An entry for Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK
'At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh hear the reeds at Runnymede: -
"You mustn't sell, delay, deny,
A freeman's right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry
We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!'
Runnymede is a large area of watermeadow running alongside the River Thames north-west of Egham. The area has been owned by the National Trust since 1931, and now includes the Cooper’s Hill woods area donated by Egham District Council in 1963, as well as the Lily Pond land on the river bank, purchased with the assistance of Surrey County Council.
The name Runnymede may come from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘runieg’ (meaning ‘regular meeting’) and ‘mede’ (meaning ‘mead’ or ‘meadow’). The Anglo-Saxon government, the Witan Council met here in the reign of Alfred the Great, whose castle was at Windsor.
Probably the most famous occurrence at Runnymede was the sealing of the Magna Carta
by King John
in June 1215
. Known first as the ‘Great Charter of English Liberties’, it was effectively a peace treaty between the rebel barons and the King. The actual date given in the text of the Magna Carta is
'Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign'
Runnymede was probably chosen as a meeting point for the two factions because of its proximity to Windsor and therefore the royal Windsor Castle
, allowing the King to journey out for negotiations and presumably return by nightfall. The Anglo-Saxon significance of the place was not lost on the barons, and a large enough meeting place was needed for the great and good of the land
to attend, as well as their entourages.
The actual spot on the meadow where the King and barons met is not recorded, but there is a monument commemorating the occasion. The monument is a domed classical pavilion containing a slab of English granite inscribed with the words:
‘To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law’
The monument was designed by Sir Edward Maufe
, R.A., was opened on 18th July 1957
, and was paid for by the American Bar Association
and voluntary contributions from roughly 9,000 American lawyers
The Magna Carta is probably the first constitutional document in England, relating to the powers and limits of the Monarch. It still forms the basis for the English constitution as well as the constitutions and statutes of many other nations.
Runnymede as Racecourse
The Egham races were a three-day event held here every autumn until 1886, when they were moved to their present site at Kempton Park. The popularity of the races varied, notably in 1785, only two horses ran, such was the lack of interest. In 1828 and 1836 they were visited by Royalty, George IV and William IV respectively.
The Egham Enclosure Act
In 1813 the future of the meadow against building work was guaranteed by an Act of Parliament, stating that the medes
'... remain at all Times hereafter open and unenclosed ... Provided that the said several pieces or Parcels of Land ... used a long time past as a Race Course shall be kept and continued as a Race Course ...'
Runnymede was protected to some extent already by the fact that it is Lammas land
, subject to common rights for part of the year. The comparatively recent involvement of the National Trust
continues and extends this protection.
Monuments and Buildings on Runnymede
Allied Aircrew Memorial
As well as the Magna Carta memorial mentioned above, there is also a memorial to the Allied aircrew who were lost during the Second World War, and who have no known grave. The memorial consists of a cloister around a tower, all in pristine white limestone. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, R.A., and was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953. The dedication inscription reads:
'In this cloister are recorded the names of 20,456 airmen who have no known grave. They died for freedom in raid and sortie over the British Isles and the land and seas of northern and western Europe'
It was the first post-1945
building in Britain to be give Grade-1 listing status. It is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
, and like all their work, is absolutely exemplary, with the finest materials, design and craftsmanship.
Halfway up Cooper’s Hill, there is an acre of land that is property of the United States of America. Leading up to the monument is a path of granite steps, winding among the trees, each one representing a year in his life. The monument itself is a large piece of Portland stone, designed by G. A. Jellicoe, with the following inscription:
'This acre of English ground was given to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F. Kennedy, born 19th May, 1917: President of the United States 1961-63: died by an assassin’s hand 22nd November,1963. "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": from the inaugural address of President Kennedy, January 1961.'
It was unveiled on 14th May 1965
by HM Queen Elizabeth II, in the presence of Kennedy’s widow and children.
The Lutyens Lodges
In 1931, when the bulk of Runnymede was given to the National Trust, by Lady Fairhaven, lodges were erected at the northern end of the gifted land as a memorial to Lady Fairhaven’s husband, Urban Broughton. They were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and were opened in 1932 by the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). They function as an administration building for Runnymede, and one is the omnipresent National Trust Tearoom.
Runnymede is a rare thing, an exceptional piece of countryside in an increasingly overcrowded area of England, the west approach to London. The memorials and history raise it to an area of international significance, and guarantee its safety against development. It also provides a haven for riverside plants and wildlife, which are being pushed out from other areas. It has become a dual-use area, official memorials and a nature reserve. But is this what we want some of the little remaining common land to become?
Magna Carta tea-room
The tea-room is open all year:
May - end Sept, daily, 8.30am - 5.30pm
Oct & Nov 9am - 4.30pm
Dec, Jan & Feb 9am - 4pm
Mar & Apr 9am - 5pm
Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day
New Year's Day 11am - 3pm (Brunch menu only)
The car parks at the riverside and by the tea-room are on a pay and display basis although National Trust members displaying their card on the dashboard can park for free. Also free to Disabled badge holders.
The riverside car park is open daily from April - September, 10am-7pm.
The tea-room car park and lavatories are open daily from April - September, 8.30am-7pm and from October - March, 9am-5pm.
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