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.
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
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.
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.
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”.
I thought of this as I enjoyed a very respectable “full English” in one of the many local eating places, the rather unprepossessing
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.
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.
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?