Eight hundred years ago at Runnymede, Magna Carta was agreed by King John in front of the feudal barons. ‘The Great Charter’ held the king accountable to the law. As witness to the historic events of 15 June 1215, Runnymede is seen by many as the foundation of liberty.
Runnymede was saved from development in 1929 by the philanthropist Urban Broughton of Anglesey Abbey who died later that year. It was gifted to the National Trust by his widow Lady Fairhaven and her sons in 1931 in his memory in order to preserve it for future generations.
Now in our care, Runnymede is the focus for the world on this important anniversary. It provides an ideal place to pause and reflect on the history of the struggle for freedom.
A place in world history
As well as its pivotal place in English history, Magna Carta has influenced the development of the United States Constitution, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and over a third of the world’s legal systems.
At Runnymede, along with a monument to the democratic legacy of the Magna Carta, there are further memorials to John F. Kennedy and to Commonwealth Air Forces personnel who died in the Second World War but who have no known grave.
New artwork to mark Magna Carta
The historic 800th anniversary of Magna Carta sees the unveiling of a new permanent artwork at Runnymede by British artist Hew Locke. The Jurors is funded by Surrey County Council and commissioned jointly with ourselves.
The work brings the historical significance of this ancient landscape to life. Formed of 12 bronze chairs, each is decorated with images and symbols relating to past and ongoing struggles for freedom, the rule of law and equal rights.
'This anniversary gives us an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of Magna Carta to democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout the country and the world,' said Dame Helen Ghosh, our Director-General. 'As the custodians of Runnymede, we’re proud to play a part in these celebrations.'
Prime Minister congratulates Runnymede volunteer
At the Magna Carta celebrations at Runnymede on 15 June Prime Minister David Cameron presented volunteer Nigel Vines with a Points of Light award for his tireless work preparing Runnymede for the 800th anniversary.
Nigel led the the effort to make sure the entire site around Runnymede was ready for the huge international event attended by HM The Queen and other dignitaries. This involved spending two days a week for 10 months working on the site whatever the weather as well as coordinating other working groups.
‘I’m immensely proud that the eyes of the world are on Runnymede,’ said Nigel. ‘It's a beautiful tranquil place that I enjoyed working on to make sure it looked its best for the event. I hope that even more people will be inspired to visit it and learn about such an important event in our national history in such a wonderful setting.’
A picturesque landscape
Runnymede offers over 300 acres of unspoilt countryside to enjoy and is a haven for wildlife. On the other side of the Thames, Ankerwycke, a hidden gem, includes the ruins of a Benedictine priory and our oldest tree, a 2,500-year-old Yew where Henry VIII was rumoured to have courted Anne Boleyn.
The tranquillity of Runnymede is captured on canvas in a landscape painting by Edmund John Niemann which can be seen at Anglesey Abbey. Along with a portrait of the Earl of Leicester with his hand on a copy of Magna Carta at Hinton Ampner, it is one of several items in our collections with links to the document.
One of the great gardens of the 20th century designed by Ralph Dutton who united a formal layout with varied and informal planting, this was the signature style of the period. The garden has many uncommon plants together with fine lawns and terraces and magnificent views over the Hampshire countryside.