Observant visitors to London will quickly notice some of the city’s more interesting place names – and one such location that’s likely to pique your curiosity is Rotten Row in Hyde Park.
Despite what its name implies, Rotten Row is actually a lovely part of Hyde Park that has been used primarily for horse riding since the 17th century.
The history of Rotten Row
Towards the end of the 17th century, William III established Rotten Row as a safer way to travel between Kensington Palace and St James’s Palace. In 1690, a broad avenue through Hyde Park was created and lit with 300 oil lamps. The lamps served as a safeguard against highwaymen – thieves who usually travelled on horseback (although some were on foot) and robbed travellers – and resulted in the first artificially lit highway of its kind in the UK.
Originally, the route was called Route du Roi, which meant “King’s Road” in French. However, over time, the name was corrupted into “Rotten Row”.
During the 18th century, Rotten Row was a popular meeting place for upper-class Londoners. People would often gather together, dressed in their finest clothing, and ride along the row on horseback in order to see and be seen. Similarly, South Carriage Drive, which is adjacent to Rotten Row, was used for the same purpose by those in carriages.
In 1876, the road was reconstructed to be better for horse riding, with a brick base covered in sand. This sand-covered surface is what visitors to Rotten Row will see today. The path is maintained as a bridleway and it forms part of the Hyde Park South Ride.
These days, Rotten Row is often used by the Household Cavalry, which is stabled at the nearby Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge. Visitors can regularly see the Household Cavalry exercising their horses there.
Members of the public can also use Rotten Row for horse riding, and though there are few private horse owners in central London, there are commercial stables in the area where people can hire horses or take riding lessons.
Rotten Row has also been used as a film set – most notably the 1979 feature, The First Great Train Robbery. The movie was set in 1855 and includes a scene involving characters played by Sean Connery and Pamela Salem taking a romantic horse ride along the famous avenue.
In 1990, a royal plaque was erected to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Rotten Row. It explains the history of the road and notes that the construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their Majesties’ Roads, Captain Michael Studholme. It says that the avenue was designated as a public bridleway in the 1730s, and adds: “Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world.”