Skip to Content

History of the Magna Carta Trust

It was in October 1956 that senior representatives from the judiciary, church, various county and district councils, the English Speaking Union, The Pilgrims of Great Britain, The Royal Empire Society, The Victoria League, The Overseas League, The National Trust and all the High Commissioners came together to plan the Magna Carta Trust as successor to the Magna Carta Society.

The meeting had before them a letter from the then Prime Minister (The Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Eden, KG, MC, MP) capturing the significance of the new Trust’s aims:

“I am glad to have this opportunity to send a message to the inaugural meeting of the Magna Carta Trust.

The 15 June 1215 is rightly regarded as one of the most notable days in the history of the world. Those who were at Runnymede that day could not know the consequences that were to flow from their proceedings. The granting of Magna Carta marked the road to individual freedom, to Parliamentary democracy and to the supremacy of the law. The principles of Magna Carta, developed over the centuries by the Common Law, are the heritage now, not only of those who live in these Islands, but in countless millions of all races and creeds throughout the world.

It is most fitting that a Trust should be formed to commemorate so great a moment in history, and I send my best wishes for your success.”

It was Lord Evershed, Master of the Rolls who formally proposed the formation of the Trust with the following objects:

The perpetuation of the principles of Magna Carta.

The preservation for reverent public use of sites associated with Magna Carta.

The commemoration triennially, and on such special occasions as shall be determined by the Trust, of the grant of Magna Carta as the source of the constitutional liberties of all english-speaking peoples, and a common bond of peace between them.

Lord Evershed was the Trust’s first chairman and the original trustees were:

The Chairman of the Pilgrims of Great Britain

The Chairman of the English Speaking Union of the Commonwealth

The Chairman of the Joint Empire Societies Conference (now Joint Commonwealth Societies Council)

The Rt. Hon the Lord Mayor of the City of London

The Rt. Worshipful the Mayor of the City of St. Albans

The Rt. Worshipful the Mayor of the Borough of St. Edmundsbury

The Chairman of the Urban District Council of Egham (now Mayor of Runnymede Borough Council)

Click here for more information about the history of the Master of the Rolls.

One of the first actions of the newly created Trust was to seek to create a memorial to mark Magna Carta. A lease of land at the Runnymede Meadows, Egham was put in hand and the great generosity of the American Bar Association, the Dulverton Trust, and The Pilgrim Trust saw preparation of the site and the commissioning of the architect, Sir Edward Maufe, to create a memorial on the gentle slopes of Cooper’s Hill overlooking the Runnymede Meadow. In the subsequent forty-three years the Trust has been chaired by Lord Denning, Lord Donaldson and by The Rt. Hon Sir Thomas Bingham. The Trustees have been extended to embrace the President of the Law Society, the President and Treasurer of the American Association and the Marshal of the Baronial Order of Magna Carta.

Triennial celebrationsMost of the energies of the Trust have been centered around triennial celebrations rotating amongst the five “Charter Towns” (City of Canterbury, City of London, Runnymede Borough, City of St. Albans and Borough of St. Edmundsbury). These celebrations have taken many forms includingre-dedication ceremonies, pageants, dinners, plays and lectures. However, the Trust has been heavily constrained in view of the financial burden of maintaining and safeguarding the memorial and its site at Runnymede and the reasonableness of financial support that it could seek from its Trustees and their representative organisations.

The late Lord Bingham when Chairman of the Trust, and fellow trustees, made a concerted effort to secure the Trust on the generosity of the charter towns, the Amercian Bar Association, the Inns of Court, and the Law Society Trust has enabled it to be more ambitious in raising the profile and underscoring the significance of Magna Carta. Initiatives have included a major city-based lecture by Sir James Holt, former Professor of Mediaeval History and Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. His Excellency The Prime Minister of India, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao, visited the memorial site at Runnymede during his four day official visit to Britain. This was seen very much as a pilgrimage and a tribute to the historic Magna Carta, a source of inspiration throughout the world, as an affirmation of the values of Freedom, Democracy and the rule of Law, which the people of India cherish and have enshrined in their
constitution.

Featured Article

796 years ago tomorrow a reluctant, but resigned, and most definitely scheming King John was brought to Runnymede to put his seal to the Great Charter of Liberty – Magna Carta. John might have acceded to the Barons’ demands...

Read on...

Recent Articles

See more...

Stay updated

Preparations are underway for some truly memorable commemorations from major international conferences and exhibitions to local events and parties and a Magna Carta tour. To be the first to hear of these, sign up to the newsletter below.