Themes

The Place

Each generation puts its own emphases on Speaker’s Corner; each visitor sees it afresh: as a place where grownups misbehave, a free university, an old time variety show, a political forum, an open-air lunatic asylum, a bout of bare-knuckle boxing, a market place of ideas, a fellowship of controversy, an international forum, a game of …

The Speakers

The speakers declaim to crowds of hundreds or talk intently with small groups. They are mostly, but not only, men, with firm ideas about their territory. Stepladders, milk crates, or beautifully crafted wooden boxes raise them up. “Fisherman’s Friends” and oranges soothe their throats. Some have a serious message; others set out to entertain, but …

The Hecklers

Hecklers steal a slice of the limelight and challenge the speakers’ presumed authority. Described as “snipers,” “quality control,” “discussants,” “destabilisers” and “enquirers,” they enliven the atmosphere. Their heckles come in all shapes and sizes: insightful questions that raise the level of debate, cutting one-liners, hackneyed ‘mother-in-law’ jokes, or simply bellowing until the speaker gives up.

The Crowd

Less conspicuous than the speakers, less noisy than the hecklers, yet just as vital, the faithful regulars of Speakers’ Corner mix with tourists to create an international audience. In the past, the crowd was a refuge for individuals “whose lives had been disturbed and disorientated” by the Second World War and those fleeing the drudgery …

The Ideas

On the one hand, Speakers’ Corner is a microcosm of Britain’s social and political movements: national independence platforms emerged in the 1940s and 1950s as future African leaders Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah graced the crowds; nuclear disarmament was hotly debated from the 1960s until the 1980s; identity politics took centre stage in the 1980s …

Relationships

Speakers’ Corner owes its magnetism, in part, to its “variety show” atmosphere; it is possible to encounter all human life and then walk away. Regulars also form lasting bonds with a significant person, usually a mentor or somebody who reveals another mode of life.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London.

About the project

Sounds from the Park is a unique oral and visual history of Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park: the UK’s last great open air oratory site.

Read more about the project
© Chris Kennett

Exhibition

Our exhibition can be seen online here or read our booklet about Speakers' Corner.

See the exhibition
© Philip Wolmuth

Radio show

Our radio show can be listened to here.

Listen to the radio show
Young man talking at Speakers' Corner, 2013 © Sophie Polyviou

Education resources

History and Citizenship resources for Key Stage 3 and 4. Complete with a timeline of events at Speakers' Corner and other resources.

Download education resources