A call has been made for the Magna Carta to return home to Surrey for its 800th anniversary celebrations.
It would mean every child could see the historic document that forms the basis of modern democracy at the site in Runnymede where it was sealed.
Surrey County Council’s appeal comes after it was revealed children from every secondary school in the country will travel to the First World War battlefields to mark the centenary in 2014.
It also follows the Prime Minister’s appearance on a US chat show where he had trouble translating Magna Carta into English and a survey that showed nearly half the population had no idea what the charter is*.
Surrey’s call was made as the council pledged a £5 million contribution to a new visitor centre planned in Runnymede ahead of the anniversary in 2015 that is expected to attract worldwide attention**. The funding was confirmed by Leader David Hodge at an event at London’s Guildhall today after the council’s Cabinet agreed it on Tuesday.
The facility being planned with Runnymede Borough Council will teach tourists from around the world about the charter’s significance and will be interactive for children while also using modern technology to help adults learn more about the document.
It will also benefit businesses, with an estimated £13.5 million being injected into the local economy by a 10% increase in tourism.
Mr Hodge said: “The Magna Carta is made up of many documents but even being able to see a part of it at the site where history was made nearly 800 years ago would be incredible.
“Hundreds of millions of people in the democratic world have so much to thank the Magna Carta for and this visitor centre would be the perfect place to find about it as well as supporting local businesses, tourism and education.”
Sir Robert Worcester, Chair of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, said: “The support announced today by David Hodge of a £5 million grant to provide an Interpretation Centre for the Magna Carta at Runnymede sends a signal to the entire world that the people of Surrey recognise the importance of the Magna Carta.”
* The YouGov survey for the British Library found 45% of the 2,000 people questioned in 2008 had no knowledge of the charter.
** A decision on whether to proceed with the project to at least the end of the planning application stage is being made by Runnymede Borough Council’s Corporate Management Committee on 1 November.