Near the northeast corner of Hyde Park, where Edgware Road meets Bayswater Road, Londoners of yore congregated for public executions. By the early 1800s, the gathered crowds were jeering at hangings instead of cheering them, and the locale’s reputation for public outcry became entrenched. An Act of Parliament in 1872 finally legitimized it as a place of free speech, and its tradition of well-intentioned protest has evolved into a quirky weekend attraction. Laborers and suffragettes fomented social change here, but these days, you’re more likely to encounter a rogues’ gallery of kooks and idealists. Anyone can show up, always on Sunday mornings after 7am, with a soapbox (or, these days, a stepladder), plus an axe to grind, and orate about anything from Muslim relations to the superiority of 1970s disco—but if they don’t have the wit to appease the crowd, they stand a good chance of being jibed, or at the very least vigorously challenged. In true British style, most speakers refrain from profanity. Even the heckling is usually polite. (“Communists, violent racists, vegetarians,” reported Arthur Frommer in 1957. “They undergo the finest heckling in the world, a vicious repartee…”) While audience participation at this scholarly circus can be heated, it’s usually based on facts rather than emotion—bellowing American talk radio hosts are not models for victory. The blather continues until late afternoon.
Tube: Marble Arch, exits 4, 5, 8, or 9