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Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London came into being after an Act of Parliament in 1872 allowed a space in the north-eastern corner of the park to be set aside for public speaking.
Sometimes known as the Forum of the Common Man, the area is reputed to be situated on the “Hanging Fields of Tyburn”, and every Sunday people from all walks of life gather to listen to speeches about anything and everything.
If you feel passionate enough about any subject you can bring your own soap-box and regale the crowds with your views, opinions, ideals or beliefs. You must be ready however to be heckled by an audience containing some of the most practised hecklers in the world!
The eccentric and the erratic, the sinners and the saints, the communists and the fascists, the peaceniks and the warmongers together with all denominations of religion can be found holding forth with conviction and passion only sometimes to suffer the embarrassment of a well aimed “heckle”.
Speechmakers and their audience display their feelings through body language and facial expressions, and this is what I have tried to capture over the years.
I am privileged to have listened to the most famous Speakers' Corner orator in living memory.
LORD DONALD SOPER. 1903-1998
A RADICAL CAMPAIGNER
Picture circa 1986
Lord Soper became famous as a campaigner on social issues and a strong advocate of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, he backed CND in its early days
He was created a Labour peer in 1965, but will be most remembered for his numerous appearances at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, where he first preached in 1942.
In what was one of his last campaigns he gave his support to the Speakers' Corner Movement, a pressure group also backed by Labour MP Tony Benn, to preserve the tradition of public oratory in Hyde Park.
Lord Soper, was a supporter of radical causes including The League Against Cruel Sports, which he served as president.
He also gave many open air sermons at Tower Hill and was a committed socialist preached against war, poverty, drink, gambling, capitalism, communism, McCarthyism, slave labour, racial inequality and capital punishment.
"Soapie", attracted large congregations to his soap-box pulpit, and established a reputation for being ruthless with hecklers, something I can attest to having been on the end of his barbed retorts!
Even in 1993, at the age of 90, he was to be found at Speakers' Corner on Sunday afternoons.
On a vist on December 2008 I saw the youngest speaker take the platform, giving a reasoned and eloquent talk about our responsibilities to the endangered species around the world. This young lady was just 10 years old. Magic!