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Glastonbury Festival (1986)
Courtesy of The People’s Archive

Lost archive photos from Glastonbury festival

As this year’s Glasto begins, we look through The People’s Archive collection of anonymous snapshots taken over the years

Despite the spectre of mud-sodden fields and portaloos on day five, there‘s something particularly bewitching about Glastonbury Festival. Perhaps it’s Somerset’s long associations with paganism, the proximity of Stone Henge, the ley lines believed to criss-cross the county, or the Arthurian legends linked with this part of the world, but Glasto has a unique species of mystical allure that’s distinctly lacking from the likes of Leeds and Reading Fest.

After a two-year Covid-induced hiatus, the much-adored Glastonbury is back. Festival-goers are flocking to the little Somerset town for one of the most significant events in the UK’s cultural calendar. Among the vast line-up of acts set to perform, this year’s festival sees the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney, The Libertines, and Diana Ross taking the stage across the five-day event.

Since it was founded in 1970 by visionary dairy farmer Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Festival has become an institution. The biggest names in the past half-century of music have at some point graced its various stages. Over the course of the 50 iterations of the festival, Glastonbury has provided endless iconic moments, from Dolly Parton performing a particularly exquisite version of “Jolene” in the 2014 Legend’s Slot, Pulp heroically understudying for the Stone Roses in 1995, Bowie’s famed 2000 appearance, to Stormzy’s famed 2019 headline show on the Pyramid Stage.  

“A lot of things just go out of the window at Glastonbury, you’re lucky if you get a few hours sleep most nights, it’s survival of the fittest” – Paul Wright, British Culture Archive

In celebration of its 50th year, British Culture Archive shared their candid images of Glastonbury taken by festival-goers over the years. Founder and curator Paul Wright described Glastonbury’s unique appeal: “As a celebration of the music and the arts, the festival has always had an underlying spiritual vibe to it. It’s one of those festivals that you need to experience to understand it. It becomes its own city in the fields of Somerset, and despite many saying it has become too corporate, it’s still the best festival in the world pulling in the best acts.”

Working with established and emerging photographers whose work highlights cultural and social change, British Culture Archive is a priceless resource of documentary photography, preserving important images from the UK’s history. Their online galleries include images ranging from Thatcher’s Britain, acid house, the 1960s mod scene, northern soul, and punk. 

Their images of Glastonbury, which range from the early years of the festival until 2000, are particularly compelling because they were submitted by the general public to British Culture Archive via their associated organisation, The People’s Archive, which is dedicated to documenting and conserving everyday snaps of British life. These photographs are in many ways more revealing because, unlike so many images of Glastonbury, these pictures were not necessarily shot with the intention of one day being made public. These photos are intimate, informal snaps of life in that unique temporary ecosystem created for five brief days every year in the fields of Somerset. 

Trying to decide which of these images most perfectly distils the Glastonbury experience, Wright says: “Maybe the guy covered from head to toe in mud. Or the girl putting her lipstick on using a piece of broken glass as a mirror. A lot of things just go out of the window at Glastonbury, you’re lucky if you get a few hours sleep most nights, it’s survival of the fittest. But it’s a rite of passage for many. In these pictures, you can see the brief sense of freedom and escapism from the trappings of everyday life.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of The People’s Archive’s collection of Glastonbury photographs (with thanks to British Culture Archive).