Update on Magna Carta 800th Anniversary 2015 ringing

by Malcolm Loveday and Kate Flavell

Plans are progressing nationally to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta which is widely regarded as the cornerstone for the foundation of the British system of democracy which has spread throughout the world, see http://magnacarta800th.com. Although it is generally agreed that the King John met with the Barons at Runnymede, the precise location on Runnymede Meadows is not recorded, and since the course of the River Thames has changed over the years it is possible that the meeting actually took place on what then was the north side of the river, i.e. the Berkshire side.

This is why residents in Wraysbury claim the meeting was held there rather than on the Runnymede Meadows near Egham (Surrey).

It appears to have been recorded that King John was staying at Odiham Castle in Hampshire prior to travelling up to Runnymede, so the Odiham Society and Wraysbury residents are planning to recreate King John’s journey from Odiham to Windsor and Runnymede on 10th June 1215. Wraysbury is part of the Royal Borough of Windsor, and the idea is that the bells at All Saints’ in Odiham will be rung at the start of the journey, with concurrent ringing all the way to St Anne’s in Wraysbury.

The Barons first met as a group at St Albans in 1213, and celebrations took place in August of this year to commemorate the anniversary of that first meeting. A second meeting took place in 1214 at Bury St Edmunds, then one of the largest Abbeys in the country. The Barons of the time came to the Great Abbey of St Edmund to swear a solemn oath at the High Altar, that if King John refused to grant them the demands set out in a great charter, they would withdraw their obedience and declare war against him. The following year the charter was sealed by the King and became known as the Magna Carta. On 3rd June 2014 the town is to hold a pageant, museum displays, and school debates, and have a choir singing, to remind people of the historic moment in British history. It is expected that bell ringing will feature in the celebrations.

Meanwhile plans are slowly being formulated by Surrey County Council, Runnymede Borough Council, the National Trust, Royal Holloway College and the American Bar Association for events on Runnymede Meadows from Saturday, 13th June to Monday, 15th June 2015, provided funding can be found to underpin activities. They are also focusing on a Legacy infrastructure for linking several of the places of interest in the area to attract tourists to “Magna Carta Country”.

Details about all the Magna Carta Barons are now available, together with information about their principal manors and land holdings; see the Magna Carta Barons Association website.

As mentioned in our previous article, ringers everywhere are encouraged to participate in special ringing to commemorate the 800th anniversary in June 2015, particularly on Sunday, 14th June, which has been designated as the Big Ringing Day, whether it be general ringing, touches of 800 changes, quarter peals or peals. Many places can claim a link to Magna Carta either as towns holding copies of the Magna Carta, or as places where the Barons held land, as shown in this table. Details of towers that are thought to be nearby have been taken from Dove’s Guide. It may be that there are other towers that also have an affiliation, so we would be pleased to hear from local ringers for further suggestions. Some towers are listed as ‘unringable’, so perhaps their bells could be clocked or chimed. The Magna Carta celebrations could also provide the incentive to make the bells ringable, either by rehanging or by the installation of electrically operated chiming hammers if the tower is not strong enough to sustain full-circle ringing. The Heritage Lottery Fund announced at the beginning of October that they will be making £10 million available to mark anniversaries, so perhaps we should be giving consideration to bidding for some money to come towards ringing-related activities, e.g. a special issue of The Ringing World for everyone who participates in Magna Carta Ringing, a number of peal boards for Magna Carta peals, et c.

Further information will emerge as places with Magna Carta connections crystallize their plans. Meanwhile, we hope that all ringers will participate and ‘Strike a Blow for Democracy’.

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Places with special connections to Magna Carta where bell ringing could take place


Thanks are expressed to John Champion (Odiham) and Cllr Margaret Charlesworth (Bury St Edmunds) for some information used in this article.


Framed copy of Magna Carta

An interesting old framed copy of the Magna Carta, illustrated with the Coats of Arms of the Barons and seals, is on display in the ringing chamber of St John’s, Egham, Surrey. The copy is thought to have been produced in the early 19th century. Replica shields of the Barons are also displayed on the stair case leading up to the ringing chamber.

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