Soapbox Speakers

Who was the first speaker in Hyde Park, UK?

George Potter began regular weekly meetings from October 14, 1855 and encouraged others to exercise their power of free speech. He was the leader of the Nine Hour Working Day movement, President of London’s Workingman’s Association, Secretary of the Trades Union Congress 1869-71 and the editor of ‘Beehive’ , a leading Labour newspaper. He was an uncompromising union activist who worked to get labour representation into Parliament. He was greatly involved in the bitter ideological fight within the trade union movement of the day. That was the battle between Old Unionism, that represented trade guilds and friendly societies, and New Unionism, that wanted to field parliamentary representatives for all workers.

Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park London developed from the Chartist agitation to be allowed to assemble on The Queen’s property. This agitation took the form of demonstrations. There were two main demonstrations between 1855 to 1872 in Hyde Park. All of the demonstrations began peacefully, but all ended in riots.
The first demonstration in 1855 was in opposition to the Sunday Trading Bill and the last demonstration was in support of the Second Reform Bill 1866-1867. In each instance, the Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne forbade any meetings in Hyde Park. At the time, it was not uncommon to hold large public meetings in Copenhagen Fields, Clerkenwell Green and Kensington Common. These parks were often used to hold protest meetings, but in Hyde Park public meetings of any kind were forbidden.

The Reform League decided to hold meetings in Hyde Park London as a direct challenge to the institutions of the monarchy and the ruling class.

In the first main demonstration of 1855, the demonstrators were gathered together by London Chartists, James Blight and John Bedford Leno. Karl Marx reported that during that Sunday Trading Bill demonstration, smaller meetings began. At one such meeting near Albert Gate (just outside the park) an anonymous speaker harangued the crowd saying something like:

“Men of Old England Awake! Rise up from your slumber or fall forever. Resist the government every Sunday!

Steve Maxwell. plnsteve@gmail.com

IF YOU WANT the full story, google ‘Hyde Park Speakers Corner London’. And, ‘The Chartist movement.’ ‘The Reform League.’ ‘J.B.Leno’s autobiography, “The Aftermath”’ ‘Sunday Trading Bill.’ ‘Second Reform Bill’.

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