Miniature of King John hunting, in a manuscript of the Liber legume antiquorum regum, C14, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
Miniature of King John hunting, in a manuscript of the Liber legume antiquorum regum, C14, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
King John's teeth, on loan from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
King John's teeth, on loan from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
Magna Carta, London copy, 1215, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
Magna Carta, London copy, 1215, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
Miniature of the poisoning of King John, from a verse chronicle, C13, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library
Miniature of the poisoning of King John, from a verse chronicle, C13, on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Photography © British Library

A Review of Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library

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Chelsea Coates, Khuslen Ganzorig and Sarah Silva, all just about to take their GCSEs, along with Carol Campbell, Chelsea’s mum, and Emma Bryant, Kids in Museums volunteer, assess the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library. Meanwhile, our commissioning editor Rhonda Carrier lists other Magna Carta related exhibitions for kids.

‘It helped me understand more about the significance that the Magna Carta has in relation to my rights in today’s society’, said Chelsea.

’It was quite enlightening as to how this document shaped the modern world and how its roots have branched out to all the other continents’, added Khuslen

‘It was really informative and it was fun’, concluded Sarah.

In fact all of us, adults and teens alike, enjoyed this exhibition, which contained an incredible array of documents plus a few objects, paintings and photographs, dating from the 13th to the 20th centuries. We agreed it’s probably best for families with children aged 9+.

An audio-visual display sets the scene. Then we went into a darkened room with display cases with medieval documents in chronological order. Some were small with minute writing done by quill. There were also grand books with beautiful illustrations. Most of the writing was in Latin or old French so was hard to decipher, but the labels were informative.

As we progressed through the rooms we learnt about the influence of the Magna Carta through the centuries, up to today. Finally we saw an original Magna Carta dramatically displayed in a room by itself. Having learnt about its significance, this had more weight. We all felt we’d not have appreciated it so much if we’d seen it at the beginning.

There were interesting videos and audio clips. ‘Horrible Histories’ was funny and entertaining, while listening to both Churchill and Roosevelt mention the Magna Carta in speeches brought home how important it is.

We used both the children’s (free) and the adult’s (£3) audio guide and we’d recommend both. The children’s guide is interactive, with a game linking the objects in the style of an investigation. It uses different voices and characters to engage, bringing documents and historical figures to life to help kids understand about the US Declaration of Independence and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, relating the Magna Carta directly to us.

The lighting was low to protect the documents, but we thought there could have been some brighter colours to make it more appealing to children and we would have liked more headphones for the video clips. There were two children in electric wheelchairs who seemed to be managing quite well because it wasn’t too crowded, but we thought that the central display might have been too high for them to see.

There’s a lot of information to take in and we thought families might need a break halfway through – and indeed, re-entry is allowed if the exhibition isn’t too crowded and you ask first.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy runs at the British Library in London until 1 September 2015. Tickets cost £12 for adults, under-18s go free. http://www.bl.uk/events/magna-carta–law-liberty-legacy

The British Library is proud to be part of a pioneering online schools project, Magna Carta: My Digital Rights, which challenges students to create a bill of rights for the digital era. The results of the project will be announced in June around the anniversary of Magna Carta’s sealing.

Other Magna Carta Sights

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire. Home to the best-preserved of the four original Magna Carta copies of 1215, this Gothic cathedral has a new interactive Magna Carta exhibition focused on families, with media installations, objects, graphics and animation. These are in addition to a Cathedral Trail for ages 8-12, a Ghost Knight trail based on the Cornelia Funke books and Explorer Bags. There will also be Magna Carta events in Salisbury and Wiltshire throughout 2015, including art installations, music and theatre, and family activities. www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Hereford Cathedral, Herefordshire. This cathedral displays a wonderful example of King Henry II’s 1217 Magna Carta, plus the ‘Kings Writ’ issued by King John from the meeting of the rebel barons at Runnymede in June 1215. Magna Carta: The Hereford Story, running until 30 September, features pop-up displays around the cathedral plus hands-on activities and costumes. www.herefordcathedral.org

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