it is the vision of Albion because there is a sneaking feeling amongst some of us that it is from these islands, the islands that make up Albion, that change will come. So many of the white man’s dreadful fuckups in the world originated here. It is from these islands that peace and harmony must also come.
Although we’ve given the world so many of its institutions and, for so much of the world, a common language to communicate to each other in, we’ve lost our own real ancient roots. We don’t know who built our stone circles, how they did it, how they loved, what their economic system was, what their religion was.
All over the world there are other peoples who do remember what their roots were, people who are still in touch with their tribal history. What lies deep in their systems must also lie deep within our system. We have to learn to find it again.
We have to reclaim or rediscover some of their ancient wisdom, the wisdom of ancient Albion. There’s no magic in this, no mystery. The mystery is that we keep ourselves in hell when we could be in heaven. That’s the mystery.    Sid Rawle. See site.

And here’s a video of him being interviewed a few years ago:

27 Responses to “In Memory of Sid Rawle”

  1. Sid was a good friend to me, to many of us in’ Hippy Valley’ , the Chalk Farm/Gospel Oak Commune when I was there with him back in 1974 . He was busy – I gladly helped – in housing many people temporarily there, including whole families , Marion his wife tending to the soup .

    Sid was running the Digger Action Movement with Frank Harris ( Mullen) of Farnborough, Hampshire , P.R.O. of that movement , that Mrs. and Dr. Richards of Houslow East had revived from Cromwellian times, basically a Levellers commune back then . We were all the ine with the BIT Information Service , where I worked , voluntarily, some times .

    I moved around with Frank when he was here in Kilkenny a couple of times a year , and thus came into Sid’s circle in London . I fear that Frank , who I last put up here in Kilkenny back in 1982 , and haven’t heard from him since , is gone as well .

    I remember that summer in London, fabulous , we had nothing but we had everything .

    Sid had moved into the Gospel Oak Vicarage immediately when the vicar moved into his newly-built residence there. I remember Sid joking to me that the Vicar always bid him Good Day in passing as a proper Christian gentleman .

    No, Sid never took dope . I remember one lovely evening as a dozen heads sat in circle around his huge drawing room , passing the pipe , that Sid suddenly got angry and said to me :

    ” Come on , Michael , let’s get out of here and around to that little pub you use .”

    He couldn’t drink either, all that sunny evening he struggled through two small bottles of light ale though there was plenty of money , no problem , from my navvy friends there , for him . He marvelled at the spped of their drinking and the sheer voluumes consumed .

    He was even more angry when we returned to see his dog on it’s back on the floor with all four feet solidly erect , like an upturned table – the fumes had gotten the better of the poor animal . Sid really cleared the place then !

    They consisted of a few fellow Irishmen that I had brought up from Camden Town , and helped Sid keep order whenever violence or thieving occurred , which was seldom amongst a commune of at least 500 people . We didn’t need Police , Sid liaised with them , so they seldom came around , there was no need for them , they knew it , and relations with the Police in nearby Kentish Town were excellent at all times .

    Contrary to what idea the general public may have had of Hippies , the public baths were chock-a-block every day , they never had done such business, they happily told us . Our Irish navvy contingent were the most regular customers of all !

    I was there with Sid the beautiful evening that John Lennon – ever a devotee of Sid ! – phoned from New York to let Sid know that he had donated 14,000 pounds to the Commune . I think it went on the movie made about The Diggers the following year in 1975 .

    John wanted to know all about his Irish ancestry from me , I gushed it all out over the phone , finally I gave him his name in Irish , Sean O’Leannain – and he shouted it out as I called it out letter by letter to him for Yoko to take it down !

    Thank you for announcing this sad news in such a lovely way , Philip, as you know I buy your books for their literary style , which I believe will live on .

    Ah sure twas only the other day …

    Le gach dea ghui

    Michael .

    A.D. Ireland .

    • I lived in both Kentish town (Gaisford Street) and finally on Lady somerset Road in Tufnell Park from 1972 to 1975. I knew Sid and had many friends in and around the cresent. I worked for a short time at community Supplies and made a film at the London film Maker Coop in the cresent. Those days were some of the happiest days comming of age while wandering the Heath and treking in Wales visiting friends here and there in stone crofts.
      Many color slides and photo’s I took and are having digitized.
      Sad to here Sid is gone. I come back to both England and London regularly to visit inlaws and have seen the changes. I always hoped to run into Sid again. I suspect I will somewhere, sometime. We all will be back.

  2. Thank you Michael for these memories. It’s interesting what you say about no dope and little booze – that undoubtedly helped him to be a moving force and to be able to negotiate while chaos was all around! Not everyone liked him, as can be seen from the comments on his youtube videos, but he had a vision and dared to act on it. Jeremy Sandford puts it well on his website: “Like some other larger than life characters, especially those whose rôle has been political in the broader sense of the word, he has won adulation as a leader but also demonisation by a proportion of those who once followed him. Arriving at adulthood in the sixties, it is now felt by some that he still carries too much of the fashionable baggage of those times with him and in an age of consensus decision making still seeks the status of cult leader and guru.
    His condemnation of cannabis and carnivore habits have disturbed others. Others again feel that the enthusiastic breaking down of what were then perceived as the shackles of sexual taboos, including boundaries of age, sex, or style which were such a feature of the sixties, were in Sid’s case characterised by a fervour which, though not unusual then, became inappropriate when carried on into the time of vastly different sexual mores of the 80s and 90s, and that Sid, although still admired by many, was not sufficiently able to change, or change enough, in these areas.
    Speaking very frankly of all of this and while defending his actions in many cases and roundly condemning his critics, there are areas in which the present day mature Sid feels he has erred and strayed into actions which he now regrets.”
    The last time I met him was about 5 years ago at a Druid Network camp. He offered me a hot chocolate laced with rum and talked about the old days. He mentioned a meeting he had had at Apple HQ with Lennon and Ono. As they talked Yoko sat next to John on a higher chair and every so often he would tilt his head up and open his mouth, while she dropped bits of fish into it…
    Many greetings, Philip

  3. It speaks volumes of Sid that John Lennon actually phoned him , rather than the other way round – but I think that was John thoughtfully considering Sid’s phone bill .

    Little did John know that it was the Church of England that was footing Sid’s phone bill at the time ! heheheh .

    As I explained , Sid was squatting the old Vicarage , still a fabulous house opposite Gospel Oak Church at the time , and the then Vicar ( moved to a new residence nearby ) was indeed too Christian to cut off the account on Sid ! . Sid couldn’t afford the handset never mind the bill !

    The Commune also brought a potential harvest of several thousand souls to the Vicar ! Sid and he understood each other well .

    Maybe you should inform Yoko ? Maybe organise a ceremony in his memory …

    Sid was one of the kindest people I ever met un this life , in word and in deed .

    In his memory :

    MIchael .

  4. Sid & John’s Movie !
    Here it is , Philip , WINSTANLEY The Movie , London 1975 .
    This is the film that John gave Sid the money for , a very little known fact now , probably only known by Yoko herself of course, me and a few others surviving ( maybe , maybe not – I think I am the only one left of the actual London Diggers Action Movement of that time , now defunct of course ) .

    Maybe you could dig the cans of that movie out of whatever closet it is stashed away in for years now – it would be a little treasure for an Englishman , and it expresses the foundation for much of existence of that fella , Sid Rawle !

  5. Sid stars in the movie as the character , ” Ranter ” , we always referred to it as John Lennon’s movie because John was financing it – though he never took any property or assignment in it , typically promoting something he thought was really worthwhile .

  6. It’s available on DVD from Amazon Michael. A reviewer says: “This film conveys the hardships through which the Digger went. Miles Halliwell’s portrayl of Winstanley is sympathetic; he almost IS Gerrard himself. I also enjoyed the scenes with the Ranters (seventeenth century hippie-types), which marvellously conveyed the mad anarchy of their beliefs, and also captured the bewilderment of Diggers themselves. Real-life activist Sid Rawle played his part with aplomb.”

  7. Great , Philip , I must order it .
    Of course I was never more than a junior member of the London Diggers Action Movement of the 70’s , basically I simply landed because I was Sid’s constant companion for five month’s of 1974 .

    Then on a lovely morning in June , U went over to Sud’s house ( basically across the road ) had a final farewell chat together as I annouinced I was heading back to Ireland . Sud said it was just as well , that the Commune was coming to an end .

    I was actually offered seven hundred pounds to move out of the fabulous house that Sid had ‘given’ me , but I declined , telling the landlord’s agent to give it to a fabulous couple and their little child that I had put up in the house , which he did ! Sid was delighted .
    I walked off down the road , incredibly met three pointed-hatted Wiccans driving for Reading , joined in with them .
    We reached Reading , I asked them to let me off at the first pub , I think I remember that it was The Blue Boar Inn . They did . I went in , up to the counter to order, it was a heavenly afternoon .
    A man came up behind me :

    He gaped , I gaped , it was my friend Frank Harris , Sid’s Deputy ! Very very different than Sid , making stack’ s of money with his own construction company , a millionaire , and a handsome dashing felloow that broke every woman’s heart , a damned good scrapper too if needs be .

    I commenced ‘ working’ for Frank after ten days on the town .

    Synchronicity , Philip ?
    No , that doesn’t explain getting a lift from 3 Wiccans from London , and with geniune pointed hats too ( whilst generally making my way in the direction of Fishguard for Rosslare – I was in no hurry at all in those carrefree young days . When asked by them on approaching Reading wehere I wanted to be let off , replying , “The First Pub ” – and this happens !

    Frank Harris , Sid’s PRO ( real name Frank Mullan , he adopted the famous Welsh lover’s name ! ) called himself Irish publicly in England , everywhere , which I suppose Frank was as both his parents were Irish living in Farnborough , Hants , came to Kilkenny twice a year , we became firm friends before I ever knew Sid – Frank introduced me to him , we were like the Three Musketeers ( Sid being the most thoughtful , withdrawn , and to be quite honest the most considerate of our trio at the time ( early 70’s England & Ireland ) though poor Frank could be really considerate too except for leaving about 700 broken – hearted women in his trail , he genuinely had pop star status , and money to burn , which he actually did do , the most generous soul alive at the time . Always in a fight , I think he had to jump England and join the Legion afterwards !
    I met Frank again in 1982 , of course I didn’t recognise him prancing around the forecourt of the City Hall here in Kilkenny – he was dressed as a bear prancing around to the music of a fabulous character whio had left the Welsh Police because he had grown to hate them !
    Frank took the bear head off the costume off to hop around collecting money as the people and kids thronged there loving the spectacle .
    He didn’t recognise me, that’s odd I thought . He did , but only after the ex-policeman explained slowly to him who I was, his friend .
    His face lit up , he was a shadow of his former self , he even found speech difficult . I put him up here for a few months until he decided to take off for Limerick . But he had improved greatly here by then .
    I have never seen or heard from Frank since then – nor has anybody else – we parted the very best of friends as always .

    I hope he is alive and OK , we had a fabulous youth together , you might be able to find out for me , thanks .

    Anyway , I wish you well , Philip – did I see a son of yours reporting on TV a year or so ago , a young TV Reporter named Carr-Gomm? My regards to Stephanie .

    Doesn’t the death of a beloved mutual friend bring us together like nothing else . Almost all my close friends are dead now . I’m like ‘ Oisin in ndiadh na Fianna ‘ .
    Happily the ‘ Irish Civil War ended , a Pyrrhic Victory as I forecast , but it had to be done !

    I hope you will represent us at the funeral .

    Ar Dheis De go raubh a h-anam dhilis !
    ( May his Spirit rest at the Right of God ! )

    Michael .

  8. Hi Michael, I don’t think there’s a family member who is a TV reporter! I would go to funeral but I am away today until end of month really (to and fro)….Yes when people die it brings us together (so ironic really, but at least it represents one positive result of loss). Must dash now! Many blessings, Philip

  9. Please post arrangements for the funeral if you receive them , Thanks again for posting such a lovely tribute to Sid , that was great of you , it won’t be forgotten !

    ( And there’s obviously another successful Carr-Gomm family in England ! He was reporting for ITN )

  10. Thoughts and memories of you Sid.
    1969 dancing naked around camfire in Cornwall in the summer.
    Autumn 1969 at squat at 144 Piccadilly, London, just before the police raided.
    Windsor free festival early 70s dancing naked again…

    now I am 55 and you are dead
    best wishes on your journey

  11. Why did I think of Sid today when I haven’t thought of him for ages? Sorry to hear about the loss of one of the good guys who I only met once but who was as hosptiable as anyone I ever talked with.

  12. Hi ,its interesting to see yet another dirty old git being bigged up,the man (??) was a molester ,he liked very young girls the most,another gary glitter??.it was very in the open his deeds,a lot of the cronies that surrounded him will now plead ignorance,he was a sad old perv who ripped off many gullable hippys,claimed to have been at the henge and beanfield,actually appeared on t.v. claiming he was personally attacked,lying,duplicitous old git,feck him,……

  13. SID’S MEMORIAL SERVICE will be on Saturday September 11th 2010.
    It will take place at the Rainbow 2000 Camp site, which is really easy to find.
    The site is on a hill overlooking the river Severn.
    If you are travelling up the A48 which runs between Chepstow and Gloucester, when you have passed through the village of Westbury-on-Severn, you take the first right, which is Rodley Rd. A mile and a half along Rodley road is the entrance to the site. Bring musical instruments, maybe a picnic, and be prepared in case the weather is bleak.
    Sid died surrounded by loving family and friends, and he is going to be deeply missed by a great many friends.
    Blessed be Sid!


  14. So my Bear of Little Brain (as he would label himself) is gone.

    I met Sid squatting the World’s End, Chelsea wearing white pyjamas and a headband. My mother invited him in for a sherry!

    I left him at Grafton Road, Camden.

    We went to Newcastle-under Lyme to distribute D.A.M. leaflets. Sid took me backstage when he chatted with the Grateful Dead, receiving some tabs of acid, which he duly dropped several days later back in Chelsea.

    After Windsor had been broken up, I remember Sid at Hyde Park – “I don’t want to be a leader”, as he rallied the crowd to follow him.

    Having seen various interview videos, what surprised me was the amount of rewriting of history – on 144 Piccadilly, Dornish and so on. But what was wonderful was to hear Sid’s West Country burr of an accent again. That’s what I shall remember him for, Silly Old Bear.

  15. Isn’t it funny, when you have not seen someone for years, then hear they are dead. I’ve been missing Sid for a long time, but now I miss him in that final, irrevocable way that I miss Jeremy. I think it’s possible that the last time I saw them both was in a pavement cafe in that courtyard in Glastonbury (what’s it called?) when J was interviewing S with a view to ghost-writing the auto/biography. That was back in the early days of the Travellers School Charity, of which Sid, Jules and I were among the founding members. I’ve moved on a lot since then, but still I would be interested to see if The Vision of Albion ever appears.

    • Hi Rachel, I heard from a friend that Sid couldn’t write well at all, and so he felt that piece I quote from Jeremy’s site was almost certainly ghost-written by Jeremy himself. But what a great piece it is!

  16. Sorry to hear of Sid’s passing. I only met him once, I think, mid 60s in Slough where I still live. Learned a lot more from him than I ever did at school. I still think he was right with his ideas about land ownership. I got distracted by music and settled down with a lady whom I’m still married to after 30 years. She thinks I’m mad, thanks Sid. I’ll never forget you.

  17. Thank you. I have vivid memories of Sid in Slough in 1966 – 1967 and at Molesworth in the 1980s with my children
    I can imagine how amused he would be – and perhaps annoyed – that his obituary appears in the Times

  18. Hallo Philip –
    We’ve put an obituary page for Sid in our latest edition – The Land 9 – and would like to send a copy to his family, plus the originals of various versions of a portrait drawing. Would be so grateful if you could let us have an address.
    Many thanks & best wishes

    Gill Barron

  19. Hi Philip, Rachel and all

    I worked with Jeremy Sandford for nearly eight years before Jeremy died in 2003, trying to get funding for Sid’s memoirs, which I was going to publish under my Enabler imprint, which I’ve used for A time to Travel, Battle of the Beanfield, No Boundaries, Another kind of space etc.

    Next year (2012) I’m planning to bring out another Traveller/festival collection of images and words called Travelling Daze. I have an eclectic bunch of contributors lined up including David Stooke, Sam Wilkinson, Dave Fawcett, Ferdia Earle, Gary the Bus, Margaret Greenfields, Netty Miles, Beth Salter and more. In the book I hope to include some of the material Jeremy and I collected from Sid’s chats with us. And that indeed was the way that the bits of the draft for Vison of Albion (one of three or four working titles) was collected. Do get in touch if you’d like share any thoughts/memories.

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