Utopia Britannica - British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

Glastonbury the First Time

Gazetter entry

Glastonbury festival : 1914 - 1926

The English socialist classical composer Rutland Boughton and his librettist Lawrence Buckley dreamed of an English cultural revival, perhaps including the establishment of a 'national' theatre, certainly an annual festival in the countryside that might become an English Oberammergau or Bayreuth. Letchworth was considered as a venue given the potential support there, but Glastonbury with its Arthurian and spiritual associations was favourite from the start. Alongside the festival Boughton and Buckley envisaged a permanent group of artists who would share the running of a collective farm as a base for the festival. Encouraged by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar and with financial support from the Clarks, Quaker shoe manufacturers at nearby Street, they set about trying to find a home for the festival and artists' colony. A festival venue proved easier to find than a collective farm and in 1914 the first Glastonbury 'festival' kicked off with a summer school and a performance of Boughtons opera The Immortal Hour based on the book by 'Fiona Macleod' at the Glastonbury Assembly rooms. Boughton's work was part English Romantic part Celtic revival, drawing heavily on Arthurian legend. From this beginning a series of festivals developed along with help from Alice Buckton's Guild of Glastonbury & Street festival players who performed their own series of masques and mystery plays. The festivals lasted with a wartime hiccup until 1925.

An opportunity presented itself to set up the dreamed of artists' colony when in 1919 Mount Avalon, a large house with extensive grounds, was purchased by a devotee as a base for the festival. This was however the year that Lawrence Buckley died and Mount Avalon failed through lack of income to pay back the benefactor. Boughton and his family moved to a smallholding at Kilcot, Glous. in 1926. The Glastonbury dream was over - for the time being!

The story of Glastonbury in the early 20th century is told in : The Avalonians. By Partick Benham. 1993.

The Rutland Boughton Trust
The musical culture of the British labour movement
Glastonbury Festival
More than just a music festival
Glastonbury's life, atmosphere, people and traditions today

Return to Utopia Homebase
Return to top
Return to Stories Index