Sounds from the Park explored the history and traditions of Britain’s last great open air oratory site; Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London. The project ran from November 2012 until January 2014 and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust.
It was managed by On the Record Community Interest Company in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute. A steering group of Speakers’ Corner regulars and volunteers met every two months to decide on the project’s direction.
The history of Speakers’ Corner provides an intriguing angle on social and political developments in Britain, as Speakers’ Corner is, in some sense, a microcosm of London and the world. Sounds from the Park created the first Speakers’ Corner archive, housed at Bishopsgate Library. The archive will be open to the public from January 2014. During opening hours, all are welcome to browse its contents: 29 oral history interviews with speakers, hecklers and spectators of different generations, hundreds of photographs, field recordings, diary entries and other documents. Many of these are also available (from January 2014) on the online catalogue here.
Speakers, hecklers and spectators of diverse backgrounds, ages and opinions were interviewed about what Speakers’ Corner has meant to them. They describe finding fun, new ideas, refuge or an apprenticeship in public speaking there. These oral histories capture the unique atmosphere of Hyde Park itself, including the cut and thrust of face to face debate, the eccentric performances and the chaotic soundscapes.
Sounds from the Park trained and supported 35 volunteers who recorded oral history interviews, blogged about Hyde Park characters and catalogued the archive. Meanwhile, volunteer photographers created images especially for this project or donated their existing work to the archive. Special thanks are due to Sophie Polyviou and Philip Wolmuth.
The project engaged women and young people through workshops about the history of Speakers’ Corner and training in outdoor oratory. Thanks to George Mitchell school, the Adventurers History Club, Wish (a voice for women’s mental health) and other young volunteers for their enthusiasm, time and contributions to the archive. Listen to some of their recordings here.