Home Travel King John says slow, Dr Seuss says go

King John says slow, Dr Seuss says go

Every town needs a theme. And Egham has Magna Carta to milk for all it's worth

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A rather quiet detour from the busy A30. Egham High Steet, chain stores and charity shops. Even Boots sports baronial arms

Tomorrow, June 15, marks the 804th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in Surrey. We all know the background, King John and his barons, but no one gives much of a thought to the location or its surroundings.

As it happens, the nearest habitation is the town of Egham, 19 miles south-west of London, and it’s probably where John stopped to pick up his chicken nuggets and seek general provisioning.

Bypassed and restricted: Enter the modern High Street at your peril

Egham has been around a long time. The name means Ecga’s Farm and the place has been going strong for over 1,400 years. It was already ancient when the great and the good of the early 13th century signed their accord over the fields at Runnymere. Egeham, as it then was, hasn’t forgotten the association.

Three points on your licence or hanging, drawing and quartering if you are particularly unlucky
Three points on your licence or hanging, drawing and quartering if you are unfortunate enough to get caught

Bypassed

Then, in 1935, Egham was bypassed when the busy A30 trunk road was rerouted away from the High Street. From then on, only people with business there actually went to Egham. I had no business and confess I have been happily bypassing the little town most of my adult life. I thought of it simply as The Egham Bypass, not knowing what had been passed by.

Egham High Street and the Red Lion Inn which was built some 300 years after Magna Carta

I never once thought to turn off the main road and investigate. That’s a pity because modern Egham is a curious mix of slightly faded and rather neglected 21st Century urbanity and medieval theme park based on — guess what — the good old Magna Carta Libertatum.

In preparation for the celebrations, I decided to turn off the bypass and investigate the town of Egham to see if anyone remembered the big signing. I was in for a surprise. They are quite big on Magna Carta in Egham. And why not? Every town has to have something.

King John is well remembered in these parts and his name is even used to put the fear of death into speeding motorists, while the barons are littered all over the pedestrian precinct for residents and visitors to walk all over. True democracy after 804 years.

Lord de Tesco

Saer de Quincy here, John Fitzrobert there, Geoffrey de Mandeville guarding the entrance to Tesco, the lords are legion. You can’t miss them, though I doubt they would have been pleased to be transformed into paving stones in the future millennium. They do need a bit of a clean. And, in case you are left in any doubt, the High Street is festooned with heraldic flags commemorating the long-departed potentates.

Only the big boss himself lives on, working on traffic duties to keep the speed of modern-day destriers down to a modest twenty. Whether he is effective or not, I cannot say. But what is for sure, His Majesty got more than three points on his licence on the field of Runnymede. He could make a sympathetic traffic cop in 2019.

Not many branches of Tesco have their very own copy of Magna Carta to entertain customers

Seuss Not

Yet not everyone was as impressed with Egham as was King John. Dr Seuss, the American author Theodor Seuss Geisel, took a definite dislike to this inoffensive little burg when he was briefly stationed there during WWII.

When the undeniable greenness of Egham — it is on the edge of Windsor Great Park — was pointed out to him, he is reported to have said. “I do not like green Egham.” Indeed, Egham was the inspiration for his 1960 best-seller, Green Eggs and Ham: “I do not like them Sam I Am. I do not like green eggs and ham”.

The flags of the nobles of Runnymede keep watch over the 21st Centery High Street
The flags of the nobles of Runnymede keep watch over the 21st Century High Street

I thought of this as I enjoyed a very respectable “full English” in one of the many local eating places, the rather unprepossessing Eggham on Toast at No.73, adjacent to yet another statue of King John. I’d recommend it if you are passing.

More monuments, just in front of Egham on Toast. You can’t get away from Jing John in Egham: He’s watching you

The High Street does have its charms, despite the rather large number of charity shops and the faded baronial flags festooning the buildings. It just needs a bit of baronial elbow grease to put it back into shape.

A rather quiet detour from the busy A30. Egham High Steet, chain stores and charity shops. Even Boots sports baronial arms
A rather quiet detour from the busy A30, Egham High Steet with its chain stores and charity shops. Even Boots The Chemist sports baronial arms to go with your packet of Lemsip. Just imagine the traffic in this road before it was bypassed in 1935

Don’t pass by

All this goes to show that you should occasionally pull off those convenient bypasses and seek out the little places that the road builders have left behind. Egham cannot compare visually with Jean Perenet’s Myanmar, nor with Kevin Armstrong’s Paklenica Gorge. But for the taste of a quiet English town just a few yards from King John’s denouement, you should not resist.

King John’s chicken nuggets, all part of the irresistible charm of Egg-Ham by Runnymede

I rather like Egham, in the Borough of Runnymede. It is very liveable and only 45 minutes from London by train. It’s easier to get to than Myanmar (if you live in England, that is). It’s not as hot as John Shingleton’s Terrigal. Nor does it have beach cafés for weekly Kaffeeklatsch. But I’m royally sorry I bypassed it so many times in the past. Will you forgive me, Egg-Ham?

More whimsey from Macfilos

11 COMMENTS

  1. My Beloved and I have been to Egham regularly, as that’s where our osteopath’s practice is ..so we travel there to see her at Grange Road fairly often. Or we did; she’s on rest & recuperation at the moment.

    And when we’ve been, we head for the Queen’s shop at Datchet, just outside Windsor, to buy a roast, or have a cup of tea (..yes, she has a farm shop..) or else to the Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park, just up the road from Egham.

    And on the main road, just after Runnymede, and just before we turn left to go up to the Garden, we always say “..There’s a nice little spot on the right, just there, where someone could tie up and have a picnic, if they were coming up the river by boat..” because that’s what we did (..tied to a little tree by the side of the road..) back in 2005.

    Er, incidentally, I’m not sure that anyone actually SIGNED the Magna Carta ..I’ve heard that it has a total SEAL (bark bark) and a few thumbprints by way of signature ..and even though I did see a copy a long time ago (..at the Drapers’ Hall, or somewhere..) I can’t remember if it really has SIGNATURES, as – apparently – not that many people did writing back in 1215. I’ll have a hunt online and see if it really was signed ..Cheers!

    • Ah, Wikipedia (..it’s always Wikipedia, isn’t it?..) tells us that “..There were no signatures on the charter of 1215, and the barons present did not attach their own seals to it.”

      (I hitched a ride in a van to Oswestry from can’t-remember-somewhere-in-Cheshire around 1966, and there was a seal in the van. It had been fighting, so it was being taken from Chester Zoo to a new home at Bristol. Its nose was up in the air the whole journey, as if balancing a ball on its snout. Can’t remember its name, though, sorry.)

  2. Love that little story about how “Green Eggs and Ham” came to be.

    I reckon that the good burghers of Egham might have been a bit previous regarding their claim about Magna Carta. There has been a repeating story over the ensuing years that the document was sealed not at Runnymede, but very close by on the other side of the river beneath a 2000 year old yew tree at Ankerwycke Priory.

    These trees, were frequently sited in churchyards, or more correctly, churches were frequently constructed within yards of ancient yew trees, which were already holy places.

    The Yew tree is close to the end of a little lane called Magna Carta Lane. I wonder whether the American memorial to Magna Carta was sited where it was because the correct place is all privately owned land without official public access?

    Anyway, perhaps Egham deserves to be bypassed, unless some southern chicken is urgently required, whilst one is in the area.

  3. Think since you are in travel mode you should rendezvous with Ivor and MrFagan and John S, if he wants to leave Winter again,and the four of you go Wetzlar and do Vlog on what is going on with Leica’s. Are they still going thru on those 240 and Monochrome reductions?

    • They are. And there have been redundancies in marketing — perhaps the person who thought up the madcap scheme to drop prices on current models.

      • Let’s hope it’s the limited edition team and particularly the individual who came up with the Lenny Kravitz LE.
        However to give credit where it is due in the latest edition of LFI there is a story on Lenny K and he is actually an accomplished M photographer.

  4. I thought that all of those guys were French. It all started with a fellow called William the Bastard aka William the Conqueror. There was a William Fagan on the boat which brought the first lot of them here in 1169 under the leadership of Richard De Clare aka ‘Strongbow’, who now has a cider brand named after him.

    William

      • We got around. My mother’s surname was Supple, which came from ‘La Chapelle’, one of the French words for a church. We’re all the same really, despite the odd ‘fog on the channel’.

        William

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