Runnymede is famous for the sealing of Magna Carta, but what else defines it as a landscape? My task at Egham Museum was to create an interesting and accessible display on the landscape identity of Runnymede.
Knowing very little about Runnymede before beginning my placement, it was important for me to first of all get to grips with its history. This meant exploring not only the natural, physical qualities of Runnymede, but also how local populations have used the area over time and what significant events have taken place on the land.
To do this, I immersed myself in a wide range of existing reading materials on Runnymede, taking as many notes and photographs as I could. I soon realised just how complex Runnymede as a landscape is, but how could I present this information in a suitable format for visitors?
I needed to narrow my findings down and pick out key themes to research further in the museum archives. In the end, I identified four ways in which I felt Runnymede can be defined:
- As a natural agricultural landscape
Runnymede is a dynamic natural landscape with its meadows, the wooded slopes of Cooper’s Hill and the flow of the River Thames. This natural environment has given way to a rich agricultural history with practises such as haymaking having occurred on the land.
- As a landscape of leisure
The scenic surroundings of Runnymede have made it popular destination for visitors to take walks, have picnics and go boating on the River Thames for many years now.
- As a political landscape
The sealing of Magna Carta not only had great impact nationally, but also internationally, influencing legislation worldwide. Land sale disputes also surrounded Runnymede in the 1920s.
- As a landscape of commemoration and celebration
Runnymede is famous for commemorating the past, serving as the location for major memorials and commemorative oak trees. However, it also hosted one of the grandest celebrations in the local area, the Runnymede Pageant of 1934. This pageant aimed to raise money for local charities and included re-enactments of a series of major historical events.
My findings have demonstrated to me the intricate layers and details that make up the identity of any landscape. These go far beyond the natural and manmade features we see before our eyes. They can even take a symbolic form with our perceptions of areas and the things we associate with them being just as essential in defining them.