Rotten Row Accidents in Hyde Park in the 1800s

How Rotten Row acquired its name seems to be shrouded in controversy what is not controversial is the fact that it became a popular meeting spot for London’s upper classes, who in the eighteenth century frequented it on weekends on horseback. In addition, the adjacent South Carriage Drive also soon began to be used by society’s well-to-do who appeared in their carriages dressed in their best finery. By the 1800s Rotten Row was a well-established spot and because of its popularity there were plenty of horse related accidents reported.

Rotten Row and the South Carriage Drive

Rotten Row and the South Carriage Drive c.1890-1900, photomechanical print. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One accident among the many reported in Rotten Row happened on Sunday, 29 November 1802, about two in the afternoon when a gentleman by the name of Dutens entered Hyde Park through the Piccadilly Gate with his groom. Dutens was driving a curricle (a two-wheeled carriage pulled by two blood horses trotting side by side). Unfortunately, as the horses’ heads turned towards Rotten Row the traces broke and the off-horse got tangled in them and began to gallop. The Evening Mail reported:

“[Dutens] endeavored to curb the impetuosity of the animals, but in the attempt, the reins were broken. The groom finding it impossible to stop the horses, jumped out of the curricle, after having repeatedly advised his master to do the same.”[1]  

The horses were by now rushing unchecked towards the Serpentine River and upon reaching it they, the curricle, and Dutens plunged into the water. There were some witnesses in the immediate area, and they hastened to the spot to render aid. Dutens was by this time “uttering piercing cries” for help as he was unable to save himself being encumbered by a heavy driving coat. Fortunately, an unnamed gentleman jumped into the water, caught the skirts of Dutens’ coat, and with some difficulty drug him to shore.

In the meantime, the curricle was stuck in seven feet of water. The horses were frantic by this time, kicking and plunging desperately in an attempt to free themselves from the carriage. Unfortunately, they could not be saved and both drowned. The paper also reported that “this is another instance of the dangerous consequences likely to result from the introduction of blood-horses in harness.”[2]

Rotten Row shown in this map of Hyde Park

Horse riding map of Hyde Park. Courtesy of amourangels.com.

Soon after, on the same day, another incident occurred that once again involved a blood horse. This time a mounted naval officer was prancing on his horse down Rotten Row. However, either because he lacked judgement in the proper use of the reins or was injudicious in the use of his spurs, the horse became restive, which then led to problems:

“His rider, not being able to keep him to the bias, he sprung repeatedly from one side of the road to the other. In one of these frisks he ran foul of a Lady’s horse so furiously, as to upset both the horse and its fair rider. Happily neither was hurt. The female equestrian remounted, and the tar proceeded on his voyage.”[3]

Nonetheless, the rider still seemed unable to control the blood because before they had proceeded far the horse became disobedient once again. This time to the astonishment of his rider and nearby pedestrians, it jumped over a railing onto the footpath. There the steed proceeded to “upset” everyone in its path. Fortunately, the rider was able to quickly dismount and safely secure his horse with no serious consequences resulting.

A few years later on 27 July 1808 there was a report of an accident involving the Earl of Paulet and his son, Captain Paulet. The pair were riding in Hyde Park in their phaeton when their horses suddenly “took fright” and bolted. In trying to regain control Captain Paulet accidentally broke the reins and with no way to control the horses they continued in their flight:

“The horses, when they arrived near the new bridge, ran against the wooden railing which separate Rotten-row from the foot-path, which they carried away completely. By the concussion, Lord Paulet and his son were thrown out of the carriage with a considerable degree of velocity. The fiery animals then dashed along until they came to the Serpentine River, into which they would have undoubtedly plunged headlong, had it not been for the presence of mind and spirited conduct of Mr. Dudding, of Henrietta-Street, who was in his barouche with his lady.”[4]

Dudding realizing what route the horses were heading drove his carriage in such a way as to stop them by making contact. That prevented what witnesses said would have been “inevitable destruction.” Bystanders then secured the horses and checked on the Earl and his son. They found that Lord Paulet was severely bruised by the fall and he was taken to his house at Stratford Place, while Captain Paulet escaped unhurt even though he fell on his head.

Another serious accident in Rotten Row happened in May of 1865. It occurred in the morning around nine or ten when a high-spirited horse, ridden by a young lady, suddenly sprinted off at a “furious” rate of speed. It quickly became obvious that the female rider had lost all control of the horse and as she was unattended, several male riders decided to intervene and slow her horse.

“Before they could come up to her the horse dashed against a watering-cart with such terrific force as to kill itself instantaneously. The young lady was thrown up into a tree nearly 20 feet high, and with very great violence struck her face against one of the branches; she then fell headlong into the roadway.”[5]

Several people ran to her assistance and found that she was unconscious for a moment or two. She soon rallied and was able to walk with aid to a carriage where she was transported to St. George’s Hospital. However, according to the London Evening Standard, “She appeared to be mostly injured about the face and head, indeed her features were shockingly disfigured and mutilated.”[6]

Rotten Row in Hyde Park by Carlo Bossoli. Public domain.

On 3 August of 1888 another incident that began in Rotten Row grabbed newspaper headlines. This time it involved an American gentleman named Henry White who was riding a thoroughbred mare at a furious rate of speed when a patrolling officer spotted him. As “furious riding” was against regulations, the police officer gave chase hoping to catch the dark bay and its rider and obtain the man’s information. According to the Manchester Evening News:

“[White] … perceiving the patrol following urged his mare forward and was soon several yards ahead, ultimately getting out of the park in to the Bayswater Road. The pursuer and pursued still kept up the pace through the squares into the Edgeware Road, when on reaching north Street the gentleman collided with a mudcart and was unhorsed.”[7]

The unhorsing allowed the police officer to reach him but just as he did White remounted and took off again. He had hardly started to escape when his horse stumbled, and he was thrown headfirst onto the ground and rendered “insensible.” Moreover, he was bleeding and had to be carried to a spot where his wounds could be dressed. He was then transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital for further observation. As to his mare, she appeared to be “none the worse” for the incident.

Injuries weren’t the only problem in Rotten Row as there were also several fatalities reported in the 1800s. For instance, an accident in 1840 happened on Friday 22 May and involved a Captain Walter Otway of the First Regiment of Life Guards. He was riding on the green to the left of Rotten Row when his horse reared, he pulled on the horse’s reins, and it fell backwards trapping him underneath. A groom for a popular conservative politician saw the incident and immediately rushed to render aid.

When Otway was pulled from under the horse, he was unresponsive and according to one unnamed witness at the scene, “the lower part of the body was ‘completely smashed.’”[8] Otway was taken to the officers’ room and when surgeons examined him they determined his bladder was ruptured and the bones in his pelvis broken. He then lingered in great pain until he died on Wednesday. The following day an inquest was held, and the verdict returned was “Accidental Death.”

In mid-April 1842 18-year-old Robert Benjamin Laurence Burton was thrown and killed near the Rotten Row bridge as he was heading towards the Hyde Park corner from the direction of Kensington. Burton who had acquired an independent fortune and was the son of the wealthy Benjamin Burton, was also a friend to Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. According to the London Evening Standard no one was sure what caused Burton’s horse to become frightened and bolt but once it did, he could not control it:

“Mr. Matthew James Higgins said that … on Thursday afternoon between half-past three and four o’clock, he was riding down Rotten-row, Hyde Park, when he observed the deceased on horseback galloping violently towards him. Both his feet were out of the stirrups. His hat came off, and he had a hold of the horse’s mane. After proceeding in this way for about 200 yards, he saw the deceased fall off on the near side to the ground. He lay motionless, and a crowd collected round him.[9]

Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Higgins then rode to the Knightsbridge barracks for help but in the meantime, Burton was taken to the hospital. Several doctors saw him upon his arrival, and it was reported:

“[He was] insensible, and labouring under the effects of severe concussion of the brain. Shortly after admission he was bled from the arm, which slightly relieved him. In about a half an hour … the senior surgeon of the hospital saw the deceased, and in the course of another half hour Mr. Hawks saw him also. The deceased died in four hours after his admission.”[10]

An inquest into Burton’s death did not provide any further information was to why the horse bolted but witnesses noted that the stirrups were banging violently against the horse’s side as it fled. Moreover, afterwards several people claimed that the horse did not appear “unruly,” although a police constable by the name of Joseph Hockey reported that the horse appeared to be “a very spirited animal, and shied two or three times whilst being led.”[11]

The question as to whether Burton was sober was also broached as some people thought alcohol may have contributed to the accident. However, it appeared that was not the case and upon further investigation it was reported that Burton’s death resulted from the fact that the 18-year-old wasn’t used to riding.

Rotten Row riders and carriages

Riders and carriages in Rotten Row. Author’s collection.

Another fatal incident in January of 1875 happened to an elderly woman, 65-year-old Mrs. Marianne Black. She was on foot and crossing Rotten Row near Apsley Gate when 39-year-old Diana Stracey saw her. The accident happened in the evening with Stracey reporting that it happened before six and that the park was empty of vehicles except for her carriage and a brougham heading toward Albert Gate. Details of what happened were provided by the Aldershot Military Gazette:

“James Butcher, the coachman, … lived at 26 Queen’s-gate-gardens. He was driving the brougham in question on the Saturday evening about seven minutes to six, on the way home from Stanhope-gate. Witness first saw the deceased when she was about two yards from Rotten-row. Witness called out to her, when she started into a run, but was caught by the shoulder of one of his horses and knocked down.”[12]

Conjecture was that Black did not see the brougham until it was too late and could not get out of the way in time. Stracey seemed to also support the idea that darkness contributed to Black’s death, but she gave a somewhat different account of what happened. She claimed that Black was crossing Rotten Row when the brougham’s splash board caught her dress. It knocked her down and its two wheels then ran over her.

One well-publicized fatality that happened in Rotten Row occurred in 1888 and made headlines not only in London but also in America. It involved an American businessman by the name of Mahlon Sands. His father had founded a New York importing and wholesaling company of drugs called A.B. Sands & Co.

Sands visited England frequently and was a well-known and popular member of London society. He often rode in Rotten Row just as he was doing on 7 May 1888 when the accident happened. He somehow lost control of his horse and was unable to regain it. According to the New York Tribune:

“His horse bolted in Rotten Row … between half-past 6 and 7, ran furiously from Albert Gate to the eastern end of the Row, slipped on the pavement, fell and threw its rider on his head. Mr. Sands was taken to St. George’s Hospital … but never regained consciousness. He died with two hours.”[13]

Sands manner of death was shocking to his friends and family. According to various newspaper reports he was an accomplished horseman, excellent judge of “horse flesh,” and owned several valuable saddle horses. Therefore, it was surprising to everyone that he should died in a horse accident.

One rather strange but deadly accident in Rotten Row took place in January of 1893. It involved 27-year-old Richard James Overton, groom to Miss Ethel Dobson of 26 Albert Hall Mansion. He was riding a short distance behind her on 3 January in Rotten Row.

“They cantered up the Row, and when near Prince of Wales’s-gate she suddenly saw Overton pass her. Although still in the saddle, he appeared strange, and presently fell to the ground. The horse he was riding was quiet. After the accident, however, it ran away.”[14]

Overton had nothing but a slight cough when they went out for the ride and it initially seemed to be a mystery as to why he had suddenly died. However, when an inquest was held, “it was suggested that Overton had struck his head against the branch of a tree before passing Miss Dobson, and the jury returned a verdict of death from accidental causes.”[15]

Despite these and many other accidents Rotten Row remained a popular spot for horseback riding and for carriage drives throughout the 1800s. Today it is maintained as a bridleway and forms part of Hyde Park’s South Ride and when you ride or stroll it, remember you are traveling the same pathway that not just ordinary Londoners did but also people like the Prince Regent, William Gladstone, the dandies of White’s, Eliza de Feuillide, Romeo Coates, members of the Four Horse Club, the Countess of Blessington, and the Nepalese Prime Minister and his courtesan Laura Bell.

References:

  • [1] Evening Mail, “Rotten Row Equestrians,” November 29, 1802, p. 3.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] The Lady’s Magazine: Or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (London: G. Robinson, 1808), p. 372.
  • [5] London Evening Standard, “Accident in Rotten Row,” May 19, 1865, p. 3.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Manchester Evening News, “An Exciting Chase in Rotten Row,” August 3, 1888, p. 3.
  • [8] Annual Register (London: J. Dodsley, 1841), p. 52.
  • [9] London Evening Standard, “The Late Fatal Accident in Hyde Park,” April 16, 1842, p. 3.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Aldershot Military Gazette, “Fatal Accident in Rotten-Row,” January 23, 1875, p. 6.
  • [13] New York Tribune, “Mahlon Sands Killed in London,” May 9, 1888, p. 1.
  • [14] Globe, “Fatal Accident in Rotten Row,” January 14, 1893, p. 2.
  • [15] Ibid.

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