The Landscape Design Trust’s ongoing Landscapes Live project at Runnymede has revealed previously unknown information about the memorial
According to the trust, its research has revealed that immediately after his appointment to design the memorial, Jellicoe visited Japan for three weeks and prepared the first sketches for the Runnymede site, while attending an international landscape conference.
Zen Buddhist gardens in Kyoto were a significant influence on Jellicoe’s design, it claims. ‘In addition to a simple inscribed plinth and steps as outlined in his brief, he included a path leading from the memorial stone to two seats for contemplation which overlook Runnymede meadow and the island where Magna Carta was signed.’
Jellicoe later wrote about the woodland path, the memorial stone and the seats ‘all symbolising life, death and spirit, about the individual granite setts representing pilgrims, with the kissing gate at the entrance to the site as the wicket gate taken from Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress’.
The entire site – covering three acres – comprises the memorial, which the trust describes as ‘a natural landscape with a woodland edge’.
Jellicoe remained involved in consulting and advising on the project until his mid 80s but until now very little background information has been known about the project, says the Landscape Design Trust.
‘Some big names were involved in commissioning the work, including Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, a series of ex Ambassadors to Washington, Sir Roger Makins, who chaired the committee to execute the memorial and Lord Harlech who was the first chair of Kennedy Memorial Trust.
‘The site selection also set precedents: most land at Runnymede belonged to National Trust and was held as inalienable. As a result, Crown land was offered – an unprecedented action, requiring an Act of Parliament. Sensitive guidance on the site was provided by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and reports note significant civil service support to bring the whole project to life.’
Between May 1964 and November 1965, the Lord Mayor of London’s Appeal set a £1m target for both the memorial and Kennedy scholarships, and the memorial was inaugurated on 14 May 1965 by the Queen, in the presence of the Kennedy family.