2012 - 2013

Sounds from the Park

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 National Lottery Heritage Fund and Barry Amiel & Norman Melburne.

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. 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 created the first Speakers’ Corner archive, housed at Bishopsgate Institute Library, featuring oral history interviews with speakers, hecklers and spectators of different generations, hundreds of photographs, field recordings, diary entries and other documents. Sounds from the Park culminated in two exhibitions, a radio programme, a booklet and web resource.

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.

Kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Barry Amiel & Norman Melburne Trust.


"It doesn’t matter what the subject is, if you have a style of speaking or a patter that’s engaging, and to some degree connects with the times. You can’t just come with a script and assume it’s gonna work, ’cause it won’t. That script has to be played against the audience at Speakers’ Corner." - Heiko Khoo