LONDON, U.K. On a sunny yet cold and blustery Sunday morning in a park corner, five men are standing a short distance apart from each other on folding chairs and stools. One of them has taken his shoes off. Clusters of onlookers assemble in disordered semicircles around the speakers who try to make themselves heard over the roar of the nearby traffic and the bitter and whistling wind.

“I am British,” starts one of the elevated men. “This is my country”.

“Do you think people are capable of making decisions for themselves?” another demands the crowd in front of him.

This isn’t just any reunion in a park; this is Speaker’s Corner in London’s renowned Hyde Park. A public speaking area where people can freely debate and discuss any subject they wish in the open air, the history of gatherings here dates back to the 1850s. Sunday trading restrictions led to riots and protests, with the activists congregating just inside the park near Marble Arch. After demonstrations during the 1860s, it became a traditional meeting point for protestors as well as a place for public debate. An eclectic mix of famous speakers including George Orwell, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, have wooed the crowds with their rhetoric and charisma. However, most people using the platform are not acclaimed or recognisable – it is a place open to anyone wishing to expresses their opinion. Its long history is a testament to the development of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in this country.

Standing on their plinths, the orators broach a variety of subjects: the British governmental system, the New World Order, the role of women in society, and religion. One particularly loud and vociferous rhetorician tries to stun his listeners into believing in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. However, it is not always a one way tirade aimed at converting the crowd to their philosophies. Some audiences react, sharing their thoughts, critiquing and challenging what they hear.

Nevertheless, after having spent an afternoon concentrating and contemplating in the midst of this phenomenon, amongst the other inquisitive visitors, the tourists, or just the unsuspecting Sunday afternoon strollers, I did wonder how much of this was just a gimmick, a lingering remnant of a more traditional past. A wonderfully upheld tradition it may be, its relevance in a world where younger generations are becoming more distanced from politics and religion can, however, be questioned. Society has undergone radical changes over the past 150 years, and this archaic institution, although appearing more romantic than modern mediums, might not carry weight compared to radio and television platforms and internet forums.

Some would argue, however, that this is the epitome of a democracy, allowing the masses to convene, discussing ideas and contesting all viewpoints, whilst offering everyone an energetic environment in which to witness and practise the art of public speaking.