Writ in the wa­ter

Run­nymede and Anker­wycke are set to be trans­formed with im­proved vis­i­tor ac­cess and in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Claire Saul learns about the Na­tional Trust’s 21st cen­tury plans to re­unite th­ese an­cient sites

Surrey Life - - Inside -

And what else is to come for Run­nymede

In the sum­mer of 1215 in a Thame­side meadow at Run­nymede, a mid­way lo­ca­tion be­tween King John’s res­i­dence at Wind­sor Cas­tle and the Staines as­sem­bly point of the pow­er­ful English barons, King John re­luc­tantly sealed his agree­ment on Magna Carta, a char­ter that made the king ac­count­able to the rule of law, just like his sub­jects. Its 63 clauses cov­ered law, lib­erty and re­li­gion and first stated the rights of ‘free men’ to jus­tice and a fair trial.

The char­ter ac­tu­ally failed in its im­me­di­ate aims of achiev­ing last­ing peace with the em­bit­tered and re­bel­lious barons; civil war en­sued and John him­self died in the Oc­to­ber of the fol­low­ing year. Yet Magna Carta re­mains one of the most im­por­tant doc­u­ments in global his­tory. A mile­stone in the his­tory of our hu­man lib­erty, its sub­se­quent re-is­sues and mod­i­fi­ca­tions pro­vided the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of jus­tice in­cor­po­rated in many im­por­tant con­sti­tu­tional doc­u­ments home and abroad. Glob­ally, 117 na­tions con­sider Magna Carta core to their con­sti­tu­tion.


Ninety years ago, the Na­tional Trust be­gan the process of ac­quir­ing Run­nymede, spurred by a lo­cal out­cry that the land was be­ing sold for de­vel­op­ment. To­day, along with the im­pres­sive Fairhaven lodges by Lu­tyens, this peace­ful stretch of land­scape also fea­tures memo­ri­als for Magna Carta, John F. Kennedy and Com­mon­wealth Air Forces. The site be­came a global fo­cus on its 800th an­niver­sary in 2015, an oc­ca­sion com­mem­o­rated by Hew Locke’s art­work The Ju­rors, 12 bronze chairs whose de­signs re­late to his­toric and on­go­ing strug­gles for free­dom, rule of law and equal rights. Mark Wallinger’s re­cent in­stal­la­tion Writ in Wa­ter now also pro­vides an im­mer­sive space for vis­i­tors to con­tem­plate and re­flect on the found­ing prin­ci­ples of democ­racy.

The Na­tional Trust is now tak­ing the first steps in a five-year project to help vis­i­tors dis­cover more about this place of in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance and en­joy it for re­cre­ation, learn­ing and vol­un­teer­ing. Backed by £1.6 mil­lion of Na­tional Lot­tery fund­ing, Run­nymede and ad­ja­cent Anker­wycke will ben­e­fit

from im­proved path­ways and in­ter­pre­ta­tion and be united with a new ferry cross­ing across the Thames, fa­cil­i­tat­ing vis­i­tor move­ment be­tween the two sites and en­abling a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their com­bined im­por­tance.

“The site has a long and com­plex his­tory for us to in­ter­pret, it is not just Magna Carta and one day,” ex­plains Daniel Duthie, Na­tional Trust gen­eral man­ager for the Sur­rey Land­scapes. “This site was im­por­tant long be­fore Magna Carta was sealed, it has a 6,000-year his­tory and there are phys­i­cal at­tributes there from 4,000 years ago. Run­nymede was once an islet in the Anker­wycke es­tate and the es­tate spread across the Thames. The Thames broke into mul­ti­ple chan­nels at that point and cre­ated all th­ese lit­tle islets which made it an easy place to cross the river. It was a very con­ve­nient spot and a known meet­ing place.”

The 2015 cel­e­bra­tions of Magna Carta placed Run­nymede on a world stage. By 2023 the im­proved in­fra­struc­ture and in­ter­pre­ta­tion will be in place, al­low­ing Anker­wycke its share of the spot­light.


“Anker­wycke has the two wit­nesses to Magna Carta – the yew tree which is 2,500 years old and the ru­ins of the Bene­dic­tine pri­ory, around 900 years old,” ex­plains Daniel. “Th­ese are both very pre­cious ob­jects, one of which is liv­ing. The yew is a won­der­ful tree and it has lots of myths and his­tory be­hind it – one story is that Henry VIII wooed Anne Bo­leyn un­der its boughs. Over the years it has been con­served and pre­served by all the dif­fer­ent own­ers of the land.”

New trails and an up­graded tow path along the River Thames will en­cour­age ac­cess to The Ju­rors and Writ in Wa­ter and to new in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which aims to en­gage vis­i­tors with the themes of lib­erty, peo­ple and com­mem­o­ra­tion.

Along with wider plans to work col­lab­o­ra­tively with stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing Sur­rey County Coun­cil, Run­nymede Bor­ough Coun­cil, and the Colne Val­ley Re­gional Park Author­ity, the project will es­tab­lish new op­por­tu­ni­ties for vol­un­teer­ing and for lo­cal school and com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. An am­bi­tious ar­chae­ol­ogy project will see par­tic­i­pants trained to NVQ stan­dard in a va­ri­ety of tech­niques. It is hoped they can then par­tic­i­pate in some sig­nif­i­cant work around the pri­ory at Anker­wycke. The Na­tional Trust has also com­mit­ted funds to­wards the project but still needs to raise a fur­ther £300,000 to de­liver it in full. It is hoped that mem­bers and vis­i­tors will as­sist in reach­ing this last step of the full £2.1 mil­lion project cost.

The site will re­main open to vis­i­tors through­out the five-year process. Says Daniel: “We want our vis­i­tors to be more en­gaged with this spe­cial place and to know why Run­nymede and Anker­wycke mat­ter – as a rich lo­cal re­source for re­cre­ation and plea­sure, for learn­ing, for vol­un­teer­ing, and for en­gag­ing oth­ers in its his­tory and fu­ture.”

Web: na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/ run­nymede

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