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Writ in Water at Runnymede

The round stone exterior of 'Writ in Water', an art installation inspired by Clause 39 of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey
'Writ in Water', an art installation inspired by Clause 39 of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Writ in Water, a major architectural artwork by Mark Wallinger, in collaboration with Studio Octopi, provides a new immersive space for contemplation and reflection at Runnymede, Surrey. Writ in Water is open seven days a week and is free to enter.

What is Writ in Water?

Over 800 years ago, Magna Carta was sealed on the banks of Runnymede – a founding moment in shaping the basis of common law across the world.

Writ in Water is a large-scale architectural installation designed by artist Mark Wallinger, commissioned by the National Trust in association with arts producers Situations, which celebrates the enduring significance of Magna Carta.

Set in the heart of this ancient landscape, Writ in Water reflects upon the founding principles of democracy and. through a meeting of water, sky and light, offers a space for reflection and contemplation.

Discover award-winning architecture

Writ in Water is a circular building, emerging from the hillside at the base of Cooper’s Hill. The meadow it sits within is flanked by the River Thames on one side, and an ox-bow lake on the other. Responding to this feature of the landscape, Writ in Water takes its name from the inscription on John Keats’ gravestone, which reads: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’.

An exterior doorway leads to a simple circular labyrinth, in which you can turn left or right to reach an inner doorway, opening out into a central chamber. Here the sky looms through a wide oculus above a pool of water.

The carved words of the artwork 'Writ in Water', by Mark Wallinger, reflected in the water, at Runnymede, Surrey
The carved words of the artwork by Mark Wallinger, 'Writ in Water', reflected in the water, at Runnymede, Surrey | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Artist Mark Wallinger drew inspiration from Clause 39 of Magna Carta and the fundamental principles of justice it embodies. As you move around the pool, you’ll see that the sides are inscribed with reversed and inverted lettering. The reflection in the pool reveals Clause 39, much like the seal on Magna Carta itself.

In June 2019, Writ in Water received the RIBA National Award 2019, which recognised buildings that have made a significant contribution to architecture in the UK. This followed a Civic Trust Awards commendation in March 2019, and the best Public Building Interior Surface award at the Surface Design Awards in February 2019.

Words from artist Mark Wallinger

'In Writ in Water, the use of reflection to make the text legible plays against the idea of a law written in stone. Magna Carta curtailed this divine right and issued the first secular writ.

'Keats, though despairing of his legacy, was to become one of the immortals and his words live anew when learnt and repeated by every succeeding generation. Similarly, although Magna Carta established the law and the nascent principles of human rights, the United Kingdom has no written constitution. What seems like a birth right has to be learned over and over and made sense of. Whether the words are ephemeral or everlasting is up to us.’

The artist Mark Wallinger stands inside his architectural artwork 'Writ in Water', a celebration of the legacy of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey
Mark Wallinger with his artwork 'Writ in Water' , a celebration of the legacy of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey | © National Trust Images/John Millar

With thanks

Writ in Water has been made possible with National Lottery funding through Arts Council England and the generous support of Art Fund, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Henry Moore Foundation and Lord and Lady Lupton. With additional support from Iwan and Manuela Wirth, Valeria and Rudolf Maag-Arrigoni and Harris Calnan.

Writ in Water was created in collaboration with London-based architectural practice Studio Octopi.

A young girl with a dog exploring the Magna Carta Memorial, Runnymede, Surrey, showing the inscription 'To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of freedom under law'. The memorial marks the spot where the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215.

Discover more at Runnymede and Ankerwycke

Find out how to get to Runnymede and Ankerwycke, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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