This ‘stone of free speech’ looked quite exciting on the map, although it was perhaps just a little less riveting when I got to it. However, it’s said that this might have some considerable heritage, although all of the evidence appears to be a little woolly.
The official Hampstead Heath web-site says that “the origins are sketchy”, which often just means someone made it up about 30 years ago and no-one can really disprove it now. It might though have been the centre for religious and political meetings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and that is quite exciting if it’s true. I can’t find any mention of it though in newspapers from the nineteenth century, so even if it did exist then, I’m not convinced that had a reputation for being the location in the park for free speech.
The myth suggests that this stone dates from the late seventeenth century and it could have been some form of marker post for surveying perhaps. I don’t know if it was at this exact spot, but there was a suffragette meeting at the park in April 1913, but the female speakers were shouted down and then what the media called “a youth” chucked a wooden box at the speaker. After twenty minutes of this, the police decided they were stopping the meeting and so everyone went home.
Even if it’s not true, I like the idea that large meetings took place here in the open air, so I’ve decided I buy into the whole concept.