Everyday heritage: The meeting place (MC800)
Blue polo shirt? Check. Security ID? Check. Research notes? Check. Sunshine?? Amazingly, yes! All prepped and with a smile on my face I set off yesterday to join the volunteer army helping to run a day of ‘politics and picnics’, as the programme put it, celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.
What is Magna Carta 800?
800 years ago, on 15 June 1215 King John met his rebellious barons at Runnymede and agreed to their demands as became listed in a Great Charter (Magna Carta). Although the document was declared void soon after and there is much debate over its significance at the time, it has created a lasting symbolic legacy of the struggle for liberty and democracy.This year is the 800th anniversary of that meeting and there are events across the country to celebrate it.
Part of the blue team
Yesterday being the actual day of the anniversary, Runnymede once more provided the meeting place for royalty and dignitaries. In fact over 4000 people were invited to attend the official morning ceremony, before the arena opened up in the afternoon for everyone to explore. Alongside them was a veritable army of volunteers in bright blue, there to meet, greet, and engage visitors with the site. Some of us were National Trust staff, others from Surrey County Council, yet more from the volunteer teams at Trust properties across the country, and others who were new to volunteering, including students from Royal Holloway College. All brought together for this one day to help facilitate another gathering at this ancient site.
One of the focal points of the day was the new artwork by Hew Locke – ‘The Jurors’. 12 chairs intricately cast in bronze provide a meeting place inviting discussion of Magna Carta’s ongoing, global legacy in the story of people’s struggles for equality. Each panel on the chairs tells a different story, and all are interwoven with symbols relating to freedom and justice: keys to prison cells, coltsfoot flowers (meaning ‘justice shall be done to you’ in the Victorian Language of flowers) and ermines (whose white coats represent incorruptibility).
It is beautiful simply to look at, but also incredibly tactile and designed to be explored. And the more you explore and learn about the different stories behind it, the connections between the stories and the site, the more interesting and beautiful it becomes. I was lucky enough to be part of the team helping to introduce visitors to the work in the afternoon and seeing people engage with it was really inspiring. I had a long chat about the individual chairs with a Canadian couple who had come over especially for the Magna Carta celebrations. Also a Chinese student whose interest was caught by the Chinese characters on chair no.10, leading to a conversation ranging from what a jury is, to a wider discussion of Magna Carta encouraging him to further explore the site. It was truly an international meeting place.
The meeting place as everyday heritage
Runnymede has provided an assembly point for people for centuries, from powerful rulers to family picnickers. 'The Jurors' now stands as a permanent focal meeting place, and reminder of the site’s global connections. Being part of a gathering on the site of so many other gatherings, big and small, past, present, and those to come, is a really powerful idea, illustrating how our everyday heritage is always with us, but also constantly evolving - where people meet and tell their stories, new ones are created. I look forward to my next meeting at Runnymede, once the pomp and ceremony has all been stripped back and the meadow grass sways again, I'll seek out the bronze chairs and remember that past gathering, the people I met, and look forward to the meetings to come.
Join the meeting! – learn more about MC800
- Find out more about The Jurors; the artist, the production process, and the stories depicted at www.artatrunnymede.com
- You can visit Runnymede year round; to sit amongst the Jurors, visit the various memorials or simply enjoy the countryside.
- Until the end of June you can also pop into the Brunel University London Magna Carta Centre at Runnymede to see a Magna Carta Today exhibition including a facsimile of one of the original documents.
- For more detail on Magna Carta, its history and legacy, there is an excellent exhibition at the British Library on until September.
- Keep an eye on the Heritage Open Days event directory later in the summer, as some Heritage Open Days events will have Magna Carta links.
Also, look out for more posts on this site on our everyday heritage: from garden plants, to archaeology and ice cream van men!