A little over 800 years ago, the meadows near where The Runnymede on Thames stands today marked the location of one of the most famous moments in history. A group of rebellious barons took King John to this site, forcing him to seal the Magna Carta. This is seen globally as being the start of the formation of common law as we know it today.
As National Trust land nowadays, this area of Runnymede is now accessible to the public, where visitors can soak up the feeling of being in one of the most famous locations in the world. Various memorials and sculptures already mark the spot. This includes the Magna Carta Memorial erected in the 1950s, the Kennedy Memorial in an acre of land donated to the United States of America by the Queen in the 1960s, and The Jurors – a group of 12 bronze chairs in the ancient meadow, with symbols and imagery relating to concepts of law and equal rights.
The latest Magna Carta addition – Writ in Water – is an architectural artwork commissioned by the National Trust in association with the art producers Situations. The new piece celebrates the ongoing significance of the Magna Carta in the modern day.
The artwork was conceptualised by Mark Wallinger and Studio Octopi. Wallinger is a British artist especially known for his sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – Ece Homo – and his anti-war display State Britain, which won him the Turner Prize in 2007. He has been praised for the historical and political importance of his work – something that can also be said for Writ in Water.
For Writ in Water, Wallinger was especially inspired by clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which states that no free man will be stripped of his rights or imprisoned without lawful judgement. The artwork is a circular structure made up of layers of locally-sourced rammed earth, crafted from local sand and gravel. The visual effect is that the structure grows out of the land, symbolic of the Magna Carta’s roots. The materials were chosen to age together with the surrounding area, further solidifying the important presence of the Magna Carta as we continue into the future.
Paying tribute to the past, all measurements for the structure were done in cubits – an ancient system using the length of a forearm as a measure of distance. The entrance feels a little like the entryway to a labyrinth, yet inside is an open roof and a round pool, with key phrases of the Magna Carta laser-cut in mirror-writing into the surrounding rim. Given the mirror-writing, these everlasting messages of the Magna Carta are only readable as a reflection in the water.
A place of tranquillity, contemplation and discovery, Writ in Water brings a moment in history together with local traditions and the contemporary age. Free to visit, this is an incredible place to explore when you come and stay with us at The Runnymede on Thames.