A new monument commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta has been unveiled in Pontefract’s Market Place.
The hand-carved memorial celebrates the town’s role in the agreement as Baron John de Lacey from Pontefract Castle was one of the original 25 barons who ensured that King John sealed the Charter.
Magna Carta was agreed at Runnymede, near Surrey, and it still today safeguards basic freedoms and limits the power of the crown.
After 30 months of planning by the Pontefract Civic Society, the unveiling of the £30,000 monument, situated outside the Town Hall on Bridge Street, topped off over a year of local events to celebrate this historic anniversary.
Image (right) shows Yvette Cooper MP, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Sayles Fox, Cllr Denise Jeffery and Paul Cartwright unveiling the monument.
The Revd Canon Bob Cooper, Vicar and Area Dean of Pontefract, who blessed the monument at the unveiling, said: “In these days of social unrest throughout the world it is important to stand up for Parliamentary democracy, for freedom, for justice, and for equality for all.
“800 years ago Magna Carta enshrined those beliefs in English law and today Pontefract, with this hand-carved stone monument, continues in that tradition.”
Fr Bob added: “People in Pontefract have been very positive towards the whole Magna Carta experience.
“Democracy has always been at the heart of Pontefract and, in the late 19th century, it was the very first town in the United Kingdom to use a secret ballot for a national election.
“Saint Giles' takes democracy and community very seriously and we were delighted to be associated with the monument.”
The unveiling ceremony took place on July 15 and was carried out by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Sayles Fox and Deputy Council Leader Cllr Denise Jeffery.
Around 100 people gathered outside the Town Hall where there was also a period of silence in respect for the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice which happened the day before.
Children from Carleton Park Junior and Infants School (see image left) spoke ‘very movingly’ about the Charter and highlighted the importance of freedom and democracy.
Later in the Town Hall, Mrs Elma Mangnall, a friend of the Pontefract Civic Society, gave a monologue performance of the poem Magna Carta by Marriott Edgar.
Paul Cartwright, Chair of the Pontefract Civic Society and a former member of the local Magna Carta Group, said: “We are very pleased with both the result and the location of the monument, alongside Pontefract Town Hall, which has been a place of governance and democracy since medieval times.
“The position in Bridge Street, along with four benches and a planter from Pontefract in Bloom, also adds to the creation of this place as a civic square.”
The monument was primarily funded by Pontefract Civic Society with Wakefield District Council also providing a £5,000 grant for the project.
Image (right) shows Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Sayles Fox speaking in front of the monument.
John Colvill, a member of the Pontefract Civic Society and former member of the Magna Carta Group, said: “For nearly three years our group met at St Giles monthly to plan our celebrations, and the Pontefract Civic Society were delegated to oversee the monument project.
“18 months ago Bishop Tony [the former Bishop of Pontefract and now Area Bishop of Wakefield] received the facsimile of the Magna Carta on behalf of Pontefract.”
The copy of the Charter, specially printed by the British Library on sheepskin, was presented to the Rt Revd Tony Robinson by former Normanton MP Sir Bill O’Brien, former secretary of the town’s Magna Carta Group.
The presentation of the Charter’s copy at St Giles’ Church marked the start of the anniversary celebrations as it made its way around local libraries and schools, which also held competitions to design a catapult.
Other celebrations included a painting exhibition, the presentation of a tapestry to the town by the Embroidery Guild Of Ackworth, and on the 800th anniversary, on June 14, Bishop Tony led an open air service in the Market Place when the bells of St Giles and All Saints were rung together, along with those in the 25 towns of the Magna Carta Barons Association.