Stone memorial of 1957, in parkland commemorating the sealing of the Magna Carta.
Reasons for Designation
The Magna Carta monument of 1957, by Edward Maufe, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the memorial is the only specifically designed structure to commemorate the signing of the Magna Carta, which represents a seminal moment in the history of democracy for English, and later American, citizens;
* Group value: a key part of the listed Runnymede group that includes Magna Carta House, Lutyens’ lodges and commemorative urns, Air Forces Memorial, and Kennedy Memorial;
* Architectural interest: as an example of the work of the nationally celebrated architect Edward Maufe, displaying his signature style of modern classicism.
Magna Carta, which means ‘Great Charter’, was sealed at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. This was an agreement between King John and his barons and clergy which, for the first time, made the monarch subject to the laws of the land. It also gave free men the right to justice and a fair trial. Over the subsequent 800 years it has influenced many constitutional documents including the United States’ Bill of Rights (see below). Runnymede today is a memorial landscape to the on-going struggle for democracy and liberty.
The Mayflower pilgrims left England for America in 1620 seeking a new life, free from religious persecution. They took with them a copy of the Magna Carta which went on to form the basis for the American Constitution and ultimately the Bill of Rights. In America the term Magna Carta is in regular use and is often used to assist argument across the political spectrum when human rights are in question.
The American Bar Association (ABA) came to visit Runnymede in the 1950s and was surprised to find no official memorial to the Magna Carta. After discussion with the local authority and the National Trust, the idea of an ABA sponsored memorial was initiated, and Sir Edward B Maufe KBE, RA, FRIBA was commissioned to execute the design. Maufe was the first Principal Architect for the United Kingdom from 1943 to 1969, and was described as having an open-minded traditionalism with well-mannered modernism. His earlier work was recognised in 1944, when he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. This award is made annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects, to recognise an individual or group's substantial contribution to international architecture. Although mainly known for his ecclesiastical work, including Guildford Cathedral, Surrey (construction began 1936; listed Grade II*), he also designed the nearby Runnymede Air Forces Memorial (unveiled 1953; listed Grade II*).
In 1957 the Magna Carta Memorial was unveiled to an audience of approximately 5,000 including Queen Elizabeth II. The first upgrades occurred in 1966 when paved access paths replaced the original gravel, and wooden benches were installed. A velum facsimile of the Magna Carta document in a copper frame was also added at the entrance gate but this has subsequently been removed. In 2015 the wooden benches were replaced in stone. Since 1971 it has become customary for inscriptions to be added to the floor of the monument to record formal visits by the ABA.
Post-war monument commemorating the Magna Carta, 1957, by Edward Maufe.
MATERIALS: Portland stone
DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands at the head of a stone paved access path in the upper section of sloping parkland facing north-east to the River Thames. Towards the top of the path a number of benefactors’ names are inscribed in the pavement slabs.
At the head of the path, transition to the monument is achieved via widening steps on to a semi-circular apron which encircles the front face and provides a base against the slope at the rear for two flanking stone benches.
From the apron a curved ashlar stone wall rises via two sets of steps to provide a level platform forming the base of the monument which is circular in plan and edged with a roll top moulding; it bears the carved inscription THIS MEMORIAL WAS DEDICATED ON 28th JULY 1957
The main body of the memorial is a simplified interpretation of a classical temple standing on eight octagonal pillars with Art Deco-style leaf capitals.
Within the circumference of the pillars, the floor has a star shaped pattern created by using alternate Portland and black slate filets. At the centre of the star stands a two metre high granite cylinder upon which is inscribed an American lone star and the words TO/COMMEMORATE/MAGNA CARTA/SYMBOL OF/FREEDOM/UNDER/LAW.
The saucer like dome has a deep stone soffit and a concave metal roof with a central circular open light. The ceiling of the dome is painted sky blue and inset with gold stars. A carved inscription runs around the circumference of the ceiling: A TRIBUTE TO MAGNA CARTA * SYMBOL OF FREEDOM UNDER LAW * ERECTED BY THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION *