For centuries Speakers corner in Hyde park has been the place where Londoners have stood on boxes and practised their right of free speech. Today some speakers talk complete nonsense to make the crowd laugh, others tell smutty jokes and some shout their political or religious views to the London crowd who boo or applaud.
I remember walking through this area as a child and being fascinated by its strange atmosphere and the strong feelings of the speakers and listeners.
It was on this site close to Marble Arch where the infamous Tyburn hanging tree once stood and it was at the foot of these gallows that the tradition of free speech began.
It was at Tyburn that condemned prisoners gave their last speech on the gallows before their death making the area an ideal place for public debate and discussion. From this hanging tree culture speakers corner evolved into what it is today and the right of free speech was born.
If the condemned were fortunate a family member would tug on their feet to end their lives quickly. Otherwise once the noose was around their necks and the cart which they were standing on was removed they strangled painfully to death. It is said that Guy Fawkes threw himself with great force onto his noose so that he would be dead before he was drawn and quartered.
Working class traitors were always hung drawn and quartered at Smithfield. Murderers, thieves and those who committed ‘petty treason,the killing of a spouse or master, were also hung at Smithfield. Both Catholic and Protestant heretics, depending on the faith of the ruling monarch, were burnt in the same place.
The condemned men in true London style were then taken to a pub called the Turks Inn, which is now a cafe, for their last quart of ale. Then the prisoners would be taken to the dock. The hanging was done with a cruel short rope so that the victim was strangled and ‘danced’ as their legs were untied. The bodies were left until three tides washed over them. Some were hung in cages along the estuary to be a warning to others.
I have heard sundry men oft times dispute
Of trees, that in one year will twice bear fruit.
But if a man note Tyburn, ‘will appear,
That that’s a tree that bears twelve times a year.