Lost London – The Reformers’ Tree…

A mosaic commemorating the former Reformers’ Tree in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks.

This large oak tree, planted in Hyde Park, was a focal point for protests in 1866 by the Reform League, a group which campaigned for all men to have the right to vote.

The tree was set alight during one protest (on what date and whether it was as an act of protest or simply an act of mischief by some boys during an otherwise orderly rally apparently remains a matter of debate).

The blackened stump was subsequently used a site for people to post notices, as a podium at meetings (including by the Reform League) and, more broadly, as a symbol of the right for people to assemble.

The tree was something of a precursor to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. That owes its formal establishment to an Act of Parliament, passed in 1872, that designated the north-east corner of Hyde Park as a site for public speaking and is now known – and emulated across the world – as Speaker’s Corner.

A circular mosaic depicting the blackened tree – the work of sculptor Harry Gray – now stands at the junction of numerous pathways close to the eastern end of Hyde Park. It was unveiled in the year 2000 by politician Tony Benn.

Whether it stands on the actual site of the original tree is also a matter of debate. The inscription on the memorial mentions that on 7th November, 1977, then Prime Minister James Callaghan planted a new oak tree on the spot where the Reformers’ Tree was thought to have stood. But there’s obviously no oak now where the mosaic is laid.