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Runnymede is a water-meadow alongside the River Thames in the English county of Surrey, and just over 20 miles (32 km) west of central London. It is notable for its association with the sealing of Magna Carta, and as a consequence is, with its adjoining hillside, the site of memorials. Runnymede Borough is named after the area, Runnymede being at its northernmost point.
The name Runnymede refers to land in public and National Trust ownership in the Thames flood plain south-west of the river between Old Windsor and Egham. The area includes (to the west of A308 road) the Long Mede and Runnymede, which together with Coopers Hill Slopes is managed by the National Trust. There is also a narrower strip of land, east of the road and west of the river, known as the Yard Mede. Slightly further downstream from the area shown on the map are (inter alia): a recreational area with a car park; a number of private homes; a large distribution centre; and an hotel.
The landscape of Runnymede is characterised as 'Thames Basin Lowland', urban fringe. It is a gently undulating vale of small fields interspersed by woods, shaws, ponds, meadows, and heath. The National Trust area is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) which contains a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Both sites are overseen by Runnymede Borough Council.
The National Trust holding includes:
Long Mede is a meadow north of the ancient 'mede' of Runnymede towards Old Windsor and has been used for centuries to provide good-quality hay from the alluvial pasture. Runnymede itself lies towards Egham and is associated popularly with Magna Carta Island, although they are located on opposite banks of the Thames. Both are considered plausible locations for the sealing of the Magna Carta.
Near the Island, on the north-east flood plain, in parkland on the eastern bank of the river, are Ankerwycke and the ruins of the 12th century Priory of St Mary's. The Thames has changed course here occasionally, and these areas may once have been an integral part of Runnymede. Both were acquired by the National Trust in 1998.
The name Runnymede may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'runieg' (regular meeting) and 'mede' (mead or meadow), describing a place in the meadows used to hold regular meetings. The Witan, Witenagemot or Council of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of the 7th to 11th centuries was held from time to time at Runnymede during the reign of Alfred the Great. The Council met usually in the open air. This political organ was transformed in succeeding years, influencing the creation of England's 13th century parliament.
The water-meadow at Runnymede is the most likely location at which, in 1215, King John sealed the Magna Carta. The charter indicates Runnymede by name. The Magna Carta had an impact on common and constitutional law as well as political representation also affecting the development of parliament.
Runnymede's association with ideals of democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law has attracted placement there of monuments and commemorative symbols.
The National Trust land was donated in 1929 by Cara Rogers Broughton and her two sons. The American-born[n 2] widow of Urban Hanlon Broughton, she was permitted by letter from George V to join her son's new peerage in tribute to her husband and this gift and be officially styled Lady Fairhaven. The gift was given in memory of Urban Broughton. At the time the New Bedford Standard-Times commented "It must be a source of gratification to all Americans, and especially to us here and in Fairhaven, that the presentation of this historic spot as public ground has been brought about by an American woman, an appropriate enough circumstance considering that the great charter underlies the USA's conception of government and human rights."
After the death of Urban Broughton in 1929, Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design a set of twin memorials consisting of large kiosks and posts or "piers" with stone blocks crowned with laurel wreaths and formalised urns at the Egham end and with lodges and piers at the Windsor end. Lutyens also designed a low wide arch bridge to carry the main road over the Thames to the north, integrating the road layout and bridge design into his plans for the memorials. The southern kiosks were moved to their present location when the M25 motorway was constructed.
There are two octagonal kiosks with piers facing each other across the A308 towards Egham. These piers are a shorter version of those adjacent to the lodges either side of the same road towards Old Windsor in the Long Mede. The lodges show typical Lutyens design features with steeply angled roofs, large false chimneys and no rainwater gutters at the eaves.
The piers carry similar inscriptions. On one face is the inscription:
|“||In these Meads on 15th June 1215 King John at the instance of Deputies from the whole community of the Realm granted the Great Charter the earliest of constitutional documents whereunder ancient and cherished customs were confirmed abuses redressed and the administration of justice facilitated new provisions formulated for the preservation of peace and every individual perpetually secured in the free enjoyment of his life and property.||”|
and on the other the words:-
|“||In perpetual memory of Urban Hanlon Broughton 1857 – 1929 of Park Close Englefield Green in the county of Surrey Sometime Member of Parliament These meadows of historic interest on 18th December 1929 were gladly offered to the Nation by his widow Cara Lady Fairhaven and his sons Huttleston Lord Fairhaven and Henry Broughton||”|
Langham Pond was created when the meandering River Thames formed an oxbow lake. Its status as a wetland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was first notified in 1975 and later reviewed under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when the protected area was extended to 64 acres (260,000 m2) within Runnymede as managed by the National Trust.
The pond and associated meadow form a habitat considered unique in Southern England and of international importance for nature conservation. The flora and fauna include nationally scarce plants and insects including a species of fly unrecorded elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
From the top of the tower visitors can see long views over Windsor, the surrounding counties and aircraft taking off and landing at Heathrow. On a good day visitors can see as far as the Wembley Arch and even the Gherkin in the City of London. The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, architect of Guildford Cathedral.
The British memorial for U.S. President John F. Kennedy was jointly dedicated in May 1965, by Queen Elizabeth II and Jacqueline Kennedy, prior to a reception for the Kennedy family at Windsor Castle. The memorial consists of a garden and Portland stone memorial tablet inscribed with the famous quote from his Inaugural Address:
|“||Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.||”|
Visitors reach the memorial by treading a steep path of irregular granite steps, intended to symbolise a pilgrimage. There are 50 steps in total. Each step is different from all others, with the entire flight made from 60,000 hand-cut granite setts. Landscape architect Geoffrey Jellicoe designed the garden; sculptor Alan Collins designed and carved the stone inscription. The area of ground on which the memorial is situated was given as a gift to the United States of America by the people of Britain. (Though property ownership was transferred to the federal government of the United States, the area remains under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.) It is maintained by the Kennedy Memorial Trust, which also sponsors educational scholarships for British students to attend university in the United States.
In 1968 the 7-ton stone was damaged by a bomb during a time of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations; it was later repaired by the sculptor.
Situated in a grassed enclosure on the lower slopes of Cooper's Hill, this memorial is of a domed classical style, containing a pillar of English granite on which is inscribed "To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law". The memorial was created by the American Bar Association (ABA) to a design by Sir Edward Maufe R.A., and was unveiled on 18 July 1957 at a ceremony attended by American and English lawyers.
Since 1957 representatives of the ABA have visited and rededicated the Memorial, renewing pledges to the Great Charter. In 1971 and 1985 commemorative stones were placed on the Memorial plinth. In July 2000 the ABA came:
|“||to celebrate Magna Carta, foundation of the rule of law for ages past and for the new millennium.||”|
In 2007 on its 50th anniversary the ABA again visited Runnymede and during the convention installed as President Charles Rhyne who devised Law Day which seeks in the USA an annual reaffirmation of faith in the forces of law for peace.
The ABA intends to meet at Runnymede in 2015 on the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the original charter.
In 2008, flood lights were installed to light the memorial at night.
A large house on Cooper's Hill, overlooking Runnymede and the River Thames, has played a number of roles – as the Royal Indian Engineering College; wartime Post Office headquarters; storage for the Statue of Eros during World War II; an emergency teacher training college; Shoreditch College – a centre for craft and handiwork education – and most recently, Brunel University's design school (has removed to Uxbridge Main Campus).
The Duke of Gloucester planted an oak tree adjacent to the Magna Carta Memorial in 1987, as did P. V. Narismha Rao, Prime Minister of the Republic of India. The Prime Minister left a plaque reading:
|“||As a tribute to the historic Magna Carta, a source of inspiration throughout the world, and as an affirmation of the values of Freedom, Democracy and the Rule of Law which the People of India cherish and have enshrined in their Constitution. March 16, 1994||”|
In 1987 two further oak trees were planted near the Memorial. One, planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, marked National Tree Week. Another,planted by John O. Marsh, Secretary of the Army of the USA, has a plaque which reads:
|“||This oak tree, planted with soil from Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, commemorates the bicentenary of the Constitution of the United States of America. It stands in acknowledgement that the ideals of liberty and justice embodied in the Constitution trace their lineage through institutions of English law to the Magna Carta, sealed at Runnymede on June 15th, 1215.||”|
The revered +1,400 year old Ankerwycke Yew, on the left bank of the river, is also a possible site where Magna Carta may have been sealed. The sacred tree could have been the location of the Witan council and influenced the founding of St Mary's Priory there. This religious site may well have been the preferred neutral meeting place of King John and the barons.
Land development proposals threatening the yew led to action resulting in the tree and surrounding estate passing into the protection of the National Trust in 1998.
Henry VIII is said to have met Anne Boleyn under the tree in the 1530s.
In 1992, botanist and environmental campaigner David Bellamy led a dedication at the yew, stating:
|“||We the free people of the islands of Great Britain on the 777th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta do: |
Look back and give thanks for the benefits that the signings, sealing and swearing of oaths on that document handed down to us. Look forward to a new age of freedom through sustainability by granting the following rights to all the sons of plants and animals with which we share our islands and our planet.
There followed ten pledges to sustain all life forms.
Runnymede is 20 miles (32 km) west by south-west of the centre of London. It is owned by the National Trust and is open 24 hours, seven days a week, at no charge.
Runnymede is accessed via the road or river towpath on foot or by bicycle, or by motor vehicle via the A308 road near Egham about 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of Windsor. Two car parks (on the A308) adjoin the Windsor entrance (these may be closed in winter due to flooding etc.). Runnymede is also along the Thames Path National Trail. The nearest railway station is Egham. One of the Lutyens lodges at the Windsor entrance to the meadow houses a popular tea room.
The Anckerwycke area on the other bank of the river is accessible from the B376 between Wraysbury and Staines (nearest station Wraysbury).
Mr Geoffrey Jellicoe, the architect for the site, said...that the point of the memorial was the landscape rather than any physical monument
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