Published: 06:00, 21 November 2019
| Updated: 09:57, 21 November 2019
A copy of the Magna Carta bestowed to Faversham hundreds of years ago could be sold off by the town council - with an estimated price tag of £20 million.
The 719-year-old document - one of just seven in existence - was presented to the barons and port of Faversham in 1300, and is the last reissue of King Edward I's seal.
Now, the town council has confirmed that if the precious charter cannot be displayed in Faversham, other options - such as selling or leasing it to museums - will be considered.
Former journalist Mark Gardner, who has lived in the town for more than 50 years, says it would be "an act of incredible irresponsibility" for the council to "sell off our town's birthright".
“I think it is outrageous,” the 80-year-old said.
“It is something that should be - and is - prized by all of Faversham’s residents.
"The response to the exhibition - Magna Carta Rediscovered - in 2015 was tremendous.”
The revelation comes as part of a consultation into the future use of the Town Hall at 12 Market Place.
In 2016, the authority purchased the former Stead and Simpson shoe shop and planned to create a permanent exhibition space for the Magna Carta and Faversham’s other charters.
The council moved from its rented office in the Alexander Centre to the first floor of 12 Market Place that summer.
Since then, the ground floor has been used for various temporary exhibitions, and a consultation is underway to decide the future use of the building.
At a meeting to discuss the options, local resident Brian Pain suggested the town’s Magna Carta copy could be sold.
“The whole of the 12 Market Place came about because of the idea of displaying the Magna Carta,” he said.
“Now we can’t do that because there isn’t the grant money to do it and the cost would be enormous.
"I wondered whether the council had considered turning the whole problem on its head on what we do with the space now and selling the Magna Carta?
“Seriously - sell it to an academic or an academic institution on the condition it comes back once every four years and is displayed here.”
Cllr Kris Barker (Lib Dem) responded, saying the option would be explored among others.
“The question about whether we want to sell the Magna Carta I think we need to defer until after we’ve made a proposal about what we’re going to do with this building,” he said.
"It would be an act of incredible inresponsibility to sell off our town's birthright" - Mark Gardner
“I think it’s a very valid question. There are also very similar options where we lease it to places like the Smithsonian (Institution).
“I think we could explore all of those, but we would need to engage the town with what we’d end up doing with it, but at the moment I just think it’s worth making sure we run through these options, and if this isn’t a space we utilise for historic exhibitions and the display of Magna Carta, then we can look at other options.”
The considerations for the future use of the 12 Market Place include putting it up for retail rental; turning into a visitor information centre, heritage hub and Magna Carta museum; using it as an 'information gateway' by providing access to a range of public, voluntary and community services; or continuing to use it as an exhibition space.
In each scenario, Faversham Town Council would continue to occupy the first floor.
But, should it be decided that the Magna Carta will not be permanently displayed in Faversham due to the high cost involved and other limitations, the town council will consider leasing or selling the document.
Town clerk Louise Bareham said: “We recognise the historic significance of this document and that it should be accessible to the public, rather than secured in a vault.
“To this end, if we are unable to display Magna Carta in Faversham, we are keen to explore other options for its display elsewhere, including the option of leasing it to museums to generate income for Faversham.
“However, until a final decision is taken on the building, we will not be pursuing this.”
History of Magna Carta
The Magna Carta was first issued in 1215 as a charter of rights agreed to King John of England, as peace treaty between him and a group of rebel barons.
Within its original 63 clauses it, for the first time, established the principle that everybody was subject to the law - including the king.
Its core principals promised the protection of church rights and the right to justice and fair trial for all "free men".
Only three of Magna Carta's original clauses remain part of English law today.
King Henry III issued three revised versions of the document in 1216, 1217, and 1225.
Two copies of Magna Carta - both from 1297 - have been sold outside the UK.
One was bought for £12,500 by the Australian government from King's School in Bruton.
The other was sold to US businessman David Rubenstein for $21.3 million in 2007. It was previously held by the Brudenell family, earls of Cardigan, before they flogged it to the Perot Foundation in the US in 1984.
The 1300 exemplification was granted to Faversham due to the town's connections with the Cinque Ports. it is one of just seven copies to survive.
Faversham is home to one the largest collection of municipal charters, alongside artifacts such as the 400-year-old town maces, which chart the development of local democracy in England from 1252 with the appointment of the first mayor.
In 2015, as part of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, Faversham's copy went on display across the county, having rarely been seen in public before.
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