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Kent connections with Magna Carta and its 800th anniversary

Kent has strong associations with Magna Carta (MC) and plans for the 800th anniversary commemorations are well developed, with a strong focus in Canterbury, one of the 5 Charter Towns in England; in Faversham, where the Town Council owns an edition dated 1300; and Rochester whose Textus Roffensis, a book including Anglo- Saxon law, influenced the development of the MC.  

Magna Carta Day on Monday 15th June 2015 will be recognised around the world.  From January public awareness will be raised via the publication of a number of books (including one of significant interest to Canterbury), warm up activities and  the media including a BBC season.

Kent Ambassador Sir Robert Worcester chairs the national 800th committee. County Councillor, Alex King, is treasurer. 

Two very recent discoveries have endorsed the importance of MC to our county:

  • One of the 4 surviving copies of the original 1215 MC has been identified as the charter that was issued to Canterbury Cathedral.  The remarkable discovery, unveiled in a new book Magna Carta by Professor David Carpenter,  reinforces the role that Canterbury and Archbishop Stephen Langton played.
  • A 1300 Magna Carta belonging to Sandwich Town Council has been rediscovered by KCC’s Community History Officer at the Kent History and Library Centre.  As with the Canterbury MC this has attracted significant media interest.

Graham Clarke, another Kent Ambassador, has produced an MC etching, Very Much Obliged, and will play a major part in Kent’s celebrations

Visit Kent has led the development of National Tourist Trails including one on Kent and East Sussex.

Professor Louise Wilkinson of Canterbury Christ Church University has been engaged in a major research project led by the University of East Anglia and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Louise will also be giving lectures around the country.

A Canterbury City Council- led partnership was established in March 2012 including Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent,  Faversham Town Council, KCC Libraries, Registration and Archives, Visit Kent,  the legal sector and Lord Fitzwalter of Goodnestone Park who is a descendent of one of the Barons.  Canterbury will provide the main civic focus for activity in Kent including pageantry; a conference and a service in the Cathedral; and an exhibition at the Beaney House of Knowledge.

Faversham will also host an ambitious programme of activities;  

  • A County Council Steering Group includes representatives from Arts and Culture, Communications, Education, Equalities, Heritage Legal Services, Libraries, Registration and Archives, Regeneration, Tourism and the Youth Service. 
  • Highly significant items from the collections of Canterbury Cathedral will be lent to the major Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library running from March until September. This exhibition also features the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, on loan from the US.

A Kent programme of events and activities

A planned approach has developed across Canterbury and Kent linked to national plans.  These include:

  • a major interactive touring exhibition, Magna Carta Rediscovered,  which will feature Faversham Town Council’s MC. Visit Kent secured £81,000 Heritage Lottery funding to enable the exhibition which will tour Faversham  Alexander Centre (23th May – 30th June); Canterbury’s Beaney House of Knowledge (30th June – 20th July); Kent History and Library Centre (27th July – 5th Sept 2015); Maison Dieu in Dover (10th September – 6th October); and Rochester Cathedral (10th October – 6 th December);
  • MC Conference on 6th June hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University;
  • range of events in Canterbury on Saturday 13th June including a Procession and  MC Service at the Cathedral,  a family trail through the city, the Law Courts Open morning and the University of Kent sponsored Legal Walk.  Canterbury Cathedral will also have a children’s trail in its Open Gardens weekend on 30th and 31st May; hold a Peal of Bells on 6th June; host a MC Dinner at the Cathedral Lodge on 4th July with Dr David Starkey as guest speaker, and hold a 6th Form Conference on 10th July; 
  • an exhibition at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge “Canterbury in the Age of the Magna Carta”, which will run from 6th June to 6th September 2015. The exhibition will focus on Canterbury residents’ stories and lives during the age of Magna Carta and will include the Canterbury Cathedral copy of its original 1215 Magna Carta transcribed into the Priory register;
  • an exciting programme of activities in Faversham including Magna Carta Schools Debate on 17th March;  BBC Radio 4 Any Questions on 22nd May; Ecumenical Service of Thanksgiving on 28th May (and on every Thursday until 25th June); Magna Carta Gala Concert on 6th June (which has secured £15,00 Arts Council funding); Magna Carta Medieval Weekend 13th-14th June and a Garden Party at Davington Priory on 27th June.  Shepherd Neame will produce a commemorative ale;
  • Kent Music’s Magna Carta inspired Easter Project at Turkey Mill in Maidstone (7th to 10th April) with children and young people, aged 9 to 16.  This project will make a musical journey over 800 years looking at the development of both human rights and music and will create a number of original short compositions reflecting the style of music at landmark points in history e.g. The Magna Carta, The Bill of Rights in 1689 and the Human Rights Act of 1998.   The young people will also make their own charters and Kent Music hopes they will become ambassadors to give presentations to their schools on the project;
  • Medieval Fayre, home of Lord FitzWalter, a descendant of one of the Barons, at Goodnestone Park and Gardens from 4 to 5 July;
  • a facsimile MC to be gifted to new citizens at Allington Castle on 1st June courtesy of Sir Robert Worcester;
  • a facsimile Magna Carta to be gifted to babies born on 15 June 2015;
  • a menu of activities from Graham Clarke including dinners and talks about the MC  at his home in Boughton Monchelsea. A £5,000 MC grant will enable Graham Clarke’s Starta Magna Carta Theatra to be performed at Faversham Library (May half term), Kent History and Library Centre (20 June), The Beaney (8 July) and Rochester Library (October half term). This witty 45-minute production, written in verse, can be performed with minimal rehearsal in community venues, schools etc. These activities will involve children and families and will be accredited by the Kent Children’s University;
  • LiberTEAs, part of a Parliament-led initiative, which will take place in Deal, Folkestone, Tunbridge Wells and Whitstable Libraries on Sunday 14 June.  They will include family learning activities to create seals and charters, accredited by the Kent Children’s University and ‘ Human Library’ activity in Deal;
  • The Kent History and Library Centre will host a Human Library on the theme of Rule of Law  on 4 July.  A Human Library works exactly like a regular library. The difference is that the books are people, Human Books, which the borrower ‘reads’ by having a conversation with them. A Human Book is a person who has volunteered to challenge attitudes and stereotypes (often unintended), through conversation with the individuals who ‘borrow’ them. For the Magna Carta event we aim to recruit Human Books from the legal system to reflect The Rule of Law.  We will invite the police, JPs, barristers, prison officers, judges and the probation service among others to take part. The aim of a Human Library is to share experiences with people you would not normally meet in your day to day life and to ask questions you have always wanted to ask.  The Criminal Justice System can be daunting;  we hope this event will help to break down barriers and raise awareness of how the system works;
  • The Kent History and Library Centre will host the Parliamentary Archives History of Democracy exhibition in October (links to 750th anniversary of Simon de Montford's first Parliament).

In addition to these activities there will be an emerging programme of events in communities and schools around the county. Kent Libraries and schools will buy a range of books for children and adults.


Aims include:

  • Raised awareness of Kent’s significant and important links to the Magna Carta story
  • raised awareness of MC and its significance to  modern society
  • significant economic benefits to Kent including tourism during and beyond 2015
  • launch of an appeal to provide a permanent home in Faversham for the display of the Town Council’s MC and other Charters
  • restoration of  Canterbury City Council’s 15  life-size statues of the Barons.  This costs £5k per Baron and private funding will be sought

How can you get involved?

We hope you will be inspired to get involved.  There are many opportunities:

You may wish to:

  • attend one of the public events listed above
  • be a Human Book; the theme is Rule of Law and we are seeking people from all walks of life who have played a role in the criminal justice system
  • consider contributing to the fundraising;  some projects are seeking grants,  large or small;  this  may be something you’d like to support

For further information check the websites or contact: 

KCC events and general enquiries:

  • Gill Bromley:  Service Improvement Manager, Community Cohesion and Heritage, KCC Libraries Registration and Archives

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