Speaker’s Corner

Humble   Sun Apr 06, 2008 7:18 am GMT

Have you ever been to the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London?
I’ve read that speakers stand on some barrels or soap boxes, but can they be found around there, in a decent park? I need some first-hand info.

Guest   Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:13 am GMT
What are you going to talk about?
Damian   Sun Apr 06, 2008 6:03 pm GMT
Yes, I have been to Speakers' Corner - several times. When I was workng down in London last year, and the time before, I accompanied friend(s) to that corner of Hyde Park to hear, and see, all the fun......Sunday afternoons and evenings (evenings mostly in Summer when daylight lasts until 9pm/10pm).

It has been the bastion of free speech and the democratic right to openly rant and rave about anything that moves you to passion, no matter what it is, since 1872.

Even before that, this north eastern corner of the massive Hyde Park, known as Marble Arch, has been a location of much public oratory since Tudor times. In those days the area was known as the Tyburn, and it was here that all public executions by hanging took place, on the site now occupied by the actual marble arch that gives the area its name - on the spot where the Edgware Road, Oxford Street, Park Lane and the Bayswater Road all meet at what is now an extremely busy traffic intersection, negotiated by pedestrians by a maze of underpasses below the streams of traffic.

The gallows at Tyburn became known as the Tyburn Tree, and all the poor unfortunates were hanged in full public display, as it was quite an occasion for many spectators to go and watch the executions with some kind of ghoulish relish, much like those horrid women who used to reserve front row seats in front of the guillotine in the Paris of those days, and do their knitting while watching all the decapitations.

The area became known as Speakers' Corner from about 1872, and each Sunday afternoon anybody who had something to say took a soap-box, or a pedestal, or anything they could stand on, down to that corner of Hyde park and then sound off about anything they wanted to...anything, no matter what. Upholding full democratic rights to absolute free speech anyone could rant on about anyone or anything, without fear of any kind of official reprisal, something which is denied to people in many other countries. There is nothing to stop anyone stepping onto their soap-box and then slag off the Government, or the Prime Minister, or anyone in authority, or rant and rail against the Monarchy and say that "Britain would be better off as a republic" and then give their reasons. There is no way any official body would deny them the right to air their views in public like this, whatever those views may be or about what, and neither would they be prevented from doing so in this democratic country. So long as you are thick skinned enough to meet up with a whole lot of heckling and barracking from the crowd gathered around you, then there is nothing to be frightened of in the way of the denial of your rights to free speech.

Sure there are police in attendance...usually in the form of coppers strolling about in pairs, looking bored as they've seen it all before time and time again, (Hyde Park has its own little police station hidden by trees in the centre of the park) but are there simply to ensure order is maintained at all times. And sure, you can be subjected to individual prosecutions of slander if you really do step over the mark by telling blatant untruths by any person you are ranting and raving against on your soap box.

Nowadays, many of the issues thrashed out at SC involve current political hot topics, such as the Islamic situation, the desert wars, the terrorist threats, immigration, perceived racial discrimination in the UK, the deporation of illegals and things of this sort. The nature of SC has changed with time and with the changing world situation. London being the very cosmopolitan and diverse city that it is, these topics now far outweigh the more domestic (UK) issues whiuch may be discussed by the speakers.

Speakers'Corner has seen some very famous speakers stand on their soap boxes over the years - Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin - all attempting (unsuccessfully) to introduce full red blooded socialism into Britain. At the other extreme of the political spectrum, during the 1930s when the Nazis took control of Germany, the British Union of Fascists were represented by Oswald Mosley, the leader of the Nazi style Blackshirts, ranted and raved, Hitler style, from their soap boxes at SC- as it was their perfect right to do so, as was the case with the extreme Socialists.

One of the real old stalwarts at Speakers' Corner was a methodist minister by the name of Dr DonaldSoper, who reserved his place at SC each Sunday until well past his 90th birthday - he preached complete pacifism in the world - surely one of the very vainest of hopes from the word go, but this old guy never gave up hope until the day he died.

Another very old speaker there was another pacifist who fought ardently against nuclear weapons - Lord Bernard Russell, who also stood on his box in his 90s.

Other speakers of lesser note just take their pedestals down to Hyde Park to spout against just about anything, from the London Congestion Charge to benefits for single mothers to extreme feminism to legalised gay marriage to the rising fuel charges to state education to the rights of foreigners to access the free British National Health services to ...well, you name it, they bang on about it from one side or the other.....true democracy at work.

I've even heard people on their soap boxes say that very often Britain is far too easy going and democratic for its own good......I often think they have a point, and that's for sure. But worms have a habit of turning......

Another interesting thing about listening to them all down at Speakers' Corner - you hear the English Language being aired in so many varied ways! Always a joy to hear.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London W2:



Humble   Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:22 am GMT
Thanks a lot, Damian.
I'm sorry I didn't mention I'd done some search (including one of your links) and got most of the info you've mentioned. Never mind, your story will save other visitors' time.
I regret to say I was interested (maybe disappointingly for you) in that, er, technicality - things used as pedestals. I thought soap boxes or barrels were only used in the past and wondered what people stand on nowadays.
I will see the other two links you kindly provided.

By the way, do you find this correct? I mean the preposition and the article on the placard:
Believe _on the_ Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Damian   Mon Apr 07, 2008 7:13 am GMT
Correction: It was Bertrand Russell, and not Bernard Russell, as stated by me earlier.

No problem, Humble. Yes, the wrong preposition - the correct form should read "Believe IN - not on."

Take a trip down to Speakers' Corner next time you are in London. It's worth the effort. As with most things, the nature of debate, and the composition of the crowd, has changed quite radically over the years...it is now infinitely more inter-racial than in earlier decades, reflecting the much greater diversity of not only London but also much of the rest of the UK.

The term "soapbox" cannot be taken literally....maybe they did use real soapboxes in past times, but nowadays many speakers take along their own self assembled platforms or pedestals which have to meet set standards of safety under the Health and Safety regulations.....or they simply stand around in their own little space on the ground to air their views, and wait for people to gather round them to yell at and heckle them, or politely applaud, depending on their viewpoints.
Humble   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:03 am GMT
Thank you very much, Damian, for your neat explanation.

(Next time I am in London! I’ve never been to London, I can’t afford it. Besides, I hate travelling.)