The Jurors

Artist: Hew Locke
Location: Surrey, UK
Year of completion: 2015
Sara Black

Runnymede is the site of one of the most important events in English history, as this was the place on 15 June 1215 that King John along with 25 barons agreed to have the Magna Carta sealed, which marked the road to individual freedom, parliamentary democracy and to the supremacy of law in England.

The landscape of Runnymede is characterised as "Thames Basin Lowland", an urban fringe of the major conurbations that surround it, a gently undulating vale of small fields interspersed by woods, ponds, meadows, and heath. The name Runnymede may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon runieg (regular meeting) and mede (mead or meadow), describing a place in the meadows used to hold regular meetings.

The Jurors, an installation of 12 intricately worked bronze chairs stand together on this ancient meadow. Each chair incorporates symbols and imagery representing concepts of law and key moments in the struggle for freedom, rule of law and equal rights. The Jurors is not a memorial, but an artwork that aims to examine the changing and ongoing significance and influences of the Magna Carta.

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The work is highly tactile, includes braille cast on the surface of each chair, encouraging all visitors to touch the work, designed by the artist as an open invitation to sit, reflect and discuss the history and issues depicted on each chair. Locke has recreated the history of place, first as a place of meeting for Anglo-Saxons, and later the gathering to seal the Great Charter. , to utilise and not to revere it as an untouchable artwork. The audience is encouraged to document their experience on seeing the work and are invited to share their images and experiences on social media using the hashtag #thejurors.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned... except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land", states clause 39 of the Magna Carta. Inscription and imagery on the 12 chairs includes Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island; the Zong massacre on 1781, when 133 African slaves were thrown overboard from a British owned slave ship, and the first time the captain and crew were prosecuted; Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to practice law in India; the emancipation of serfs by Tsar Alexander II; and The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In a simple, powerful performance of a specially commissioned dedication by poet Owen Sheers, actors emerged from the crowds at Runnymede and assembled at the chairs, alongside Prince William and the artist.

As part of Surrey County Council's marking of the 800th Magna Carta anniversary and National Trust's strategy to raise the profile of the Runnymede site, it was decided a new artwork should be commissioned for the site to be installed in time for the 800th anniversary on 15 June 2015. Situations, a commissioning agency based in the UK were invited to manage this process and be the producers on the project.

Situations drew up a shortlist of possible artists who were invited to submit outline proposals and selected artists were invited to meet the steering group, who remained engaged with the project throughout. The steering group consisted of National Trust regional and national staff and Surrey County Council officers and a councillor. Situations also advised throughout this selection process. From this process, Hew Locke was commissioned as the artist for the artwork.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency