Rotten Row

Coordinates: 51°30′13.25″N 0°9′59″W / 51.5036806°N 0.16639°W / 51.5036806; -0.16639
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Rotten Row
Rotten Row, looking west from Hyde Park Corner, June 2005
Rotten Row is located in City of Westminster
Rotten Row
Location within Central London
Former name(s)Route du Roi
Length1,384 m (4,541 ft)
LocationHyde Park, London, United Kingdom
Postal codeW2
Nearest Tube stationLondon Underground Hyde Park Corner
Coordinates51°30′13.25″N 0°9′59″W / 51.5036806°N 0.16639°W / 51.5036806; -0.16639
East endHyde Park Corner
West endSerpentine Road
Known forEquestrianism

Rotten Row is a broad track running 1,384 metres (4,541 ft)[1] along the south side of Hyde Park in London. It leads from Hyde Park Corner to Serpentine Road. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Rotten Row was a fashionable place for upper-class Londoners to be seen horse riding.[2] Today it is maintained as a place to ride horses in the centre of London, but it is little used as such.


An 1833 map of Hyde Park. Rotten Row is marked as The King's Private Road
Rotten Row and the South Carriage Drive c.1890-1900, photomechanical print

Rotten Row was established by William III at the end of the 17th century. Having moved court to Kensington Palace, William wanted a safer way to travel to St. James's Palace. He created the broad avenue through Hyde Park, lit with 300 oil lamps in 1690—the first artificially lit highway in Britain. The lighting was a precaution against highwaymen, who lurked in Hyde Park at the time.[3] The track was called Route du Roi, French for King's Road, which was eventually corrupted into "Rotten Row".[4]

In the 18th century, Rotten Row became a popular meeting place for upper-class Londoners. Particularly on weekend evenings and at midday, people dressed in their finest clothes to ride along the row and be seen.[2] The adjacent South Carriage Drive was used by society people in carriages for the same purpose.[2] In 1876, it was reconstructed as a horse-ride, with a brick base covered by sand.[1]

The sand-covered avenue of Rotten Row is maintained as a bridleway and forms part of Hyde Park's South Ride. It is convenient for the Household Cavalry, stabled nearby at Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge, to exercise their horses. Members of the public may also ride, although few people have stables close enough to make use of it. Commercial stables nearby, the Hyde Park Stables and 'Ross Nye Stables, offer horse hire and riding lessons to the public.

A Royal plaque commemorating 300 years of Rotten Row was erected in 1990.

"ROTTEN ROW - The King's Old Road, Completed 1690 This ride originally formed part of King William III's carriage drive from Whitehall to Kensington Palace. Its construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their Majesties' Roads, Captain Michael Studholme and it was the first lamp-lit road in the Kingdom. Designated as a public bridleway in the 1730s, Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world."

Cultural references[edit]

A view of Rotten Row, painted by Thomas Blinks, circa 1900

Rotten Row features in a short piece of orchestral light music, composed by Wally Stott in 1958. It is briefly alluded to as "that wretched row" in the 1891 Oscar Wilde short story ″The Sphinx Without a Secret″.

Michael Crichton's 1979 feature film, The First Great Train Robbery, set in 1855 has a scene in which the character Edward Pierce (portrayed by Sean Connery) escorts Emily Trent (Pamela Salem) on a supposedly romantic ride along Rotten Row.[5]

In Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula, Jonathan and Mina Harker briefly visit "the Row" after solicitor Peter Hawkins' funeral and interment, "...but there were very few people there, and it was sad-looking and desolate to see so many empty chairs. It made us think of the empty chair at home..." (Sept 22). After this, they go to Piccadilly, where Jonathan is astonished to see Dracula in England for the first time.

In Patrick Hamilton’s novel “The Plains of Cement” (1934), the ageing Mr Eccles takes the barmaid Ella for a walk in Hyde Park, “alongside Rotten Row”.

In To Let by John Galsworthy, the third book of The Forsyte Saga, Soames Forsyte, walking from Knightsbridge to Mayfair in 1920, stops to contemplate "the Row" and the social decline exhibited there over sixty years of his experience.

In the Netflix series Bridgerton, season two, episode three, Jack Featherington suggests “Rotten Row, perhaps?” as a place to promenade with a lady he intends to spend time with.

Other locations[edit]

"Rotten Row" is a location in at least 15 places in England, Scotland, South Africa and Zimbabwe. such as in Lewes, East Sussex and Elie, Fife. It describes a place where there was once a row of tumbledown cottages infested with rats (raton) and dates to the 14th century or earlier, predating the London derivation.[6] Other historians have speculated the name might be a corruption of rotteran (to muster),[7] Ratten Row (roundabout way), or rotten (the soft material with which the road is covered).[8]. There is Rotten Row Magistrates Court in Zimbabwe which is located on Rotten Row Road in the capital of the Southern African nation. The road connects to Prince Edward Street in the Avenues and Charter and Cripps Roads in the south of the Magistrates Court. The only other Rotten Row is a road in a South African town of Winburg near Bloemfontein.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Rotten Row". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. pp. 30–31.
  3. ^ Hibbert, Cristopher; Weinreb, Ben; Keay, John; Keay, Julia (2011). The London Encyclopaedia. Pan Macmillan. p. 424. ISBN 978-0230738782.
  4. ^ "Hyde Park: History and Architecture". The Royal Parks. 15 December 2003. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  5. ^ The First Great Train Robbery. Dir. Michael Crichton. United Artists, 1979.
  6. ^ Cameron, Kenneth (1959). The Place-Names of Derbyshire. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society. pp. 435, 449.
  7. ^ Edward Walford. 'Hyde Park', Old and New London: Volume 4 (1878), pp. 375-405. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  8. ^ E Cobham Brewer. 'Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Henry Altemus, 1898;, 2000. Retrieved 29 January 2009.

External links[edit]