Magna Charta Island – Great Britain And Ireland

The Company of Basket-makers (if there be such a company) have claimed a large portion of the field-where the barons, “clad in complete steel,” assembled to confer with King John upon the great charter of English freedom, by which, Hume truly but coldly says, “very important liabilities and privileges were either granted or se-cured to every order of men in the kingdom; to the clergy, to the barons, and to the people”—the Basket-makers, we say, have availed themselves of the low land of Runnymead to cultivate osiers; piles and stacks of “withies” in various stages of utility, for several hundred yards shut out the river from the wayfarer, but as he proceeds they disappear, and Cooper’s Hill on the left, the rich flat of Runnymead, the Thames, and the groves of time-honored Anekerwycke, on its opposite bank, form together a rich and most interesting picture.

It is now nearly a hundred years since it was first proposed to erect a triumphal column upon Runnymead; but we have sometimes a strange antipathy to do what would seem avoidable ; the monument to the memory of Hampden is a sore proof of the niggardliness of liberals to the liberal; but all monuments to such a man or to such a cause must appear poor; the names “Hampden” and “Runnymead” suffice; the green and verdant mead, encircled by the coronet of Cooper’s Hill, reposing beneath the sun, and shadowed by the passing cloud, is an object of reverence and beauty, immortalized by the glorious liberty which the bold barons of England forced from a spiritless tyrant.

Tho Cooper’s Hill has no claim to the sublimity of mountain scenery, its peculiar situation commands a broad expanse of country. It rises abruptly from the Runnymead meadows, and extends its long ridge in a northwesterly direction; the summit is approached by a winding road, which from different points of the ascent progressively unfolds a gorgeous number of fertile views, such as no other country in the world can give.

“Of hills and dales, and woods, and lawns, and spires, And glittering towns, and silver streams.”

We have heard that the views from Kingswood Lodge—the dwelling of the hill—are delicious, and that its conservatory contains an exquisite marble statue of “Hope.” On the west of Cooper’s Hill is the interesting estate of Anckerwycke Purnish. Anekerwycke has been for a series of years in the possession of the family of Harcourt. There is a “meet” of the three shires in this vicinity-Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and Berkshire. The views from the grounds of Anckerwycke are said to be of exceeding beauty, and the kindness of its master makes eloquent the poor about his domain. All these things, and the sound of the rippling waters of the Thames, and the songs of the myriad birds which congregate in its groves, and the legends sprung of its antiquity, all contribute to the adornment of the gigantic fact that here, King John, sorely against his will, signed Magna Charta ! How that single fact fills the soul, and nerves the spirit; how proudly the British birth-right throbs within our bosoms. We long to lead the new Napoleon, the absolute Nicholas, the frank, hospitable, and brave, but sometimes over-confident American, to this green sward of Runnymead and tell them that here was secured to the Englishman a liberty which other nations have never enjoyed ! Here in the thickset beauty of yon little island, was our Charter granted.

There has been much dispute as to whether the Charter was signed upon the Mead or on the island called Magna Charta Island, which forms a charming feature in the landscape, and upon which is built a little sort of altar-house, so to call it. We leave the settlement of such matters to wiser and more learned heads; but we incline to the idea that John would have felt even the mimic ferry a. protection. The island looks even now exclusivc, and as we were impelled to its shore, we indulged the belief that the charter was really there signed by the king.

There was a poetic feeling in whoever planted the bank of “Forget-me-not” just at the entrance to the low apartment which was fitted up to contain the charter stone, by the late Simon Harcourt, Esq., in the year 1835. The inscription on the stone is as follows:—”Be it remembered, that on this island, in June, 1215, John, King of England, Signed the Magna Charta, and in the year 1834, this building was erected in commemoration of that great and important event by George Simon Harcourt, Esq., Lord of the Manor and then High Sheriff of the county.” A gentleman rents the island from Mr. Harcourt, and has built there a Gothic cottage in excellent keeping with the place. It adjoins the altar-room, but does not interfere with it, nor with the privileges so graciously bestowed on the public by Mr. Harcourt—permitting patriots or fishermen to visit the island, and picnic in a tent prepared for the purpose, under the shelter of some superb walnut trees.