Speakers’ Corner and Protests in Hyde Park, London

By , December 15, 2009 4:56 am


Map of Hyde Park, showing Speakers' Corner at the north-east corner (top right)

Map of Hyde Park, showing Speakers' Corner at the north-east corner (top right)

Hyde Park is one of the glorious Royal Parks in London.

Together with its neighbouring parks, Kensington Gardens and St. James’ Park, Hyde Park’s 350 acres provide greenery, sports facilities, plants, trees, flowers, birds and space for Londoners and visitors to London.

As well as tennis, golf putting, cycling and skating, there are also boats and rowing boats on the Serpentine.

Hyde Park is also a traditional site of free speech, political protests, and marches, and has been for centuries.

If a major political movement existed in the last 300 years, it held rallies or marches and made speeches in and around Hyde Park.

This post is about those marches and protests, and about “Speakers’ Corner”, at the edge of the park.

Speakers’ Corner

 Hyde Park corner in 1842

Hyde Park corner in 1842

Speakers’ Corner is centred on the area at the far north-east of Hyde Park, near Marble Arch.

It is a place where anyone can stand up on his hind legs and talk about whatever he pleases, providing it does not incite violence, or encourage terrorism/

At any time on a weekend or public holiday, there are several speakers at Speakers’ Corner.

At pretty much any time when it is light, there is likely to be someone giving forth his (and it is usually men, rather than women) views on whatever it is he is exercised by.

Karl Marx, Lenin, George Orwell, and William Morris all spoke frequently at Speakers’ Corner.

People turn up and talk about all sorts of things, although there are also people who attend regularly to heckle.

The Chartists Movement and Hyde Park

A cartoon from Punch about the Chartist demonstration, in which a special constable says, “Now mind, you know – if I kill you, it’s nothing; but if you kill me, by jingo it’s murder”

A cartoon from Punch about the Chartist demonstration, in which a special constable says, “Now mind, you know – if I kill you, it’s nothing; but if you kill me, by jingo it’s murder”

The Chartist Movement did a lot of protesting in Hyde Park.

Chartism was a political movement between 1837 and 1850, and the six main aims of the movement as set out in 1838 were that:

  • (all men over 21 should be able to vote;
  • electoral districts should be the same size in terms of number of people;
  • all voting should be by secret ballot;
  • there should be no need for a person to own property in order to be elected to Parliament;
  • Members of Parliament should be paid so that people other than the independently wealthy could become MPs;
  • Parliament should hold annual elections.

Although derided and disliked by the powers at the time, the Chartist’s aims have all been achieved apart from annual elections.

The Chartist movement used Hyde Park as a point of assembly for many protests on behalf of their campaign.

Riot in Hyde Park, 1855

There was a riot in 1855 when Parliament introduced the Sunday Trading Bill.

This made it unlawful for most goods to be bought or sold on a Sunday, other than fresh food.

It tended to irritate people who worked the other six days of the week and wanted to do their necessary shopping on Sunday.

Karl Marx decided these riots were the beginning of the English Proletariat Revolution; in which he was entirely wrong.

The Reform League and the Hyde Park Railing Affair

Danny Lambert from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park

Danny Lambert from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park

The Reform League was established in 1865, and wanted universal male suffrage and secret ballots for every vote.

There was a huge meeting of supporters of the Reform League in Hyde Park on 23 July 1866.

The Home Secretary declared it to be an illegal meeting and issued a Notice, but the Reform League pressed ahead regardless. The procession started from the Reform League’s headquarters in Adelphi Terrace, and went up Regent Street.

When the group arrived at Hyde Park, the Marble Arch entrance, 1,500 police constables guarded the Park’s gates. The gates were chained and entry to Hyde Park was refused.

Determined to enter the Park, several of the protesters pushed the railings around the gate, and the railings fell in. Protesters launched themselves into Hyde Park despite the efforts of the police to prevent them from doing so.

Two other parts of the demonstration broke into the Park at the same time, one from Knightsbridge, and one from Park Lane.

As well as the protesters themselves, a lot of people who had been standing and watching the protest decided that the closing of Hyde Park was unreasonable and attempted to join in the storming. An estimated 200,000 people managed to get into the Hyde Park.

The police called for army support, and the Horse Guard Blues arrived. The soldiers did not intervene despite the police being stoned by the group.

The meeting was held in Hyde Park as planned, and another meeting was planned for the next evening in Trafalgar Square. The meeting ended peacefully as did the following evening’s meeting in Trafalgar Square.

The “Hyde Park Railings Affair” was reported widely in the press and increased support for the Reform League immensely. Generally, the Reform League was a middle class movement, and violence was strongly discouraged.

The Reform League held another demonstration the following year, on 6th May 1867. The government banned the meeting once again, saying it was illegal, but backed down when the Reform League continued.

The Reform League’s effort culminated in the passing of the Reform Act 1867 which extended the franchise, but did not make voting universal even for the male population.

Under the Parks’ Regulation Act 1872, the granting or denying of permission to hold public protests or meetings was delegated to the Royal Parks Authority.

Speakers’ Corner is the traditional site for such speeches.

Modern protests and marches in Hyde Park

The Countryside Alliance held a big march through London on 1st March 1998, the Countryside March, in which 285,000 people passed through Hyde Park.

This was followed by a Countryside March, the “Liberty and Livelihood March“, on 22nd September 2002, when 408,000 people marched through London including Hyde Park, the largest civil liberties march in modern history.

There was a massive demonstration in 2003 against the war on Iraq, which the Park authorities tried to prevent. They backed down.

The Countryside Alliance, who organised the largest march and protest in modern British history, has a website which can be found here.

A Proper English Christmas Pudding Recipe

By , December 14, 2009 12:40 pm


Traditionally the pudding is made on the Sunday Next Before Advent, or “Stir up Sunday” in late November, when the Collect for the Sunday begins,

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded…

The whole household is then supposed to give the mixture a stir, and make a (silent) wish.

It can be made earlier, like a rich fruitcake, but better late than never.

Ingredients and mixing the recipe

8oz raisins,                            roughly chopped

8 oz sultanas                         ..              ..

8 oz dried apricots               ..              ..              (preferably without sulphur dioxide)

6 oz prunes                           ..              ..

2 oz blanched almonds, chopped

2 oz mixed (citrus) peel, chopped, or 2 tablespoons coarse-cut marmalade

4 oz dark brown sugar

6 oz fresh breadcrumbs – I use wholemeal, but white is fine

2 oz ground almonds

4 oz shredded suet (you can use beef or vegetable suet)

I cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated or finely chopped

1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mixed spice

½ teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground allspice

½ nutmeg, freshly grated (you can vary the spices a bit according to what you have)

Grated rind of 1 lemon, 1orange, squeeze juice and retain.

Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl:

3 eggs

¼ pint stout – eg. Guinness

¼ pint barley wine if you can find it, otherwise use a fortified wine, eg. marsala, sherry, port

3 tablespoons rum or brandy,

Juice of the lemon and orange

Beat all wet ingredients well, or whiz in a food processor.

Add to dry ingredients, stir well (you can invite other family members to give a good stir and make a wish!)

Mixture should be of good dropping consistency, that is, it should fall from the spoon when it is tapped on the edge of the bowl.  If not, add a bit more stout or wine.

Cover bowl with tea-towel and leave a few hours, or, better, overnight, to let the flavours develop, before cooking it.

Cooking the Christmas Pudding

Next day, grease a pudding basin, c. 3 pints., or 2 smaller ones. Pack mixture in.  Cover double layer of buttered/greased greaseproof paper, tie down with string.

Steam pudding for c. 6 to 7 hours, topping water up as necessary.

I use my pressure cooker, c. 40 minutes with no pressure, then about 4 ½ hours at 15lbs pressure.

When cold, replace  greaseproof paper covering with fresh paper.  Store the Christmas Pudding  in a cool, dark place.

Cooking the Christmas Pudding on Christmas Day

On the great day, steam again for c.1 ½ hours, or c. 45 minutes in pressure cooker.  I bring mine to pressure just as I serve the main course, which works out fine for timing.

Reduce pressure with cold water.  Heat a little brandy gently in a small saucepan.  Turn the pudding out onto warm dish with enough depth for extra liquid.  Pour brandy over pudding, set fire to it (!) and serve with brandy or rum butter, brandy cream, or possibly ice cream.

Historical fiction: Matthew Shardlake and the dark side of Tudor England

By , December 13, 2009 4:42 am

The good, the bad, and the ugly in historical novels

There is a lot of bad historical fiction around. A good percentage of it is just sex in funny clothes and people saying “forsooth!”, “divers” and “God’s blood”, still in funny clothes.

But good historical fiction is not only an interesting read, it evokes a feel of the time and place, and the undercurrents and emotions of a different time.

“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”, but a good historical novel can be an interesting guide book. I enjoy reading good examples of the genre, mostly those set in England.

King Henry VIII, in about 1540

King Henry VIII, in about 1540

This post is a review of one series of books I can highly recommend – C J Sansom’s 4-book (so far) look at Henry VIII’s London, through the eyes of a lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court still around today.

The series as a whole

I have really enjoyed these books, and bought them as presents for various family members and friends, as well as reading them myself.

They are not only tightly plotted and well characterised, they really evoke a sense of time and place; Tudor London comes to life in all its religious upheaval, poverty, smell and action.

Our hero

The central character of the books is Matthew Shardlake. He is a barrister, who lives in Chancery Lane, and has chambers in Lincoln’s Inn.

He is originally a rural man, from Hertfordshire, an only child, whose mother died when he was young.

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, King Henry VIII's chief minister in the 1530s

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, King Henry VIII's chief minister in the 1530s

He has a hunchback, which alienates him in many ways from a society that sees such physical deformity as bringing bad luck to others.

Matthew was, in his younger days, a keen religious reformer, what we would now call a Protestant.

He’s certainly not perfect – inclined to be melancholy and perhaps over-analytical, but he is a very interesting and credible character.


The first book is set in 1537, 4 years after Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, and the future Elizabeth I was born, and the year after the execution of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s re-marriage to Jane Seymour.

The Reformation was in full swing in the 1530s. By the time this book starts, all the smaller monasteries had been dissolved, and the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, had his sights set on the larger, richer, and more powerful monasteries.

Matthew Shardlake is therefore instructed by Cromwell to visit the monastery of Scarnsea, on the south coast (a fictional town and monastic establishment, clearly near Rye and Winchelsea, and sharing much of the characteristics of the Cinque Ports in general). The previous Royal Commissioner has been murdered, and Matthew’s job is to solve the murder and procure the voluntary surrender of Scarnsea’s monastery to the Crown.

The book is set mostly in the monastery, in the depths of a cold winter.

Dark Fire

Anne of Cleves, who became King Henry VIII's fourth wife in 1540

Anne of Cleves, who became King Henry VIII's fourth wife in 1540

The second book is set 3 years later, in 1540. Thomas Cromwell is at risk of falling from power, after arranging the King’s ill-fated marriage to Anne of Cleves. He has been told that dark fire, also known as Greek fire, has been discovered and is desperate to procure this long-lost weapon for Henry VIII.

Cromwell sets Matthew Shardlake on the trail of the dark fire, in return for protecting Matthew’s hapless client, Elizabeth, accused of murdering her young cousin.

For more about the real ancient weapon of Greek Fire, see this article. There is a detailed review of the book in the Guardian, here.


This, the third in the series, is set partly in London, and mostly in York, on the occasion of Henry VIII’s Progress with his new, fifth wife, Catherine Howard. In 1541, following rebellions based in the north of England, Henry went on the grandest Progress of his reign, visiting all sorts of towns, cities, and ports across the country.

Matthew Shardlake is given a post on the Progress, and gets to see his (increasingly grumpy and malevolent) King, and also a secret mission from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who wants him to keep an eye on an important state prisoner, Edward Broderick.

The dark, ever more dangerous environment of Henry VIII’s later years is very well portrayed in this, as is the King himself.


In the fourth, and so far last, of the series, Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak, his assistant, are investigating the case of a boy imprisoned in Bedlam (the Royal Bethlehem hospital) for the insane. The boy is suffering from religious visions and anxieties. There is also a serial killer on the loose, getting more violent and aggressive as he kills more often. Shardlake is once again working for the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, whose own position looks shaky as Henry VIII pursues yet another wife.

For a review of Revelation from the Times, see here.

St. Stephen, Walbrook: Mayor of London’s Church, and home of the Samaritans

By , December 6, 2009 3:57 am

Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century masterpiece, the small church of St. Stephen Walbrook, is the parish church for the Mayor of London. It’s an ancient site – before the mediaeval church there was a Saxon church on the site, which in turn had replaced a Temple of Mithras from the second century AD.

In more recent times, the Samaritans, an organisation offering support and help to those suffering from depression or at risk of suicide, was founded at St Stephen in 1953, as was the international arm, Befrienders Worldwide.

This post is about the four different religious buildings which have been built on this same site, the founding of the Samaritans charity in the Church, and finishes with pictures, taken yesterday, of the breathtakingly beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

The Roman Temple of Mithras

A statue of Mithras slaying a bull. This sculpture is in the British Museum.

A statue of Mithras slaying a bull. This sculpture is in the British Museum.

During the 400-year Roman occupation, the Temple of Mithras was built on the banks of the Walbrook, a small stream then running through the centre of Londinium. (Like many other London rivers and streams, it now runs in a culvert underground – see this post on the River Fleet for information about London’s largest buried river).

The Mithraic Mysteries / Mysteries of Mithras / Mithraism was a Roman Cult. It had 7 levels of people in the cult, in a type of gnostic progression, and engaged in ritual slaughter of bulls, and ritual meals. Not much else is known about the cult, which was highly secretive, albeit wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire.

After the Fall of Rome, the stones from the Temple seem to have been taken away for other buildings, leaving only the foundations.

These were re-discovered during building work in the 1950s, and are preserved in the courtyard of a rather nasty modernist office block.

The Saxon Church

At some unknown time between the 7th and 10th centuries, a Christian church was built on the site of the Roman temple. This often happened, in order to “hallow” the sites of pagan temples. The Saxon church used the foundations of the Roman Mithras Temple. It is mentioned in records in the late 11 century, when it was given to a monastery.  What it looked like is a mystery.

The Mediaeval Church (15th century)

By the 15th century, the church was too small for the parish’s needs, and it was re-built on the east side of the Walbrook, now a road rather than a river. One of a staggering 100 churches in the City of London, also known as “the square mile”, the mediaeval church was built of flint, and had both a tower and a cloister.

Like much of the City, the Church burned in the Great Fire of London, in 1666.

Christopher Wren and the Rebuilding of the City of London

A portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, by Godfrey Kneller (1711)

A portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, by Godfrey Kneller (1711)

More than three-quarters of the City had been destroyed in the Great Fire. One of those charged with getting London back on its feet as soon as possible was Christopher Wren, the King’s Surveyor.

Wren designed and supervised more than 50 churches, among other buildings both in London and elsewhere. Under the Rebuilding Act 1670, he supervised a vast programme of building work.

St Stephen Walbrook was Wren’s local church – he lived on Walbrook, and was in the parish. The work on the church began in 1672. By 1679, the church was finished, apart from the steeple, built 12 years later.

The Architecture of St Stephen Walbrook

Sir John Sommerson described the church of St Stephen as “the pride of English architecture, and one of the few City churches in which the genius of Wren shines in full splendour”.  Nikolaus Pevsner thought it one of the ten most important buildings in England.

The building was, in effect a series of experiments for the ideas Wren had for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. The dome was very unusual in English ecclesiastical architecture at the time.

As the building materials were lighter than those used in the much larger St Paul’s, the sense of light and space inside St Stephen Walbook is wonderful.

The location is an extremely hectic one – the Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the City of London Magistrates’ Court are all within sight from Walbrook. And yet, stepping inside the church, there is a simple oasis of calm and beauty.

Music at St Stephen Walbrook

The church is well-known for music recitals. In particular, it has organ recitals on Fridays, at lunch time. For a list of upcoming events, see here.

The Samaritans

This important and valuable charity was founded in 1953 by the then Vicar of St Stephen Walbrook, Chad Varah. He thought there wasn’t enough support for people undergoing a traumatic emotional time, and was particularly moved after burying a 14 year old girl who had thought that the onset of menstruation was a disease, and had killed herself. He wanted to set up what he called a  “999 for the suicidal” (999 being the UK’s emergency number).  What was needed, in Chad Varah’s view, was “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone”. And so it came to pass.

The phone was set up in the Crypt of St Stephen Walbrook and this, the first telephone helpline in the UK, achieved a great deal of publicity in the press. Volunteers came forward to help man the phone.  The service grew – today, there are 201 branches and 17,000 trained volunteers in the UK and Ireland who answer phone calls, have drop-in centres, and receive emails and texts.  For more information about this important charity, see their website.  The Samaritans also run Befrienders Worldwide, an international service doing much the same work.

Photographs of St Stephen Walbrook today

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