Celebration Event for Sounds from the Park


Norman, Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London.
copyright Philip Wolmuth


7th December, 1pm – 5pm (Arrive promptly for lunch)

The Great Hall, Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH

Bishopsgate Institute and On the Record celebrate the launch of a unique archive and exhibition exploring Speaker’ Corner in Hyde Park. This event marks the end of Sounds from the Park: a year long project collecting oral history interviews, recordings and photos from orators, hecklers and observers.

Speakers’ Corner has been an emblem of open-air oratory, free speech and street theatre for nearly 150 years. 19th Century protest movements fought to hold public meetings in Hyde Park, next to the bloodstained ground of Tyburn Gallows where thousands were executed in earlier centuries.

Book your place on the 7th December to:

– Enjoy research presentations and live performances exploring Speakers’ Corner’s exotic and rambunctious history.

– Preview the exhibition and archive.

– Practice heckling and take part in workshops.

– Meet the passionate volunteers and Speakers’ Corner regulars who made this project a resounding success.


This is a free event with free refreshments, but booking via Bishopsgate Institute box office is essential.  Call 020 7392 9200 to book your place.



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Whisper in the archive (6) Summer in the Park

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

What an artist’s collage of one summer in the park says about Speakers Corner.


Summer in the park collage 1989. Courtesy of Bob Rogers.


A collage depicting summer in the park dated 1989 is one of the most thought provoking portrayals of Speakers Corner you can come across. It was created by an unknown American artist who was presumably so overwhelmed by the vibrancy of the dialogues taking place on his visit that he not only produced a collage illustrating all the regular speakers, but did so with all of them in quirky animal form!

Paul Hunt was fortunate enough to have received the original copy of the collage showing Paul himself as a Lion with his standard pile of books and cup of coffee. The outspoken Methodist speaker Lord Soper is appropriately presented as a large elephant. William the Hippy,  the self proclaimed “Jesus” of Speakers Corner who loved free rock festivals is cleverly illustrated as a Parrot for his flamboyantly coloured choice of clothing. An ape on a crate box takes the persona of the highly logical “Christian Atheist” and model aircraft enthusiast Peter. The monkey reclining on a deckchair is none other than Turkish minicab driver Harry who is also remembered for his alliance with Ali, the surrealist most noted for wearing a single horn on his head who shared a close friendship with Ligijya a Serbian girl both respectively depicted as a black horse and cat in the collage. The sleek black otter represents benign Irishman Tom who often spoke Esperanto and never failed to turn up in black tie attire to his heckling sessions. The Lynx symbolises another revered heckler, Alex Lowry. The long tailed Monkey stands in for Barry Roberts who managed to keep the crowd in stitches for hours through his Eskimo poetry recitals, rants on Nietzsche and impressions of Vlad the Impaler. He inspired Speakers Corner veteran Tony Allan. The Turkey illustrates a large Christian woman with a “very shrill voice” and the gorilla impersonates David a QC and Nigerian speaker. Two leopards portraying a Muslim and Christian speaker at loggerheads with one another are branded as blind followers while two mustachioed policemen are evocatively stated to be ‘police in disguise’. Amongst the many labelled taxis we amusingly have two red ones falsely labelled as buses and one noted as being gay. We have a labelled litter bin and an altarpiece labelled Catholic corner.

Despite the uncertainty of the title and the name of the artist, the piece presents Speakers Corner for what it truly is; a ravishing world of ideas and thoughts embodying a similar level of chaos that you might expect to find in the animal kingdom.

– by Tahmina Ahmad. 


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Whisper in the archive (5) The Heckler

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

“Fearless and fearsome” Mary the heckler, early 1970s © Chris Kennett

Fearless and fearsome Mary would first select her target, then armed with her crutches would barge her way through to the front of the crowd. There she would set about ridiculing the hapless speaker whatever colour or creed with terse one-liners and derogatory remarks, typically “Get away with you.  Look at you – you’ve never done a day’s work in your life!”

Like many well-known hecklers Mary attracted a following and became the centre of attention, thus posing a threat to established speakers in the park who stood to lose part of their audience once she moved on. When challenged Mary was known to take a swing at the speaker with her crutch and on more than one occasion this led to an officer of the law being summoned to defuse the situation, much to the amusement of spectators like myself.

– by Chris Kennett.

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Hyde Park orators train young speakers in the open air

The first in a series of workshops this week exploring the history of Speakers’ Corner and public speaking was a great success. The group, including members of the Adventurers History Club took to the streets to practice the art of oratory in central London, using their training from experienced Hyde Park speakers, Tony Allen and Heiko Khoo. Speeches were made on diverse issues including the role of authority in society, whether debt is a problem in economic terms and the importance of historical awareness to understanding yourself and others. More reports to follow as the group joins up with George Mitchell School Students and visits Speakers’ Corner this weekend.

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Whisper in the archive (4)

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

Another piece of the growing Speakers’ Corner archive at Bishopsgate Institute for you to see.

“The seated figure is Paul Hunt and the standing figure is Frank. This is a very typical scene involving these two men and a pigeon, with the ubiquitous London red buses in the background. They would sit and stand like  that for hours at a time.”

The London Paper, Monday 4th February 2008


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Whisper in the archive (3)

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

Another regular speaker remembered from the 1960s and 1970s: Smithy.

Smithy 1972, courtesy of Paul Kennett ©

Smithy’s favourite act was to simultaneously play the part of both racing jockey and commentator whilst peering through a pair of imaginary binoculars – in this case a rolled-up newspaper and give you a radio commentary: 

“Here they come, here they come, they’re coming round the bend! Here they come, here they come, by a nose!”


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Whisper in the archive (2)

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

© Chris Kennett, The banner man, 1968

Bob attracted an enthusiastic following, a mixture of largely good-natured hecklers together with a number of eccentric old ladies, the latter collectively known as “Sisters”. So typically you would have Sister Aggie and Sister Maud dancing around to the “hymns” whilst others in the crowd would sing their own bawdy versions virtually drowning out poor Bob. But Bob took this all in his stride and was never one to lose his temper.”

© Philip Wolmuth, 1978

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Whisper in the archive (1)

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

Sounds from the Park has been collecting photographs and documents for the Speakers’ Corner archive at Bishopsgate Institute and recording associated memories. Every week we are going to post a snippet for you to see.

Here’s the first, donated by Chris Kennett:

Courtesy of Chris Kennett

“Betty was the self-styled quiz compere of Speakers’ Corner in the 1960s and sported a cap proudly proclaiming the initials HPQC – Hyde Park Question Corner. She delighted in firing a series of general knowledge questions in rapid succession at her audience and would get quite excited in doing so. Winners were rewarded with small prizes – usually a boiled sweet, though my brother tells me that I once returned home with a packet of something called “Jungle Juice”. For some reason I never did get round to sampling this however – I guess I must have been a bit suspicious!”


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Research & Remember Speakers’ Corner!

Speakers' Corner 1986, courtesy of Chris Kennett

After a day of training in archive skills Sounds from the Park is collecting material for the Speakers’ Corner Archive! We need your help to create the first ever public archive dedicated to Speakers’ Corner. Bring any photographs, clippings, documents, memoirs, speaking notes, recordings, footage or other material you would like to donate, or copy, for the archive along. If you don’t have material, but do remember Speakers’ Corner then we need your help to put names to faces in the photographs or voices in the recordings. You will also have the chance to reminisce during informal group discussions held throughout the day.

We will be there until 4pm for you to drop in. Tea and coffee will be provided through out. Lunch will also be provided at 1 pm, but please RSVP for it so we know how many to cater for, and please let us know any dietary requirements.

Bishopsgate Institute is close to Liverpool St tube and rail station. See a map here – http://goo.gl/maps/bnjh5. The Courtyard Room is on the Lower Ground floor and is accessible via a lift or stairs. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Please get in touch with any questions or comments to info@on-the-record.org.uk or 07583 656 338.

For more information see: http://soundsfromthepark.org.uk

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Speakers’ Corner Remembered

Copyright Philip Wolmuth - http://bit.ly/TNZ92h

Sounds from the Park got off to a roaring start on 8th December with forty speakers, hecklers and listeners discussing their memories of Speakers’ Corner and launching the new Speakers’ Corner archive at Bishopsgate Institute. People reminisced about who was the most memorable speaker and  the great personalities that have frequented the place over the years.  Meetings on a range of topics had made people change their mind, their faith or simply entertained them over the years. People talked about what brought them to the park in the first place and why they kept going. Some had first gone to the corner as children. The importance of the place was clear; as one woman said “I learnt to think at Speakers’ Corner”.

If you have memories, photographs or other material concerning Speakers’ Corner that you would like to add to the archive get in touch with On the Record.

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