Eight hundred years ago King John met with a group of barons on the small patch of countryside that I’m visiting today, it was here where he sealed Magna Carta, seen by many as the symbolic first step on the path to modern democracy.
The area itself is not far from the M25 motorway and so is easily accessible by car, sitting on the banks of the River Thames it’s a surprisingly quiet place surrounded by some beautiful countryside.
The National Trust looks after the site and I parked in their car park right next to the river. Next to the car park are the Fairhaven Memorial Lodges, they were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and commissioned by Lady Fairhaven. She had them built as a memorial to her husband, Sir Urban Broughton MP, who bought Runnymede in 1928 so it would be safeguarded for future generations. One of the lodges contains a small cafe.
Walking across the open fields you realise that not much here has changed in the last 800 years. The exact site of the signing of Magna Carta is unknown but there is a memorial to it set in a quiet spot looking out towards the Thames. The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and is a domed classical style monopteros, it contains a pillar of English granite and is inscribed “To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of freedom under law”. The memorial was created by the American Bar Association and was erected in 1957.
As I wandered around the site I couldn’t help imagining what it must of been like all those years ago as King John was forced into signing a document that would change the way countries were governed forever.
Walking back through the fields filled with ancient trees I find another entrance this time to the Kennedy Memorial. Climbing a stepped pathway made up of 60,000 granite setts I arrive at the memorial, a seven ton block of Portland stone which stands on a plinth and is inscribed with words taken from President Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961. The memorial and surrounding symbolic acre of land was given by Queen Elizabeth II to the american people in 1965.
I found it to be a very peaceful and thought provoking place with some stunning views of Runnymede and the River Thames.
Having seen the Runnymede Memorials I decided to drive up to the Commonwealth Airforces Memorial but I had one quick stop to do before heading up there. The Runnymede Pleasure Grounds are just along from the National Trust land and sit right on the river, there’s a cafe there and a children’s play area but I’d come to see a new statue of the Queen. The statue has been inspired by the 1954 and 1969 portraits by Pietro Annigoni, it was gifted by the Runnymede Magna Carta Legacy charity and was erected to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.
A short drive and I was at the Commonwealth Airforces Memorial. The memorial was opened by the Queen on 17th October 1953 and is dedicated to the thousands of airmen who died and were lost without trace and have no known graves. It’s a very moving place.
The memorial consists of a shrine embraced by a cloister in which the names of the dead are recorded. The coats of arms of the Commonwealth countries are represented on the cloister ceilings.
The cloisters have curved wings leading to two lookouts, in the courtyard is a Stone of Remembrance and opposite, a shrine designed to look like a control tower which crews would have seen when returning to base.
Walking around the cloisters there are many messages and photographs left by family members of the aircrews that were lost, it really makes you appreciate the sacrifice that these people made to give us the freedom that we have today.