Odiham's important role in Magna Carta history
PUBLISHED: 10:04 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:04 26 May 2015
Odiham is poised to celebrate its part in the 800th anniversary of the world's most famous legal document. Graham Price finds out more about the village's role in Magna Carta history and some of the exciting events taking place to celebrate
Did you know that the village of Odiham in north east Hampshire is linked to King John and the signing of Magna Carta? Not only did King John stay in Odiham Castle in the days before Magna Carta was negotiated and agreed, but the vernacular version was issued from Odiham on June 27 1215.
King John ruled England for 17 tumultuous years from 1199 until his death in 1216. Much of his reign was marred by an ongoing, expensive war with France – a war paid for by levying huge taxes on his people and exploiting feudal rights, which caused civil unrest and acrimony among his barons.
The barons rebelled and forced King John to sign a charter to limit his arbitrary rule and attempt to avoid the descent into civil war. The attempt ultimately failed – within weeks John had disowned it and was at war with his rebellious barons. But the document still holds an incredibly important place in history.
King John stayed in Odiham Castle in the days leading up to the important meeting with his barons, and rode to Runnymede, near Windsor from there on June 10 1215 to agree to the Articles of the Barons (a draft of Magna Carta). On June 15 1215, after five days of intense discussion and negotiation, the two sides came to an agreement and Magna Carta was signed and sealed.
The master document was issued in Latin, but the main language of the ruling classes on both sides of the Channel was French. The Anglo Norman (vernacular) Magna Carta was issued from Odiham on June 27 1215, along with a writ addressed to the Sheriff of Hampshire and the twelve elected knights of the county, authorising them to seize the property of those who refused the oath to the 25 barons who had gathered at Runnymede days earlier to agree the charter with the King.
For the last three years, the Odiham Society have been busy planning a full schedule of events to celebrate the village’s role in Magna Carta. “Our project is all about bringing heritage and history alive to inform and involve the community of Odiham and surrounding Hampshire as a whole,” says chairman, John Champion. “All of our activity has been undertaken by volunteers, and the number involved has been growing steadily as the 800th anniversary of 1215 approaches.”
One event which has really captured the imagination is the Magna Carta Anthem. The brainchild of Michael Drayton, and composed by Malcolm Archer, the anthem was completed in 2014. John explains: “Steve Brown volunteered to cycle 1200 miles around England to deliver it to churches and cathedrals particularly associated with Magna Carta, thus creating the Magna Carta Trail which has now been adopted as a national cycle trail and brought more positive publicity for a daunting undertaking that Steve accomplished with quiet modesty.“
The programme of events were inspired by the interests and enthusiasm of a small group of people.
“An embroidery was proposed at an early stage and an organising team found a superb artist and designer, Mary Turner. This inspired more than 50 local stitchers to become involved in a project that has resulted in a lasting legacy in the form of a beautiful embroidery that will hang in Odiham Library for all to view and learn about our history,” says John.
“Elements of our programme are very different, yet mutually reinforcing, so that we hope many people will enjoy them all and gain much more from actively entering history.”
What is the Magna Carta and why is it important?
The Magna Carta (“Great Charter” in Latin) outlined some basic rights for the first time, many of which we now take for granted. It chartered that no-one was above the law (including the King); that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals (a jury) and placed limits on taxation without representation. It inspired other great documents including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just three clauses remain on the statute book today: the clause confirming the privileges of the City of London and other towns; the clause guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church and the famous clause that gives everyone the right to a fair trial in front of a jury of their peers.
How to get to Odiham Castle
The ruins of ‘King John’s Castle’ sit at the junction between the Basingstoke Canal and the River Whitewater. Access is on foot (or by bike) along the canal towpath. Drive through Odiham to North Warnborough, down Tunnel Lane (just off North Warnborough Street) and find a parking spot close to the canal, which is buggy and bike friendly. If you want to make a day of it, why not explore a longer route along the canal? A map of the towpath can be found at www3.hants.gov.uk/basingstokecanal-leafletmap.pdf
John’s Event Highlights
1 Unveiling of the Odiham Embroidery on May 16 by the High Sheriff of Hampshire will begin a programme of events stretching into June, and flags flying along all approach roads and the parish as a whole will signal that everything is underway.
2 The Festival and Parade in the centre of Odiham on May 22 is being managed by Jane Pratt and will see the community come together, dressed in the spirit of 1215, to celebrate Magna Carta. It promises to be an afternoon and evening that schools and families will long remember.
3 Living History at Odiham Castle promises to bring many people into the parish and will serve the wider community of Hampshire as a whole. Up to 100 people from Feudals Living History and other groups will come together to involve and inform through our 1215 Village and Arena Re-enactment, and it will be a great relief when they are all assembled and everything is going to plan.
4 The journey to Runnymede on June 7 will see 1000 or more people picnicking beside the Thames in remembrance of June 1215. The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which records the names of more than 20,000 air personnel who died in WW2 with no known grave, has particular relevance for RAF Odiham and we anticipate many of our number at the picnic will also visit it as well as the Magna Carta Memorial there.
5 Singing live in All Saints Odiham congregation for Sunday Worship on Radio 4 on June 14 and listening to the start of the cascade of bells from Odiham to Runnymede (Egham, Windsor & Runnymede) at 12.15pm will be unusual events that capture the imagination of everyone, and provide a natural lead into our LiberTea at 3pm - when it will be marvellous to see everyone celebrate the liberty, freedom and democracy that we usually take for granted. It will be a relief to relax after the last major event in our programme. To find out more about the full programme of events, visit www.odihammagnacarta.com
• Everything you need to know about Odiham - With a castle once fit for a king and a picturesque High Street lined with Georgian houses and independent shops, Odiham has long been a popular place to live and visit.