The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 2 Hyde Park

The Ring in Hyde Park

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Cromwell himself was fond of riding in the Park, and crowds thronged him as he galloped round the Ring. More than one plot was made against the life of Cromwell, and the Park was considered a likely place in which to succeed. On one occasion the would-be assassin joined the crowd, which pursued the Protector during his ride, ready, if at any moment he galloped beyond the people, to dash at him with a fatal blow. The plotter had carefully filed the Park gate off its hinges so as to make good his own escape. It is a curious fact that Cromwell more nearly met his death in Hyde Park by accident than by design. He was presented with some fine grey Friesland horses, by the Duke of Holstein, and insisted on driving the spirited animals himself. They bolted, he was thrown from the box, and his pistol went off in his pocket, "though without any hurt to himself"! The Ring, where all these performances took place, was situated to the north-east of where the Humane Society's house, built in 1834, now stands, near the Serpentine. There are a few remains of very large elm trees still to be seen, which probably shaded some of the company assembled to watch the coaches driving round and round the Ring, or cheer the winner of a hotly-contested race. Even during the sombre days of the Commonwealth sports took place in the Park, but with the Restoration it became much more the resort of all the fashionable world and the scene of many more amusements. The parks were still in those days for the Court and the wealthy or well-to-do citizens only. Probably to many of the rabble and poorer Londoners the nearest view obtained of Hyde Park would be the tall trees within its fence or wall, which formed a background to the revolting but most engrossing of popular sights, the horrors of the gallows at Tyburn. The idea of giving parks as recreation grounds for the poor is such a novel one that no old writer would think of noticing their absence in an age when bull-baiting and cock fights were their highest form of amusement. The gay companies who assembled to drive round and round the Ring, or watch races, sometimes met with unusual excitement. On one occasion Hind, a famous highwayman, for a wager rode into the Ring and robbed a coach of a bag of money. He was hotly pursued across the Park, but made his escape, "riding by St. James's," which then, and until a much later date, was a sanctuary, and no one except a traitor could be arrested within it. So narrow an escape from justice did he have that he is said to have exclaimed, "I never earned �100 so dear in all my life!"