11/12/14: Revised edition of Free State now available

Blog post, December 11 2014

free state review 1
free state review 2

The revised version of the book ‘Free State’ has now been printed, and this coincided with an extraordinarily positive review being published in the local ‘Central Somerset Gazette.’

The article, which covered the whole of the centre pages of the November 27 edition, was written by Laura Linham. She had rung me to say, rather apologetically, that she had just realised that the copy I sent for review six months ago had been lost under a pile of old correspondence, but would it be OK to give it a write-up now? Yes of course I said, especially as it had just gone to the printers’ and the revised edition would be out very soon.

After a quick flip through she had noticed, she said, that the book mentioned the Central Somerset a few times. It does, though mostly not in a very positive light. Yes, I said, part of the story is how the attitude of the local press has changed over the years.

A few days later she rang back, mainly to say that she had really enjoyed reading the book – which felt like an astonishing response from a local journalist – and then it appeared the following Thursday, with a bunch of photographs that they had gone and found from their own archives. Most extraordinary of all was the inclusion of their own headline from July 1977: ‘Call in the Army to shift hippies.’

The new edition has not been changed in any way that alters the basic narrative of the book, but it has put a few things right that turned out to be inaccurate. This is the ‘Extra Introduction’ that I have added to the book in order to explain:

Having published ‘Free State’ locally in June 2014, I soon found that there were issues that people disagreed with. Where these involved matters of historical fact, they needed checking and where necessary changing. There were three such corrections in particular:

First, there’s a piece in Chapter 5 about the old school building at the Chalice Well, which was demolished in 1973. At the time this caused considerable controversy, though it is not true (as I had reported) that the Chalice Well ’s original Deed of Trust included the obligation to restore it for use as a hostel and meeting centre. This was widely believed at the time, and it may have been the wish of the Well’s former owner Alice Buckton, but the Chalice Well Trust does not stand accused of reneging on its fundamental commitments. Hoping to put this issue finally to rest, I did approach the Trust for permission to explore their archive material, hoping this would explain fully why they had purchased the building only to demolish it a few years later. Sadly I was refused, though there seems little doubt that the decisions taken at the time were the best that they could have made in the circumstances.

Secondly, Chapter 6 included the proud boast that Yehudi Menuhin played at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (at the Assembly Rooms). Paul Branson, a key organiser of the Festival, has told me that Menuhin was a personal friend who did donate £5 to the Assembly Rooms restoration fund, but who never played there. His alleged performance turns out to be one of those fondly-repeated Glastonbury myths.

And thirdly, I encountered considerable confusion concerning the founding of the Library of Avalon (Chapter 25). After 25 years memories are unreliable, and faced with two different versions of events I went to the library to have a look at the minutes of its early meetings. They no longer exist. Never imagining, I suppose, that anyone would come along wanting to research the library itself, they had a clear-out some time ago and threw away all those untidy old pieces of paper. The irony of this to me seems quite outstanding. I have managed to piece the story together from what there still is in the way of documentary evidence from the late 1980s, and this has been a very interesting exercise in the nature and use of historical material. I have now included a revised version that I am confident with, and that differs in several respects from the history that appears on the library’s own website.

There have also been a number of minor corrections, and it is possible that there will still be a few more to come. My thanks to everyone who has contributed to my efforts to be as accurate as possible.