Speakers' Corner, Southampton
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. Situated in Hoglands Park
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." Alan Reynard
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.

Read By 3343 Visitors Back To Listing