Speakers Corner

Back in the early 1990s I seemed to photograph Speakers Corner almost every Sunday. Before or after going for dim sum in Soho, it had a similar mix of serious political and religious debate, humour and weirdness. Christian evangelists waved their bibles, someone claimed he was Jim Morrison, a British Muslim convert was heckled about why he was no longer a Buddhist, while others argued for the overthrow of capitalism. Among them Donald Soper was still addressing crowds after 50 years, confirming my hope that Speakers Corner remained a symbol of Britain’s democratic tradition.

Yet as time passed I fell out of love with the place. It became more about bearded men shouting praise of whatever deity featured in their sacred book. The Christians there had all been born again, while Muslim preachers from the Middle East or South Asia attracted their own groups to shield them from scatological heckling or indeed from any serious questioning. An authentic British bigot might still rail against sodomy or racial mixing, 9/11 and Iraq conspiracy theorists, but it all seems just a freak show for the tourists. And their phones and selfie sticks are everywhere, and rows of phones on tripods set up for livestreaming much become as much part of your composition as the speakers had once been.

So the last photograph shows a Jewish convert to Christianity speaking to tourists. A police horse had just passed by, expressing itself as eloquently as any speaker that day!