The Other Magna Carta Monument

It’s not crowded, up there at Runnymede, where King John infamously signed away absolute rights to barons and bishops and started something which took a number of further centuries to turn into democracy.

It was on June 15, 1215 that King John, third King of the Angevin Empire, put his name to a bill of rights in meadows next to the Thames, brisk walking distance from Windsor Castle and not far from the rebel stronghold of Staines.

The document, pored over by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and haggled over for months previously to the signing in June 1215, left much to be desired as a charter of rights: yet it began the process of according rights to men. The King was no longer omnipotent. “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice,” it reads.

The fields at Runnymede plummet down to flat green plains either side of the Thames. The light there is often lacklustre. They are geographically uneventful, but men have placed memorials there. It seems to be a place where men like to remember.

There is an acre of America there, accessible without a passport. It was put there to remember President Kennedy complete with a graceful monument in Portland Stone.

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And the American Bar Association paid for, and regularly visits, a magnificent domed tribute to the Magna Carta and its significance for all democratic nations.

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Edwin Lutyens designed the teahouses which flank the road as it runs through Runnymede. The Magna Carta Tea Rooms and the Runnymede 1215 art gallery were built in 1931 to commemorate the man who bought the land to save it from developers, and donated it to the National Trust: Urban Broughton.


Broughton: an English civil engineer and the man who helped design the pump system which serviced the Houses of Parliament and then took the system out to Massachusetts. He spent 25 years as director or selling agents for some of the big US companies, winding up as president of the Virginian Railway Company, before returning to England in his mid fifties, in 1912.

You can walk from one monument to another with the dog, talking companionably as you go.

Yet the hordes who arrive to visit the meadows so often miss another monument to the events which changed the course of history there on the meadow.

For Broughton himself had a monument erected when the land was bought in 1929: a nod to King John and his bishops and barons. It is a very English response from the man who saved Runnymede from developers. It is understated , and out of the way, a little weathered, and now behind barbed wire.

And it is my favourite Magna Carta monument, though no-one seems keen to mention it.

If you go, walk through the gate from the car park into the paddock and look ahead, and there it will be, waiting for you.

The British Magna Carta monument.


6 thoughts on “The Other Magna Carta Monument

  1. I think that’s fascinating, and every time I read one of your historically-inspired blog posts I wonder at not knowing more of the history of Britain. But I also wonder why they put that monument behind barbed wire — is it because of the age, or condition, of the monument? It seems a shame to treat it so.

    1. I have no idea why it has been left while the others are feted, Rob. This year is the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary. A perfect chance to revere this memorial’s viewing arrangements!

  2. It’s very special, I think, not only to know where you’ve come from, but to be able to see it. There’s always a reminder that you stand on a foundation laid by others.

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