New Travellers rally round after speeding van kills tethered horse

25 March 2024
New Travellers rally round after speeding van kills tethered horse

The New Traveller community are rallying around to support a nomadic horse-drawn family after their horse was killed outright in the early hours of the morning by a speeding uninsured van.

The horse, Benjamin Bootle, which was tethered and left to graze on a grass verge next to two wagons belonging to Rose Brash and her friend, was pushed 100 metres down the road and was killed instantly by the out-of-control van which was on the wrong side of the road.  

Both Rose and her friend – who was showing Rose the ropes of how to live horse drawn - are in trauma after Benjamin Bootle’s death, and Rose is now trying to pick up the pieces of her life.

Rose has two wagons – one is a spinner with her kitchen stuff and the other is her sleeping wagon – and her and her friend now only have one horse to pull both.

Rose’s friend Netty Miles decided to try to help Rose out and started a crowdfunder to help pay for another horse – the crowdfunder has now reached nearly £800 thanks to the generosity of the New Traveller community and their friends.

Rose is a horsedrawn Traveller who has been on the road since the 1980's,” said Netty Miles. “She's a great horsewoman, well known in her community for her warmth and kindness to horses and people.” 

“Rose is now stranded, with the grazing having run out for their remaining horse, and of course she and her friend are devastated,” added Netty. “They are very proud and don't want to ask their friends for any money, but a few of us said we wanted to donate so she could buy another horse, so here's the chance to do so.”

Rose Brash is an inspiration to many New Travellers and is a survivor of what was known in the press as ‘the battle of the beanfield’, when, in June 1985, thousands of police set out to “decommission” the New Traveller Peace Convoy as it made its way to the then annual Free Stonehenge Festival. The police operation – which was called Operation Solstice – had been planned for at least a year.

The police trapped the Peace Convoy in Wiltshire and started to smash up the New Travellers’ buses, trucks and trailers, forcing a number of vehicles into a nearby field and then into a bean field as the police ran riot.

According to journalist Nick Davies, the police changed into riot gear, drew their truncheons and charged. The 600 or so New Age Travellers who’d been trapped in the beanfield were subjected to a prolonged and bloody attack by police.

Alan Lodge

PHOTO CAPTION: Rose Brash brings her battered bus to a New Traveller camp in Savernake Forest, 1985, after it was released from the police compound. The man in the white shirt is Nick Davies, a Guardian journalist, who wrote an account of the beanfield and had travelled part of the way to Stonehenge in Rose’s bus © Alan Lodge

In total, 537 people were arrested – the most arrests to take place on any single day since the Second World War. They were each charged with obstruction of the police and the highway, but most of the charges were dismissed in the courts.

Rose Brash, who was in the bean field, recalled:

“On that incredibly hot day in 1985, we encountered road blocks on the way to Stonehenge and ended up marooned on farmland seven miles from the site. We parked in a broad bean field and, over a few hours, watched as the police numbers swelled to about 1,300. We could sense the mood changing, so I stuck a sign in the windscreen: “Six-month-old baby on board. We don’t want any trouble.”

Rose was still pulled out of her bus with her baby Kaya in her arms, and her home was then trashed by the police. A photograph of Rose Brash with Kaya became the iconic image of the beanfield.

Yet Rose survived, is now a grandmother, and her two daughters and son also follow the New Traveller life, but the trauma of that day in June nearly 39 years ago still runs deep.

TT News

(Main photograph: Benjamin Bootle, courtesy of Rose Brash)