Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Speakers’ Corner review. If you enjoy watching the amateurs give political speeches then why not try the real deal at Prime Minister’s Questions? You can also watch a debate in the House of Commons, the Mayor of London at City Hall and the Lord Mayor in the Common Council at Guildhall.
Speakers’ Corner is in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, and is famous as a place for free speech and public debate.
Speakers’ Corner’s history dates back to the 1700s when Tyburn was still a site of public execution. Condemned men were carted all the way up from Newgate Prison (where the Old Bailey is today), up what is now Oxford Street, and tipped off at a village past the edge of town -- the modern-day Marble Arch. This area was called Tyburn, after an old brook that flowed towards the Thames.
The condemned men were then allowed one final speech before they were hung from the Tyburn Tree -- a euphemism for the wooden gallows which was situated a short distance from here.
This tradition of listening to speeches gained a huge boost in 1855, when a large crowd gathered to complain about the Sunday Trading Bill. When the police arrived in force to arrest the ringleader they were met by a crowd that was over 150,000 strong.
Within twenty years Speakers’ Corner had gained a nationwide fame for its oratory, and an official licence was granted to allow sizeable meetings. The only rules at Speakers Corner were a ban on blasphemy and obscenity – none of which seem to apply anymore!
The fame of Speakers’ Corner has attracted many famous speakers in London including George Orwell, Karl Marx, and the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. Frederick Engels, Jesse Jackson and the famous Suffragette Christabel Pankhurst have also given speeches here.
If you’re wondering how to speak at Speakers Corner and make a speech yourself, then it’s easy: you just turn up and talk! But whether anyone actually pays attention to you… well that’s a different story.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I’ve been meaning to go to Speakers’ Corner for ages now, but it’s only worth going on a Sunday lunchtime so that means you have to drag yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning – and it’s taken me a whole year to dredge up enough willpower. And then I went and picked the worst day possible. It rained when I was getting there, rained whilst I was watching, and rained all the way home as well. It was just a dirty grey sky tipping water onto my head for three hours.
When I arrived at 10 AM there was no one there. Not a soul around. It was just me and a bloke cycling his bike on the grass. Then I returned at 11 AM and it was just me and two women walking their dog. I was soaking wet by this time so I nearly went home, but I had a little stroll down Oxford Street and then went back about noon and thankfully it was starting to fill up by then. So my advice to you is this: go at 12 noon.
I was there for about an hour and I saw the grand total of two speakers. One of them was a muslim cleric, who was a real barrel of laughs (not), and the other one was talking about the United Nations. He was actually quite good and had about a hundred people listening. The muslim guy had five (I counted them). The gyst of his speech went like this: Allah… Islam… Mecca… sins… the Koran… he was basically the muslim equivalent of a Bible-basher. I gave him two minutes of my time and then went and listened to the other guy.
This is where it started to get more interesting, because a lively heckler started butting in every ten seconds, trying to drown him out. The old guy was standing on his little ladder with a big booming voice, and was trying to reform the United Nations right there and then, in Hyde Park, in the drizzling rain. He was arguing that the UN is basically an unelected, unaccountable body of politicians and it should introduce a second elected chamber, which members of the public would be able to vote for. And yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking… zzz zzz boring!
It was actually quite nice and lively because he started involving the crowd. He was pointing to the assembled masses and challenging them to name their local MP and Euro MP, which of course most of them couldn’t do. Then he picked on a big gaggle of Austrian tourists and that’s when the heckler piped up.
His jokes were pretty lousy. This guy didn’t have a lot of wit. He spent two minutes telling everyone that Hitler was from Austria, for example, and blaming the tourists for starting World War II. But the sheer relentlessness of his heckles did eventually become quite amusing, because the crowd were trying to get him to shut up so they could listen to the speech.
I think this is partly what makes Speakers’ Corner so fun – because everybody is entitled to speak. The old guy was obviously an old pro at doing this and didn’t mind being heckled at all – in fact, he even engaged the heckler in his dopey views. And whilst the heckler was obviously an idiot, nobody in the crowd got angry with him – they just went along with it, sometimes taking issue with his views but most of the time just turning back and listening to the speech. People would interrupt from the crowd as well, asking the old guy questions and saying why it wouldn’t work.
So did I learn anything? Nope. But it was quite nice to see a lively and vocal debate going on in the park without anyone getting bolshy.
> Craig’s review of Speakers’ Corner – “If you want to hear some speeches in Hyde Park then the best time to come is Sunday lunchtime. The speakers can turn up any time they like, but whenever I've come during the week it's just all joggers and cyclists and litter and pigeons. They all work during the week, you see, so political rallies are reserved for the weekend over here. That's how we like to do things… continued”
If you enjoy this then try: Marble Arch (you can walk it in less than 2 mins).
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