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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 17:42 GMT

UK Politics

Radical preacher Lord Soper dies

Lord Soper at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park

Click here to read an interview with Lord Soper conducted earlier in the year as he celebrated his 95th birthday.

Lord Soper, the veteran Labour peer and Methodist campaigner, has died peacefully at his London home.

Lord Soper's video obituary
His death follows a long period of illness. He only returned to his home from hospital on Tuesday where he was being treated for a serious chest infection.

A spokeswoman for the Methodist Church said he returned home and sat in his favourite chair before dying peacefully.

He was born in 1903 and was educated at St Catherine's College Cambridge and the London School of Economics. He first became a minister in at the South London Mission in 1926.

Radical campaigner

Lord Soper became famous as a campaigner on social issues and a strong advocate of pacifism and nuclear disarmament.

[ image: Lord Soper backed CND in its early days]
Lord Soper backed CND in its early days
He was created a Labour peer in 1965, but will be most remembered for his numerous appearances at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, where he first preached in 1942.

In what was one of his last campaigns he gave his support to the Speakers' Corner Movement, a pressure group also backed by Labour MP Tony Benn, to preserve the tradition of public oratory in Hyde Park.

Lord Soper, was also known for supporting radical causes including The League Against Cruel Sports, which he served as president.

He also gave many open air sermons at Tower Hill and was a committed socialist preached against war, poverty, drink, gambling, capitalism, communism, McCarthyism, slave labour, racial inequality and capital punishment.

Born into a Methodist home

Donald Oliver Soper was born into a Methodist family in Wandsworth, south London. His parents raised him, his sister Millicent, and brother Meredith, in a family routine of daily prayers.

[ image: Petitioning Downing Street against arms exports in the 1970s]
Petitioning Downing Street against arms exports in the 1970s
Shortly before beginning his ministry at the South London Mission in 1926, he started his weekly open air sermons on Tower Hill which were to last for 65 years.

The meetings started after Lord Soper asked a man sitting on the wall below Myer's warehouse how to start a meeting.

"Get up on the wall and clap yer 'ands, guv'nor. They'll come," he was told.

Lord Soper began his famous Sunday afternoon soap-box orations at Speakers' Corner in the early 1940s.

No mercy for hecklers

"Soapie", attracted large congregations to his soap-box pulpit, and established a reputation for being ruthless with hecklers.

Even in 1993, at the age of 90, he was to be found at Speakers' Corner on Sunday afternoons.

He said then: "I am a Methodist preacher and I suppose in some respects I'm peculiar in that I never wanted to do anything else."

[ image: Lord Soper's pacifism saw him blacklisted in World War II]
Lord Soper's pacifism saw him blacklisted in World War II
At the age of 94, he still found the energy to voice his sometimes controversial point of view and in a television interview in March 1997 he said he believed shoplifting from supermarkets was not necessarily wrong because "the capitalist system is based on stealing".

He was elected president of the Methodist Conference in 1953 - and caused a major controversy the following year by returning from a visit to Russia to announce that he would rather face Communism in England than a third world war.

From 1974 to 1978 he was chairman of Shelter, the charity for the homeless. In 1981 the World Methodist Council gave him its Peace award.

In 1988 he became president of the League against Cruel Sports. That same year he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Cambridge.

He leaves four daughters, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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