I will be talking at this event to go with my exhibition
I will be talking at this event to go with my exhibition
Some extracts from ‘Everywoman and the Angel of Death’
The Women’s Peace Camp was originally established at RAF Greenham Common, Berkshire, to protest against the nuclear weapons that were being housed there. The majority of protest was undertaken during the 1980s, including famous actions such as ‘Embrace the Base’, where hundreds of women joined hands in a giant circle around the perimeter of the base. Although the missiles were removed in the early 1990s, protests continued at the site for years. Today, Greenham Common contains many traces and memorials of the protest and camps that happened there and is still an emotive symbol of Women’s Activism.
Payen’s exhibition explores the protests, stories of the women who were involved in the peace camps and the site today. Inspired by growing up in the community close to the site, research in the archives, interviews with the women who were involved in the protests and extensive site visits to Greenham Common as it is now, Payen explores Greenham’s continued relevance today.
Here is a post about the different gates at Greenham written by John Walker.
In 1981 the Greenham Common Peace Camp began. Over the years the Greenham women established several different gates and they named them after the seven colours of the rainbow. This was an organic process which began with main gate (also known as yellow gate), then followed by the set up of Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Red, Orange, Turquoise and Emerald gate. Different groups of people went to different gates, each gate had a different issue, there was not just one agenda to campaign against, there were many. In 1982, it was the year in which the Greenham women really began to find their feet, starting with the protest about the sewage pipes, which was the first stage of the development.
Due to the volume of publicity following a vast number of demonstrations, the small group of protesters at main gate soon grew enormously in numbers. Sometimes the women were joined by hundreds or even thousands. This then became the start of how different camps were set up, as one woman decided to set up her own gate near the silos – this became known as Green Gate. The different gates became an official part of the Greenham Common landscape, to which even the MoD police used to reference each gate by.
To try and maintain a level of safety for each gate, for security measures against the multiple threats the women faced, the women at Greenham would have a person appointed to do a night watch. These would often be working women or women who would have travelled down. Once they had finished their night watch they would then go off to work.
Personally the women at Greenham represent a lot of things. Reading and hearing about the different gates, what they stood for, who lived at each gate, what different actions they did, how they lived together, it really illustrates the independence and the ability to make great achievements together. They are strong, smart and creative women who, despite the political situation and the dangers surrounding them, created an environment where they were able to be free, be themselves, explore who they were and who they wanted to be. The rainbow has many symbolic representations throughout different cultures in history. It can represent diversity, social change and hope, which is exactly what the women at Greenham represented and much more.
Main gate/ Yellow gate.
Main gate, later known to be called Yellow Gate, was the first gate which was set up by the women at Greenham. One of the major actions they were known for was to have a teddy bears picnic. Yellow gate was also regarded as one of the more political gates.
Green gate was the first additional camp that was set up and it was based near the silos. It has been said that the symbolic web weaving first originated from this gate. Despite the 1980s being a time of oppression for the gay and lesbian community, sexuality wasn’t necessarily an issue for the women at Greenham. The environment became an opportunity for the women to explore their own sexuality and freedom, which led to some women who identified as being lesbian to be open and able to explore and celebrate it. These women mostly stayed at Green gate.
This gate it notable for many different famous actions taken. One of the most religious symbolic action involved a huge cross and a bible. They went through three lots of barbed wire with the cross whilst singing the Passion of Saint John. However, once this action came to court, there was total denial about the cross, so the case became suspended.
Green gate was also important because near the area the women used the solid clay from the ground, in order to make the modelled goddesses. This was another important action which freaked out the army, as they were left around the base.
Blue gate was set up by Rebecca Johnson due to finding Yellow Gate ‘claustrophobic’ and also it suited to the camps tactics to find a location that was near the Centre of Newbury. This camp was set up on Bury Banks road and this location gave the women a visible presence to the public and visitors.
This gate could be considered one of the most diversive gates due to having a mix of different types of women. It had either a very religious group of people, artists, lesbians and also very young women. The camp had a lot of young runaways, who had just left home to be independent and to get out of the environment they were in. For some women, it was an opportunity to open up and tell stories to each other, and due to this open dialogue amongst each other they really learnt a lot about domestic violence, incest and abuse, for some women this would have been the first time to hear first hand such stories. During the 1980s, these issues were not really an openly discussed topic, hence why some of the younger women aged from as young as 15 years old ran away.
Due to this gates location and some of the more young boisterous women, they became under threat from local neighbours, yobs and local authorities. They became a focus for multiple attacks, for example dog walkers would walk through their tents, people defecated in the tents and they became the first call for bailiffs on evictions.
Orange gate was set up around the same time as blue gate. However, its atmosphere was different to Blue Gate and attracted different types of characters of women. Due to its locations being further away from the public domain and locals, it meant that it was more of a safer environment in comparison to other gates. It’s defined as a less severe gate and catered for women who were older or who brought their children to Greenham. In fact, women from Durham would often come to Orange Gate. One of the actions orange gate are known for is when they cut back a large section of the fence and rolled it back. They went into the base and there was a bus, which the women got in and drove around the camp site, picking up other women, finally driving to the silos where they eventually got caught and had to give themselves up.
Emerald gate was based near the silos, however this gate would stop and start because it was the gate closest to keeping an eye on the British army men guarding the site. This gate is considered to have had high importance amongst the women of Greenham due to playing such a vital role in keeping an eye of what was going on, Emerald gate was important. However the solders behaved badly towards the women at this gate, for example throwing stones at the women.
The remaining gates
The remaining gates, Red, Violet and Indigo were set up the later in the following years due to the huge influx of women gathering. When the nuclear missiles had actually arrived, this prompted more women to come and protest, hence the need for these extra gates.
Women from Manchester would often prefer to go to Red gate. Violet gate was known for chatting up the soldiers through the barbed wire, taking a more conventional feminine approach.
Here is a picture of John on site at Greenham Common.
Lynette Edwell lives in Newbury, Berkshire and was closely involved in the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp for the entire length of the protest. Lynette kindly allowed me to interview her two times exploring different aspects of the protest. John Walker a student on the MA in Art History and Curating at The University of Birmingham kindly helped to transcribe both talks. Here is my edit.
L – Lynette Edwell
S – Sally Payen
S: Tell me about the watch towers please…
L: They’re horrible – they were like Auschwitz. And nobody ever saw them coming up – and nobody ever saw them going down. They just came and they went. And you thought – where did that go! We had a bus stop opposite yellow gate and that vanished. And someone who woke up in the middle of the night said I thought I was hallucinating. She said, one or two men went, physically picked it up, crossed the road with it and took it inside the base. The whole bus stop. But we never saw the watch towers coming down, Rebecca said one of them fell down. They were horrible. But one of the things is, you see a watch tower you think, argh, that’s where they will be watching you – rubbish! Wherever it’s really brightly lit that’s the best way to go in.
S: Because they’re not watching you?
L: They don’t think you’re going to cross and you can’t watch people all the time. They think if they’re there… it’s the psychology… this is the brightest spot, women will never go. Don’t believe this, look a whole chain of them *Laughs*.
L: A whole load of us went by the watch tower in a sort of tunnel of barbed wire that went on forever. You had to, just make commitment you’d keep going, because if the woman in front of you stopped, you’d be just trapped in the middle.
S: Lots of watch towers?
L: Ooh yeah.
S: What more than 10?
L: No no, I don’t think as many as that, but, I think possibly 4 or 5. You noticed them, and then, you didn’t. You get used to them, and then, they’re gone. They’re supposed to be manned, but you can’t always tell if anyone is up there or not.
L: We had Buddhists from Milton Keynes. That’s as much as I know as I didn’t question people. I had two Buddhists and they slept here. And the children loved them. One didn’t speak a word of English, and had no problem communicating at all. And the children were so impressed because she had no hair, she was so kind. Some of them had a temple in London.
S: I did read in your archive, a group of Buddhist women got rough treated more than anyone else.
L: Because the policemen, thought they were skinheads. Skinheads dress like this? I don’t think so *Laughs*. We had such gentle Buddhists, apart from their irritating habit of playing drums, early morning.
S: They probably thought they were purifying things.
L: Yeah, they were just lovely people. And they cook and they cleared up, including the men. Wherever they’d go they offered to do the cooking, I mean sometimes, we had a big demonstration and they offered to do the cooking. They’re lovely people. I don’t know what their belief is, but the way they treat other people is excellent.
S: With Buddhism there isn’t a god figure out there. It’s more about the space of awareness, it’s about mind not being in your head, mind is everywhere, how things are interconnected and impermanent. So its very kind and non violent.
L: I’ve never met a miserable Buddhist so it must work.
S: What was Greenhams women relationship with nature like? And the landscape around them.
L: Well we did have, an unspoken agreement, that if you went to the toilet, you went in the shit pit and you left it tidy and each gate had one they were responsible for. And you left it as you found it, even so, we would go out and tidy up. You didn’t want mess all over the common. Of course there were times where there was mess, and the locals complained. But, as far as possible we collected up litter. And the fact that bailiffs came so often, so we had an excellent service, just put it out for the bailiffs. Not every woman was considerate. But, if you are living there you keep the place tidy. As much as you possibly can. Also you couldn’t own possessions, you had so many evictions, you put them in a car, you put them somewhere, where you could walk off with them at short notice. I think people were very respectful of nature. I remember after Embrace the Base, some of the women brought flowering bulbs and planted them, so even now when you go across Greenham, you’ll find a tulip or daffodil, that doesn’t quite belong there *Laughs*. And for quite a long time at orange gate… we had a little garden with herbs. But we did notice, that when we planted trees, for dead women, they were nearly always vandalised and ripped out. Although, we always asked what the indigenous tree would be, and we told people we would plant them etc.
S: Do you remember cowslips?
L: I haven’t personally seen cowslips. I mean I know what cowslips are.
S: I read through someone’s account that they broke through to the runway and they was a wave of cowslips everywhere.
L: Ooh I don’t doubt it. My daughter was always discovering snow drops. Even now she says you must go see the snow drops. But you know, the kids had more time to run around than we did. When I was at Greenham I was quite often busy. Since then, I’ve gone with my flower book, and found little things I like and the other thing about Greenham, apparently, some of the ordinary wildflower mutate slightly differently. There were women, and if you look through the newsletters, you’ll see very carefully drawn sketches of flowers on the common. Me personally, I didn’t really notice it at the time. It would have been an ideal place for cowslips I would have thought.
You’re very conscious of nature, because you are not living with electric light. So you are much more conscious of day, night and the heavens. And you are conscious of weather. And obviously, if you are sitting on a little flower you have never seen before, you are encouraged to go find out what it is. But it was very beautiful, it really was. And I’ve never spent so much time looking at the night sky. It was just lovely. And nature was interested in us, the rats used to come, you’d put all your food away at night. We had rats, badgers, foxes and occasionally deer. We never unfortunately came across any snakes. Never ever saw a grass snake. There were also nightingales… I heard, but didn’t see, there were lots of lovely wildlife, and if you knew some one who knew about it they’d tell you what it was.
L: Didn’t you want to know things Greenham women used for protesting?
L: They used banners, boards or plaque arts, they used any piece of paper that was available or cardboard. On one occasion they dumped a load of stones at blue gate. And women decorated them and wrote slogans on them. Women used posters, newsletters, embroideries, hand knitted sweaters with slogans and singing at Greenham. Poems, short stories, there was dancing. Dancing on the blockades. And there was a sort of dancing where you had the blockade where everyone was siting, and there’s a blockade where you are in a chain… join in the circle and go back in, that was very successful. Then there was the slogans on the dump stones, and then there were things like using the wires off the fence, you could decorate the fence, and we also used bits of wire from the fence as cooking grids. The fence is like a tapestry. You could weave around, attach things through it and weave things, there was a beautiful rainbow at orange gate, I don’t know if you’ve come across it. And when ordered to take it down, one of the children in the camp started crying because he didn’t like to do it. That was a bugger to take down – so clever.
S: What was that made of?
L: I think it was wool. It looked like wool. Could have been string, It looked to me like coloured wool and it looked absolutely beautiful – it was clever, you couldn’t just slash through it, you had to actually pick it off. That was a great delight.
S: You said some amazing things about the atmosphere, you know, when the watch towers were up, and it was really weird lighting. They’re watching you and you’re watching them.
L: It got so unsafe, that each gate had a night watch. So one woman would stay up all night just so that other women could sleep. Women would come in to do the night watch.
I have to stop now and tell you how cruise watch was organised. So what they did… if you can think of the 9 mile fence… it goes in and out… but there are roads all around it with the gates. So, you’d usually get 2 people at cruise watch, either a man or a woman or 2 men. They are asked not to go to the gates. But they are on the roads, sort of keeping watch. We had to communicate either by ship to shore, or women would roughly know where the cruise watch cars were or cruise watch cars called in at a distance. So you knew that cruise watch cars were in the area… most days of the week. Weekends are not so bad, because you get the women who came down for the weekend. Also, in the week, especially when it was dark, you got meals on wheels. Which is hot dinners delivered. And they’d take wet bedding and bring it back. So that was the communication. Between all this you had a network of people who came down to do night watch. And these would often be working women. Who would do night watch and go off to work. So that’s what we did for security. So orange gate would have night watch, green gate, blue gate, and if you were at a gate with 2 or 3 women it was just as well to go to the next gate to sleep, women were quite sensible about these things, on the other hand if you were somewhere like emerald, you could go sleep in the trees. Or near the trees and just be quiet. So you had to assess your situation. Blue gate, which is the one that had either a very religious group, then the artists, but mainly the very young women who couldn’t put up with the rest of the camp, they would tend to get a bit boisterous in the early hours. The neighbouring people would quite rightly get fed up with them. And they’re the ones who came under a lot of threat, because people walking their dogs would walk through there tents, defecate in the tents, steal their property. Bad neighbours rather than threat. On the other hand, blue gate then became a focus for people, the taxi drivers in the town who were very pro American. We had sort of little anti-women, they were pro military, they used to meet at the pub near the station, called the railway, because we were tipped off about it, they dressed in black and they were one lot of vigilantes and they used to go around the camps at night, they were very threatening. And they used to fire air guns, throw stones etc. They didn’t attack the women, the attacks came from the military on the whole, but the vigilantes were just nasty. So if you had a night watch and they didn’t want to be seen, that was the main threat. There were just so many threats, and sometimes they were all full on.
S: Could you describe like the colours and sensations around you when you were there at night?
L: Well I was always aware of the heavens really and the stars.
S: So it was always clear sky?
L: No. It always rained *laughs*. But when you’re sitting around the fire, you’re aware of the colours of the fire, that brightness, and then the darkness behind. The lights in the sky, I was mainly orange gate at night, so, not a very threatening gate. But, it’s a good place for vigilantes to park their cars and come up on us and make a quick get away. So we were always on alert for footfalls. We were surrounded by trees, so we were sort of in a little clearing surrounded by trees, then there was a road and the lights from the base dazzling. And behind that there were figures, sort of and occasionally a dog would bark, occasionally a vehicle would come. It was a very strange sensation that you’re here, in the center with a fire, perhaps next to another woman, then you are vaguely aware that women are sleeping around you, and trees are circling you, you can hear things and you’ve got a dazzle of light. Then behind that there are shapes, the shapes are figures, dogs patrolling, vehicles coming, whispers, it was very strange. I never felt unsafe. You could hear people, vaguely, because noise carries, you suddenly realise just how noise carries. Because when I was there once I could hear these donkeys and I realised they had come from the children’s play areas. But when its quiet, its very immediate, so sounds were very deceptive. What was lovely was watching rabbits coming to drink in the pools in the morning, I was never awake for the sunrises, but we had some lovely sunsets, you could really appreciate the sky. And when it was very frosty and I’m not a cold weather person, there was one time someone had taken down about 10 sections of a fence so women could drive in, and the fence was just beautiful with frost. And the trees were beautiful.
L: The black Cardigan.
S: That’s the bolt cutters.
L: Yes. And I have to explain it in context. Women were going around doing talks and collecting money for bolt cutters. There were about 180, they were all in my cellar. It was very strange because at this time, someone said to us, your phones are tapped, don’t use bolt cutters use the term black cardigans. Now I can’t think of any other context, except on the phones because we thought they were tapped. So we used the expression, then suddenly it was in the press. The Daily Mail, if you look in the archives, they’ve got a feature, in which a bloke is going on about black cardigans. So I thought someone has been listening into our phone calls, I thought good luck to them. But they couldn’t understand why it was so important for Greenham women to have black cardigans.
S: I went thought the strip searching archives.
L: I was strip searched, but I didn’t get further than my underwear. Then they left me, I got dressed, nobody was around, so I wondered into the American command unit where they were all sitting and I was reading their messages. I said “why are you strip searching me sir I haven’t got anything on me, and then you let me loose to wonder in”. They were like “what are you doing mam?” – Very polite. “I’m reading your messages” *laughs*. So they threw me out, but very nicely.
J: What could you possibly say to a group of 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old’s?
L: Well first thing I found, when I was with the very young ones at blue gate, 15 and 16 year old’s… please take this on board… that’s where I heard for the first time about incest, violence to teenagers – teenagers can get a rotten deal, not just working class, but they had to run away. And they run away for good reason. Once they’re 16 and they left… I can think of 2 young girls who came to Greenham with really horrendous past. They’ve just done so well. I learnt more from them than I ever taught them. I think what Greenham provided, is a forum where they could tell us what was going on. They might not know what’s going on in the news, but they certainly know what’s going on in their neighbourhood and their families.
S: So its very much about the safe circle of talking?
L: Yes. Although we were a mixed section. Anybody could come. Especially in blue gate where the young women were. Who had left home just to come and be independent. They were very resourceful. And their stories were very interesting. I’d heard about things like incest and domestic abuse. But when you hear about them, and you hear about the help they have sought and how awful it has been… because don’t forget in the 80’s… we are hearing now about the abuse in the orphanages and care homes. Those people came to Greenham, they couldn’t all be making it up to be dramatic. Its not a big audience, its just a sympathetic audience. I don’t think we allow children in care enough space to tell us what’s wrong with their lives. They have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. I had always taken the attitude that they should just get into the system and just wait until you can and then be independent. But those kids didn’t have a choice, they had to get out. They were in dangerous homes. And the magnitude of it. It just surprised me. They were utterly cynical about the support services. About any help you could get from the police. They had no time at all for social workers. Quite often, social workers that I’d dealt with when some of the camp children went to school were excellent, even for providing necessary clothes or taxis so that they could go to school. I realized that it was possible to be 16, to be abused and neglected, and no one helped or believed you. I began to realise that the system didn’t work for everybody. The more articulate you were, the more help you got, but if weren’t very good at talking, or explaining, it was very easy to be ignored. And being poor really didn’t help at all. So if you’re asking what I taught them, I don’t think I taught them anything but I did listen.
J: If you were at that age to stand up in a school assembly or class, and the question was why are you at Greenham, what are you doing? What do you want to achieve? If you were to communicate to them in a few sentences, in just a few words to explain why.
L: First thing I’d say is, can you name 96 cities in Europe? Right, we have weapons aimed at 96 cities in Europe, each of those weapons will totally destroy a city. Does that make sense? And because that’s going to happen, we have another country aiming 96 weapons at us. If you can name 96 cities in Europe. Does that make any sense to you? And that’s just the start of the nuclear war. That’s the first strike. I mean, do you have to go any further? I do find that you have to draw a line between what terrorises us and what freezes us, is what was very real in the 80s. When you come to rationalise the idea that would do something as terrible as deploy nuclear weapons either accidentally or not… it was such a nightmare, it was freezing people and causing mental illness. Children can only cope with so much reality, there is nothing they can do about it. This is the awful thing. We’ve created a situation where we are all frozen. It’s not the children’s fault, they’ve been born into this situation. So it’s a dodgy one, we’re all responsible yet there is nothing we can do about it.
L: The only thing we could influence is stop them doing it, the children. You don’t have to go into the military. You don’t have to work for nuclear weapons. You know, just don’t join it. And yet universities brainwash them into going, they’re the best jobs around here you can get – an apprenticeship. Really around here its difficult to not get a job which is not related to the nuclear industry, its everywhere. One of the loveliest men in our church and I never stopped having a go at him, he spent his entire life designing a weapon, I said to him years after you’re dead, your work could have such a terrible effect. Yet in his personal life he was just amazing. I have such respect for him, but I never let him feel comfortable around me. These scientists, the other side of it, they spend their whole life designing nuclear weapons.. and what for? I mean, imagine meeting god at the end of you life and saying I spent my whole life doing this. What is it you’ve created in your life? To spend all your life designing weapons. That’s what they all do, it’s a huge industry. And they contaminate the atmosphere and the water. It is difficult living here as well.
S: What did you do earlier in your life that led you to being an activist?
L: I’ve always been an activist.
S: Right from a young woman?
L: I went to a boarding school with Nuns. I was always in trouble. They were very kind to us. The nuns stupidly taught us to think for ourselves. They indoctrinated us to think for ourselves. They didn’t like it when we did. I’ve always been interested and politics to me is very much right or wrong.
S: So it was really in your heart before Greenham? Greenham for a lot of women was their moment of awakening.
L: But Greenham was a lot more than that. Greenham was a space where women could be themselves. And every gate had someone who was really difficult. Someone who was really a mental case. A lot of women were experimenting without having their medication. Trying different ways of living. A lot of women were mad and sad. The idea that you could live your life on your own, sometimes women just need friendship and reassurance.
Lynette Edwell lives in Newbury, Berkshire and was closely involved in the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp for the entire length of the protest. Lynette kindly allowed me to interview her two times exploring different aspects of the protest. John Walker a student on the MA in Art History and Curating at The University of Birmingham kindly helped to transcribe both talks. Here is my edit.
L- Lynette Edwell
S – Sally Payen
S: How did you become to be involved in Greenham?
L: Because I lived here. And I was a member of Newbury Campaign against nuclear missiles. And we had just about exhausted every opportunity to protest. And then the women came, well it was a mixed march from Wales, men and women. And they had small children. And the last person on the march who I waited for personally was Helen John, who was the youngest one and I formed a friendship with her. I wasn’t very active the first year. The women came and they stayed in the Methodist church at Northbrook street – in the church hall overnight and for a day. Then they marched through the town to Greenham, to ask for a debate and nobody was interested so they decided to stay. The Newbury group which I wasn’t particularly active with… Well I started to help the women with tents and firewood and to get them established. Initially the women chained themselves, but then after that they thought they would just stay. That was September,1981. And we were totally ignored. And my house was being used increasingly by women.
S: This house?
L: Yes. And my youngest child was 5 then.
A BBC film crew were stuck in Newbury and filmed us, gave a lot of publicity and we publicised the camp… It was quite a difficult winter of ’81. So by, February 1982, because we were coming up for actions against the sewage pipes – they were going to lay sewage pipes at the base. The first stage of the development. And women decided that they would blockage etc. They decided that they wanted women’s only space.
S: Was that everyone together? Or just one camp that made those decisions?
L: We only had one camp.
S: So that was the yellow camp at the start?
L: No, just the main gate. Yellow is very political. Watch how I use the word yellow gate. Its a very political gate. When the camp was first started you had a hostess for the day. You stopped and you could have a coffee for 50p or you could stay for lunch. It was very civilised. It was terribly middle classed.
L: We had a bit covered in plastic where the children stayed. Where you left your comments. Saturdays various women would come in, mainly Southampton women, and they talked to people. Sunday they had speakers. I never went because I was working with small children… I hear it was very very good… they had very good speakers and a lot of discussion. So it was very focused, it was all word of mouth. Women would be hearing about women from other women. Then in the February to the March, preparing for Rainbow demonstration, they decided to go women only. And CND at that stage was thinking of cutting off support. Helen just said well let them. You’ve got enough small groups to keep going, I said you can use my house.
When we were women only we were very unpopular, some of the initial women decided they didn’t want women only, so some of them went elsewhere – they didn’t last very long then some came back. So really, 1982 was a lot about finding our feet, protesting about the sewage pipes which was the first stage development. So the development now is at main gate. Fran De’Ath https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/aug/12/one-person-picket-fran-death-protests-greenham-common decided she’d set up on her own at green gate which is near the Silos, she’s really brilliant. She virtually was there on her own, she just sat there and as the contractors just went passed she said stop and talk and was very relaxed.
We had some very talented women… artists, things sort of ticked over, and I think we had a CND demonstration that year. We were doing things all the time but not getting much publicity.
S: You decided in big conversation groups what to do next?
L: Big ones, little ones… anything. Bare in mind I was working and had a family. I just couldn’t believe how many people turned out for Embrace the Base. I almost missed it because I was in the information tent. The whole attitude changed for Embrace the Base. People regarded it as a very spiritual occasion. It frightened the life out of Thatcher who then issued edits to various newspapers… to say what’s happening. The next day was Blockade the Base where we were all turned into harridans and lesbians. Blockade the Base was really effective. I didn’t go on that blockade but I saw the women who came here after, they were really throwing people out of the way and it really was a new way of organising.
S: Was it more strident?
L: We weren’t strident but the way they dealt with us and it was very interesting the way the press reported us. If you’re being pulled by the policemen, applying pressure points to you, your mouth opens and looks as if your shouting whether you are or not… And they were very careful who they picked on in the pictures so, I can talk about this, it’s one of my subjects – Embrace the Base one day and Blockade the Base the next…. it was the same women and after that, the iconic image of the Dancing on the Silos, a student film maker filmed it.
S: Its stunning.
L: Yes after Dancing on the Silos – then it really started. We had a year when a lot of women came to camp, a lot of new camps were set up. It wasn’t just a campaign against cruise, it was a campaign on several other issues. Different gates had different issues. So you had the difficulty of living outdoors and trying to keep your possessions together because evictions were starting and women were very clever they moved from one part of the land to another. The orange gate wasn’t so severe because that’s the gate I was mainly associated with. Green gate it was very very hard to stay because they just got you out of the way. So the gates were starting, you had the main gate…
S: Was that kind of an organic thing?
L: Ooh yes definitely. So you had the main gate, then you had green gate at the silos. Then eventually, very near the silos of the fence you had emerald that would stop and start because then you could watch what was going on once cruises arrived. Emerald was important. The other side of the base where they had the most interaction with the locals was blue gate. Then you had indigo and you had red gate on weekends, and orange gate..
S: Why were you with orange? Just because of the people you knew?
L: Well I was very friendly with the green gate people. It depended on what was going on because at one point I was friendly with blue and then orange towards the end of the campaign. You had some women who would come for the weekend. But what was gradually happening was that Greenham had its own support groups, independent to CND. What also started to happen is that we became recognised politically. And they set up, I thought, an amazing, press and information service. We were giving the press stuff that no one else was. The day that cruise came in we knew before any one else, they flew right over my house. So I phoned the telephone tree so we knew before the government released it, that it was in.
S: That’s amazing. I’m so impressed with that!
L: Yeah yeah, that day I went to Greenham – the cruise arrived. The helicopters were very low, throwing the earth in our faces, I can remember we had a big gathering at main gate, and the helicopters went really low, they also evicted women, who had gone the other side of the road.
S: What time of year was it? That they came.
S: November 1983?
L: Yeah. We knew it was coming, I knew what plane it was – I was painting a windowsill when it came and I never finished it, so I had to take the child straight out to Greenham. And that was really scary because the police were walking around the base, then within the fence. You had the MOD and the army, if you didn’t have one you had the other. And then behind that, it was really MOD and the army. The whole attitude was – we got them in, there’s nothing you can do to stop us. And we just said – you will never take them out without us knowing.
We will follow you, we will give a report on you. And that is really what happened. So you had the camp with women at the gates night and day, sleeping in the open. You had women organising actions and contacts with America and Africa. Issues such as nuclear testing, mining, violence against women, all that was going on, plus you had the campaign against cruise, plus from the time cruise came out, once a month, we would actually lie in the street when they came out – every day they’d give an announcement, we’d still see them, they’d document it, and when cruise came back in the middle of the night we’d line the route. And we worked and we had children. That’s what we did.
The women who couldn’t come out would make an undertaking to demonstrate where they lived, in Leeds, Manchester. You had camps all the way round Greenham and you had different women, in fact Durham women would come to orange, Manchester women went to red gate – different groups went to different gates. Newbury council were under tremendous pressure, we would leak documents that showed the council, county council, the MP, home office – they were all getting together to find various ways to get rid of us.
The first main thing was to evict us. Evictions started at night – well we soon stopped evictions at night – they were by the American service men – we soon stopped them by issuing photographs of them because they’re not allowed to do it. So then they started evicting in the day. Which meant you couldn’t own or keep property unless you had a car because they took everything. Passports, money – everything vanished. They told us to come around to council offices and then you can claim your belongings. So the Quakers came up with an amazing idea – they decided on a getaway – which is a tent that you put up in a minute and it had the name of the donator on it…. warranting CND – then legally Newbury council had to return it. That made such a difference. There’s so many aspects to it – I’m also leaving out all the fun bits.
S: Ooh I’d like to hear that.
L: And the arts.
S: These are the kind of things, stuff like knitting really effect how I go about making the work. I read some lovely quotes about how some women felt they ‘became the fence’. Do you look at it like one of the best times in your life?
L: It was very frightening. What it did show me was just how corrupt our government and our systems were. They weren’t there to protect British women. They were there to do the bidding of the USA. The next thing was the women showing the lack of security at the base. So we used to go in practically every day. Either to go in and demonstrate or to leave messages in the various porter cabins. And we started cutting sections of the fence and rolling them out.
S: Yes yes. I love the cutting because that’s all part of the archeology when you go around now. You’ll find loads of bit of weird fencing.
L: Right well I am your cutter. I am a very good cutter. Because what you do is you have to actually know what is going on and time it. You’ll only have a few minutes. You cut and you put it back. So the women will know any where that’s recently been mended you cut and clip back together so women can get it open in minutes. They also have to know when to get out – if that’s what they want to do.
S: Did you break in?
L: Very often yes.
S: Was it absolutely terrifying?
L: I think once when I did go in through roles of wire, it was very claustrophobic by the watch tower. If you’re going in, go in through the brightest place where you are most visible -because they don’t expect this. I think that time was really scary because I was in a very long tunnel with wire either side. So you can’t mess about or you’ll hurt the one behind you. So you just keep going.
L: Now you want a fun action. A fun action – I didn’t go on this. Orange gate cut a large section of the fence and rolled it back. And they went into the base and there was a bus. The base bus and we got on it and they drove around and they picked women up, and they drove around picking women up and had a lovely time. Until they got to the silos then they gave themselves up. So that was followed by a court case but they all got off – they had such fun on that it was someone’s birthday.
The most serious action I did was after they said they would shoot us. A few of us, it was good Friday and we went in with a huge cross. That was at green gate, we had to go through three lots of barbed wire with this cross and we were reciting The Passion of Saint John. We were heading straight to the silos because we wanted to find out – they had said that they would shoot us if we were in this restricted area and later said we could be shot if we were involved in a cruise protest on the street. So we were never secure. Because they said all of this five of us went in.
S: Sorry a huge cross – did one person carry it or several of you?
L: We all tried to carry it and get it though the barbed wire.
L: Paul Alan took photographs of it. The idea was that Christians would pray for us. We went in three o’clock.
S: In the afternoon?
L: Yes. Bright daylight, you don’t want to mess about – you want to see exactly what you are doing. So we went in at green gate, straight towards the silos. There were police on duty, they were very gentle with us, they arrested us and put us in a van, then they freaked out because one woman had holy water and dropped it on the runway and they could not understand what we were doing. So when the case came to court, they only prosecuted one woman, there was total denial about the cross so she had the case suspended and they had to produce the cross which had been donated for the purpose. The cross was huge – how could they say “I don’t remember a cross”.
S: So bigger than 6 foot wide?
L: Ooh yeah it was huge. You think what Jesus did – you’d never get that through barbed wire. It was very large. So we were saying, this is a religious symbolic act.
S: So you were reading…
L: Yes, the Passion of Saint John out of a Bible. That was my job because I’m not very good at pulling and pushing. So I continued with reading. And we took it in turns when you could, but the idea was you just kept on going.
S: Wow, that’s incredible,
L: Yes it was.
S: Because you feel an incredible presence when you go to the site now. It has a real effect on you, and when I’m walking around.
L: Nothing has changed, they’re still firing at the poor Syrians.
L: So, fun actions. Women glued plastic ducks to the runway. That stopped all the planes coming in.
L: That was fun, because they were told how many ducks there were so they had to go out and find them. Another time women painted the runaway, you couldn’t bring the planes in – it would have been too dangerous.
Another time the Americans were fattening up some Geese for thanksgiving. Then the women went in and liberated them all. Well they couldn’t bring them here you see, because I was helping with the wildlife hospital I said, ” I don’t care where you take them, don’t bring them here, because it’s the first place they’ll look”. But women got them straight away.
S: I like that because I’m a vegetarian. *Laughs*
L: Some women made little goddesses, Lorna was saying the other day how they got the clay, near green gate, there’s a particular solid clay and they modelled little goddesses…. they left them around the base and that really freaked them out.
S: I read about the teddy bears picnic.
L: Yes, that was done on my old sewing machine upstairs. Main gate women decided to be really annoying and go in and have a teddy bears picnic. That was great fun.
S: Did it always remain women only?
L: Yeah. It always remained women only.
S: But I thought some gates would allow some men in?
L: Cruise watch would let you visit during the day. It was just too dangerous at night because if you heard a mans voice you knew.
S: What do you mean?
L: Well I’ll explain – If you heard a male voice, you knew it was trouble. It’s as simple as that. Please come, you’re very welcome, once it gets dark, unless you’re a cruise watch man known to us, do not come. A Cruise watch man is only going to come for one reason. He’s known to you and he will shout out. Cruise watch man will come to tell you something’s gone wrong, or there’s been an accident. Something that is urgent. But its very threatening, you’ve got all these people who are awake all night, they don’t go to sleep. Their vehicle is on that base.
We had vigilantes. Who were constantly stealing our things. Defecating in the tent. Cutting the tents. Ruining our clothes, smashing up our food, putting out the fire. It was difficult.
S: I can remember that.
L: Mud and maggots being thrown at Rebecca.
S: I can remember from growing up locally that people had so many problems with Greenham women.
L: Well we did smell a bit, of wood smoke. And there were all sorts.
S: Did you have problems with living here.
L: Ohh yeah. People didn’t speak to me. I didn’t get invited to dinner parties. The general feeling was that I’d get my windows smashed, I said to all the children, right 50p if you see anyone who was hovering. So if you parked your car and you were a suspicious person the kids were on to you. I’d never had any problems. But the neighbours didn’t like it. I don’t blame them, I had noisy women shouting. And also we had quite a lot of runaways. We had very young girls coming to Greenham.
S: So you had a lot of abused people?
L: Yes, Blue Gate mainly. I learnt more about domestic violence, and incest in Greenham. It wasn’t much of a topic back then, it was coming out. And anyone could come and stay at Greenham. You know, it was open. It was place where you lived virtually without possessions, you could be your real self. And you met interesting people, film stars, I’d suddenly realised the person I had harassed to feed my children was a novelist. She was lovely. She looked after both of them – because we were running after cruise.
S: What would you say to future generations now?
L: Keep informed. Find out what’s going on. Educate yourself. And go for it. If you think something is wrong, start with the little things on your doorstep and put them right. But don’t do it for yourself. If you’re just doing something for yourself, for money, its not worth it. If you’re doing something that worth doing, keep at it. And it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you. Just keep going. I really had no status at all around here – I couldn’t care less. I made a much nicer group of friends and we were right. We did get rid of cruise. But it took a long time and a lot of effort. And it was a disgrace, the whole thing was. The way our government allowed us to be shot.
What I want is a proper national health service. What I want is people paying their taxes. What I want is an end to zero hours contracts. What I want is every kid to have the chance to go to university without flooding themselves in depth. What I want is affordable reasonable housing. I don’t want people saying ooh look our house prices have gone up, sod that! It just means the next generation can’t raise a family. So is that so much to want? But nobody represents me.
S: In terms of my artwork, I’m not working as a documentary painter, there are already amazing and strong photos documenting the protest. I’m looking for a kind of philosophy and poetics about Greenham, both the protest and the landscape – because I’m interested in how painting can explore a different mystery, something a photograph could never touch on. I’m really interested in the symbols, snippets about lifestyle, its strange how sometimes a little bit of narrative can really direct me. But I’m approaching this from ‘what does it all mean now’. So I’m using the inspiration of what you did to help direct me.
S: There were nuclear weapons at Greenham before weren’t there?
L: Not officially. There was an incident at Greenham and the home secretary said there were not nuclear weapons but in fact CND has proved that there was a collision, in 1958/ 59 between two planes.
S: Actually at Greenham?
L: Yes, and one of them had nuclear and there was a spillage. But CND have got an actual report on it.
S: So it should still be polluted land then?
L: Ohh it is. But what they’ve done it they’ve dug up the runaway and they’ve treated it bless them.
S: Its actually under the Newbury bypass I read.
L: I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d imagined there be a fair amount there if you went and tested it. And also the Silos have had warheads in them.
S: Have you been in the silos?
L: I find them very spooky.
S: Have you actually been inside though?
L: I’m afraid so.
S: What was it like? You broke in?
L: The thing is – it’s like a tomb, I went in while it was open. Rebecca said ” Don’t touch anything!” *Laughs*. We went in once, New Years Eve, about midnight, it was really scary and a starry sky. But a girlfriend of mine had gone in a month or two earlier and said the silos were full of butterfly’s. It’s a good place for them to go. I hate the silos. I’ve been inside twice. Another time we were going for a walk and thought lets go see what its like. It’s this idea that people lived in there totally detached from the outside world.
S: They didn’t live in the silos though?
L: There’s an area there. That’s the whole point. If you looked in Salisbury plain down comes the door, and you’ve got accommodation down stairs, not a lot, very small space. And you just stay waiting to fire… can you imagine your mindset?
S: That’s really horrifying.
L: You’re completely cut off. In this tomb.