Just opposite Marble Arch and adjacent to Park Lane, Hyde Park’s Speaker’s corner is the stuff of legends. Standing in the place where London’s public hangings were held until early 19th Century, Speaker’s corner has been a public meeting place and the heart of free speech in London since the public protests and riots of 1855.
With notorious speakers such as Marx, Lenin, Orwell and Bernard Shaw, Speaker’s corner has been at the center of protests, from the suffragette movement to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Anyone can take a soap box and speak but contrary to legend, free speech doesn’t mean that the speaker is allowed to say just about anything. Under British law, speakers can be arrested for blasphemy, obscenity, inciting violence and anything derogatory about the Royal Family.
In practice however, the police is fairly lenient and rarely arrests speakers unless a specific complaint has been made or the speaker is clearly inciting violence.
The weekly event draws people by the hundreds. Most of those in the crowd are tourists, but there are a substantial number of locals who come regularly to watch and heckle.
As a general rule, a speaker is given a couple of minutes to start developing his or her speech while a crowd is gathering around and then the heckling starts and so does the fun, as many people will tell you.
Although the greatests minds of our era seem to have deserted Speaker’s corner, it still stands tall as a focal point for free speech in England.
In the last few decades, others cities around England have seen the creation of their own version of Speaker’s corner.