Freedom. It’s not a word to bandy around lightly, especially if you live in a society where your freedom is curtailed. Freedom of speech is either a god given thing, a force of nature, or a right that all human beings should have, no matter what a person may say. It depends on your point of view and on what sort of society you live in.
Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park, London, has long been a bastion of freedom of speech. But the freedom of speech many of us take for granted was not something many fought for. Most who died at Tyburn would, I suspect, have given up any rights to free speech for a reprieve from the hangman.
The last speeches of the condemned at the gallows in Tyburn, London, is the believed to be the origin of the freedom of speech most humans take for granted in democratic societies. The infamous gallows were installed at Tyburn in 1196. Almost six-hundred years and 50,000 hangings later, they were dismantled, in 1783. If you were a Londoner, you could for many years buy a seat to watch these executions from a large wooden platform.
As London society progressed, it was perceived by some that the hangings at Tyburn were becoming a spectacle and were often deemed as too rowdy for a more gentile society. Eventually, the hangings were moved to Newgate Prison. However, unwittingly a tradition for protest had been established.
Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, close to the original Tyburn Gallows, became a focal point for those wanting a voice. There was no social media, freedom of speech, TV coverage or any other outlet for the oppressed and hard done to in those days. A protestor’s only outlet was public speaking.
At a meeting of the Reform League in 1866, their demands were suppressed by the Government of the day. Many mass protests had convened or terminated their routes in Hyde Park sometimes at Speakers’ Corner. But on one march, the protesters found the park locked.
Demonstrators were incensed and eventually a riot broke out. Hundreds of metres of park railings were torn away to gain access and the riot continued for three days.
In the following next year, at another march to Hyde Park made up of more than 150,000 people, marching in defiance of another government ban, police and troops did not intervene.
The Home Secretary at the time, Spencer Walpole, resigned.
In 1872 the Parks Regulation Act was made law. It was designed to give people the right to meet and speak freely. Freedom of speech in Hyde Park was established. The rest, is history.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2021
Freedom was one of the reasons I moved from England to Cyprus. Not because of any oppression but because it was so cold in England, I needed a warm climate for my aching bones. “A Pat on his Back” can only be described as a moving adventure.