|As published in the Daily Echo 26 January 2006
|With the General Election looming large on the horizon, what better
time to focus on Southampton's Speakers' Corner. This little known
arena, complete with speakers' dais and handrail, stands in Hoglands
Park, opposite the main entrance to Debenhams.
|It came into being in 1971 as a direct result of Above Bar being
turned into a pedestrian precinct. Various individuals and political
groups began using the new precinct as a place to stage public meetings.
|These gatherings caused public congestion, resulting in the need for
a police presence, and sometimes arrests were made. High Street shoppers
and businesses complained they were being harangued.
| One the one hand,
citizens demanded the freedom to protest, while on the other hand,
citizens demanded the freedom to go peacefully about their business.
|In November 1971 a number of protesters came before the Court. In
Defence they claimed that they were acting within their rights because
the Above Bar precinct was a public space. However, the Prosecution
argued that the Precinct was still technically a highway and not a
public space. City Council Officers confirmed this to be the case.
Although the protestors were found guilty, nobody doubted that the
Council were batting on a sticky wicket.
|At a Council meeting on 10th. November 1971 Councillor Alan Reynard
on behalf of the Labour group proposed that a site in Hoglands Park
should be designated as a Speakers' Corner.
|Councillor Reynard stated that this was, "A positive attempt to
solve the problem, and lower the temperature in the Above Bar pedestrian
precinct." He argued, "The precinct has suddenly become a focal point
for free speech and democracy", and added, "He was aware both sides of
the Council would agree that democracy must be vigorously upheld, …the
crux of the problem was does free speech need or depend on captive
audiences?- and do we have an equal opportunity to defend the right of
privacy?... Somewhere along the line there is a happy medium."
Councillor Alan Reynard
|The idea cut across party barriers and received overwhelming
support. The following evening the Southern Daily Echo announced,
'Southampton has Speakers' Corner'.
|The following year at meetings of the Public Lands Committee it was
recommended that re-surfacing, and the provision of a dais be carried
out on the site of Speakers' Corner, and the sum of £500 was agreed to
carry out the works.
|The location in Hoglands Park has historical connections with
concepts of democracy. The common ownership of Southampton's Central
Parks can be traced back fourteen hundred years to the Anglo-Saxons of
Hamwic. And, it was near this spot that Chartists, demanding the vote,
held mass meetings in the late 1840's.
|The first reported use of the new Speakers' Corner was on Saturday
27th. November 1971 when an Anti-Apartheid Group marched from the
Cenotaph to Speakers' Corner from where they dispersed.