Kennedy Memorial landscape

Overview

Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1467672
Date first listed:
18-Aug-2020
Location Description:
Located approximately 340m south-west of the National Trust car park on the A308 Windsor Road, Runnymede, Egham. The memorial is at NGR SU9958072778.

Map

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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Located approximately 340m south-west of the National Trust car park on the A308 Windsor Road, Runnymede, Egham. The memorial is at NGR SU9958072778.
County:
Surrey
District:
Runnymede (District Authority)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SU9960472781

Summary

A memorial landscape commemorating President John F Kennedy (1917-1963) created for the British government and Kennedy Memorial Trust in 1964-1965 by Geoffrey Jellicoe. The landscape, set on a hill to the west of the Runnymede water meadows, is of three parts: a woodland area with a path with 50 steps leading up the hill to the memorial, the memorial itself set in a glade, and a sitting area set in meadowland, with long views across the River Thames.

Reasons for Designation

The Kennedy Memorial landscape, designed by (Sir) Geoffrey Jellicoe in 1964-1965 to commemorate President John F Kennedy is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as a memorial to President Kennedy, a figure of international significance during the early 1960s, and for the light it sheds on Anglo-American relations during this period;

* as a part of the historic landscape of Runnymede with its associations with the development of democratic government.

Design interest:

* for its carefully considered design, employing the existing landscape with introduced hard landscaping elements of high quality, providing an allegorical narrative partly based upon ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’;

* as a key work in the career of Geoffrey Jellicoe, Britain’s best-known post-war landscape architect, in which he moved towards a greater use of symbolism and subconscious associations in landscape design.

Survival:

* the original design is largely unaltered.

Group value:

* for its strong links with other designated C20 monuments and memorials within the landscape at Runnymede.

History

President John F Kennedy (1917-1963) was assassinated in Dallas on 22 November 1963. One of the first symbols of the adventurous and youthful spirit that came to characterise the 1960s, his death was one of the first catastrophic events to be reported worldwide on television – aired within 40 minutes of the event. At a time of Cold War tensions the assassination shocked the western world and prompted a great outpouring of grief, reflecting Kennedy’s great charisma and world position, if not solid achievements, in his 22 months in office.

In memoriam, on 5 December 1963 Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Prime Minister, announced that there would be a British memorial, and the Lord Mayor of London, Sir James Harman, established an appeal for funds. Most of the money was used to establish scholarships for British graduates to study in the United States, but under the John F Kennedy Memorial Act 1964 an acre of land (actually a fraction more but less than the 'three acres or thereabouts' stated in the Act) near the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede was granted to the American people. The land at Runnymede was traditionally associated with the history of democracy, but had only been saved from development with houses in 1929 when it was acquired by a local resident and former MP, Urban Broughton, Lord Fairhaven and gifted to the National Trust in 1931 by his widow Cara, herself an American. In 1957 the American Bar Association had erected a memorial on the rising ground overlooking the water meadows by the River Thames commemorating the Magna Carta, designed by Edward Maufe, architect of Guildford Cathedral. The Magna Carta was an agreement sealed between King John, his barons and clergy on 15 June 1215 that made the monarch subject to the laws of the land and gave freemen the right to justice and a fair trial. In subsequent centuries it has influenced many constitutional documents, including the American Bill of Rights, so Americans claimed historic links with the area.

The acre of land granted by the Government is invested in the Kennedy Memorial Trust, but lies within 298 acres of open land belonging to the National Trust that provides a deeply historical setting. The completed work was unveiled by the Queen and jointly dedicated by her and Jacqueline Kennedy (who planted a scarlet oak tree) on 14 May 1965, although the site had welcomed 250,000 visitors in the summer of 1964. In 1968 the memorial stone was damaged by a bomb in protest against the Vietnam War and subsequently repaired by the artist.

(Sir) Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe (1900-1996) was born in London, where he was brought up largely by his mother, an artist and embroiderer. He was educated at Cheltenham School and the Architectural Association, but it was a trip to Italy with a fellow student, Jock Shepherd, that introduced him to the power of landscape architecture. He published on landscapes, initially with Shepherd, and produced a series of landscapes for influential private clients during the 1930s, inspired by both classicism and modernism. His work at Ditchley Park (List entry number 1000463, Grade II*) is but one example. However, he also worked as an architect and was principal of the Architectural Association in 1939-1942; indeed in 1945 he was considered an expert in housing design and contributed the central housing area to the Festival of Britain’s Live Architecture exhibition at Lansbury in 1951. Thereafter he took on more landscape work, ranging from a fifty-year plan for the Hope Cement Works in Derbyshire to a rooftop garden at Harvey’s department store in Guildford (List entry number 1001474, Grade II). His snake-like water gardens at Hemel Hempstead (List entry number 1001710, Grade II) gave him the opportunity to explore allegorical themes, but it was the Kennedy Memorial that provided the chance to ‘put a subconscious idea into a work, so that it is more important and more lasting than the purely visual impression the eye receives’ (Harvey, Reflections, p.17).

Jellicoe described the commission as follows in ‘Soundings’: ‘In 1963 [sic, early 1964 is more likely] came the commission for the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, and for the first time I was challenged to take seriously the concept of the subconscious. Was it possible to bury a great invisible idea within a modest visible world? I now turned to literature for help and found in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress the study of Life, Death and Spirit; and this majestic saga, unseen and unrecognisable intellectually, is embodied in the landscape’.

‘Grappling with forces of the subconscious that might be figments of my imagination, I now sought out Jung for guidance, and found it. With the knowledge confirmed that the subconscious within us lives a life independent of the conscious, we now re-enter this strange land of shadows’.

The allegory of the Pilgrim’s Progress drew him towards Jung’s theories of the subconscious, the idea that everyone is born with a certain inherited knowledge and imagery. The referencing can be regarded as an early example of post-modernism.

Thereafter Jellicoe took on increasing amounts of conservation work, seeing old and new landscapes as a seamless whole, and produced landscape plans for Gloucester and the Isles of Scilly. He was also a noted art collector and made friendships with Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, whose work he incorporated in his own schemes, as at Sutton Place, Surrey (List entry number 1001554, Grade II*). This is one of a series of major works from his last years, which were among his most productive, including gardens in 1970-1980 at Shute for Michael and Lady Anne Tree, the son and daughter-in-law of his clients from the 1930s at Ditchley Park, and works in America.

Jellicoe was awarded gold medals by landscape institutes in the United States (1981), Britain (1985) and Australia (1990) and received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victora medal of honour in 1995. In 1961 he was appointed CBE and he was knighted in 1979.

Details

A memorial landscape commemorating President John F Kennedy (1917-1963) created for the British government and Kennedy Memorial Trust in 1964-1965 by Geoffrey Jellicoe. The landscape, set on a hill to the west of the Runnymede water meadows, is of three parts: a woodland area with a path with 50 steps leading up the hill to the memorial, the memorial itself set in a glade, and a sitting area set in meadowland, with long views across the River Thames.

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM AND SETTING

Runnymede is a series of water meadows on the south-west side of the River Thames between Windsor and Egham. The water meadow below the Kennedy Memorial is properly known as the Long Mede. They are traditionally associated with the signing of the Magna Carta, along with Magna Carta Island in the river. Lady Fairhaven and her sons donated 188 acres (76 ha) to the National Trust in 1929, to which in 1963 Egham Urban District Council added 110 acres (45 ha) of woodland on Coopers Hill, which rises sharply from the river and is topped by the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial.

Overlooking the river and alluvial waterlogged water meadows, the north part of Cooper’s Hill, known as Cooper’s Hill Slopes, is an area of Bagshot sands partly overlain by London clay, traditionally an area of deciduous woodland. Part of the slopes are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and site of Nature Conservation Interest, for its ancient semi-natural woodland.

The 1.2 acres (0.486 ha) of the Kennedy Memorial is bounded by a timber post-and-rail fence along the eastern entrance boundary, metal railings along the northern edge of the woodland and north-west and western boundary of the site and by barbed wire and hedgerows along the southern boundary of the woodland. The eastern boundary, overlooking Long Mede, has a ha-ha so as not to disturb views out, for it was important that there should be no apparent barriers between American and British soil.

ENTRANCES, APPROACHES AND VIEWS

The single entrance is through a wicket gate from paths across the water meadows from Windsor Road and the National Trust’s car park by Lutyens’s lodges to the north.

The woodland part of the landscape is deliberately self-contained, but from the path ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and the two seats, specifically placed in meadowland at its end, there are views to the north-east across the Thames valley.

STRUCTURES

The memorial stone (List entry number 1031592, listed Grade II) is a seven-ton block of Portland stone, 3m long and 1.5m high, on a granite base, carved from a fourteen-ton block with a slight entasis to correct optical distortion and to give the impression of a great weight floating above the ground. Jellicoe described the stone as ‘a catafalque balanced on the shoulders of the populace’ (in Spens, Complete Works, p.93). He asked the sculptor, Alan Collins, to spread the lettering across the entire stone to make it appear less like an inscription. The words include a quotation from the Declaration of Freedom made by President Kennedy as part of his inaugural address in 1961: ‘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 29 MAY 1917/ PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES 1961-63/ DIED BY AN ASSASSIN’S HAND 22 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 20 January 1961’.

The memorial also includes two benches of Portland stone set to the north-west.

LANDSCAPING

The existing landscape on which the memorial was laid out comprised deciduous woodland and grassland, with hawthorn hedgerows, to which conifers and rhododendrons had been added in the C19. The rhododendrons have subsequently been removed. Geoffrey Jellicoe had established himself as Britain’s leading landscape architect by 1964, and the memorial occupies a pivotal place in his work, where he first began to explore the subconscious. He conceived the memorial as a journey from the open meadow by the river, through a dark glade of woodland trees, to a clearing and thence to a viewing platform, set in meadowland, with long views across the English countryside, where in contrast to the intensity of the memorial stone you can see the richness of British life, history and democracy unveiled before you. Jellicoe’s immediate inspiration was John Bunyan’s 'Pilgrim’s Progress' allegory of the progress through life, but the design owes something to C16 interpretations of allegorical landscapes and Japanese garden design. He also acknowledged the inspiration of paintings by Giovanni Bellini for the relationship between natural landscape and precise geometry and by Giorgionne for the duality of its composition. He received the commission from the British Government a few days before making his first visit to Japan, where he came on the idea of a landscape as a continuous progress and to appreciate the Japanese reverence for inanimate objects such as beautifully crafted pieces of stone. He wrote that ‘this highly sophisticated and precise design is fitted into a landscape that is very much the reverse … There is no compromise of neatly cut grass and trim flower beds … Much is known about the creation of a normal public park or garden, but little as yet about the re-creation of natural scenery in such a way that it survives the human element.’ For Jellicoe ‘The Kennedy Memorial became my own adventure into a new field, of Allegory’ (Spens, Complete Works, p.92).

As the pilgrim passes through the wicket gate from the meadow, they enter the allegory of life, death and spirit and begin to climb a steep pathway formed of some 50,000 individually hewn setts of Portuguese granite, symbolic of the multitude of pilgrims, laid dry save for the risers to make 50 steps, one for each of the American states. Jellicoe asked the stonemason not to lay the setts too regularly, but ‘like the crowds at a football match, where each one is an individual’ (Harvey, Reflections, p.18). In the C21 the setts of the pathway were augmented in places by a border of large pebbles in order to provide a wider surface to the path.

The woodland, reminiscent of Dante’s ‘dark wood’ and representing the cycle of life as well as the virility and mystery of nature along with the passing seasons, was an existing mixed English woodland, which had been lightly managed by the National Trust to appear as natural as possible. Trees include ash, field maple, hazels and oaks. Jellicoe allowed some trees to survive beyond their reasonable maturity to emphasise the life cycle, and thickened the existing rhododendrons since it was important that there should be no views out until the pilgrim reaches the top. This effect has since been diluted with the removal of the rhododendrons. A number of diseased trees have been felled, or left as monoliths, in recent years.

The granite setts widen and shallow steps of Portland stone make a pausing space ahead of the clearing where the formal monument stands. The monument itself, also of Portland stone, is already listed (see above). Beside it is a hawthorn tree, symbol of Kennedy’s Catholicism and harking back to the legend that Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff at Glastonbury, whence are descended all English thorn trees. The original tree was replaced in 2018. Behind the stone the American scarlet oak Quercus coccinea was chosen by Jellicoe since it turns a vivid red in late November at the time of Kennedy’s death, and was planted by Jacqueline Kennedy.

To the north of the stone block a terrace walk, separated from the monument and formed of large Portland stone paving slabs set with an uneven edge, leads out of the wood north-westwards. It leads to two stone ‘seats of contemplation’ at the top of short flights of stone slab steps, set in open meadowland on the side of the hill and backed by thorn bushes, with views to the north-east across the Thames valley west of London. For Jellicoe it symbolised Jacob’s Ladder (as denoted in his drawing and representing the path between heaven and earth) or a walk into the future as well as a place of contemplation. He marked the seats as ‘the president and consort’ (First Lady), or as a King and Queen inspired by the figures by Henry Moore at Shawhead. The ha-ha of an earth bank and ditch (with metal railings in the ditch) separating the site from the surrounding countryside runs parallel to the path, but below it so as to make as little impact as possible. The whole site is symbolic of the special relationship between Britain and the United States, which was particularly close in the 1960s. The Architectural Review of October 1965, p.286 describes how the hill was to be maintained as rough grass ‘and will be maintained as such to match the cattle-grazed surrounding pasture, so that the whole countryside, the variously planted and broadly treated hillside together with what can be seen from it – a partly formalized and evocative sample of the natural landscape – is itself the memorial’.

Sources

Books and journals
Campbell, Katie (Author), Icons of Twentieth-Century Landscape, (2007), 102-5
Adams, WH (Author), Grounds for Change, Major Gardens of the Twentieth Century, (1994), 169
Jellicoe, Geoffrey (Author), The Studies of a Landscape Designer over 80 Years, vol.3, Studies in Landscape Design, (1996), 182-93
Moggridge, Hal (Author), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, (2004)
Spens, M, The Complete Landscape Designs and Gardens of Geoffrey Jellicoe, (1994), 92-7
.., ., '‘Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’ (interview)' in Harvey, Sheila, Reflections on Landscape, The lives and work of six British landscape architects, (1987), 7-18
'Landscape Memorial' in Architectural Review, , Vol. 138, no.824, (October 1965), 286-7
Bradley-Hole, K, 'A Piece of America besides the Thames' in Country Life, , Vol. 194, no.40, (5 October 2000), 88-91
Richardson, Tim, 'Great British Garden-makers: Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe' in Country Life, , Vol. 205, no.16, (20 April 2011), 274-5
Websites
Gardenvisit.Com - The Landscape Guide: Tom Turner, Jellicoe's Subconscious Approach to Landscape Design, accessed 30 October 2019 from https://www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/garden_landscape_design_articles/designers/geoffrey_alan_jellicoe_subconscious
London Remembers -Monument: John F. Kennedy memorial, Runnymede, accessed 30 October 2019 from https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/john-f-kennedy-memorial-runnymede
The Telegraph - Gardening: The JFK memorial at Runnymede is fit to stand forever, accessed 30 October 2019 from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardenstovisit/10451578/The-JFK-memorial-at-Runnymede-is-fit-to-stand-forever.html
Other
Sheila Harvey, ed., Landscape Design Trust Monograph no.1, Geoffrey Jellicoe (1998), pp.95-103

Legal

This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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