The Riding School, situated on the north side of Carlton Place, was built in 1846-47 by local architect William Hinves. It was opened for school instruction on 16 August 1847. Its outline is anticipated in the 1:1056 Ordnance Survey plan of the Borough of Southampton surveyed in 1845-6, published nine months before the building was finished. The cost of building was nearly £3,000 and it was said that only the riding school in Bryanstone Place, in the heart of fashionable Marylebone, was its equal in size. Even that, according to the Hampshire Independent, was its inferior in beauty, in light and in ventilation. The dimensions are impressive: 122 feet long, 43 feet wide and 25 feet to the underside of the tie beams to the roof. It was one of the most successful commissions of the Southampton architect William Hinves. The open-grained timber roof was in the style of Westminster Hall.

Semi-circular headed windows, high on the side walls, allowed in a flood of light. The window frames were of iron. A gallery gave spectators an unrestricted view of the riding hall, as well as showing off the roof to full advantage. Gas lighting, through immense pendulous burners in frosted glass hanging low over the main arena, gave “a light equal to the most delightful sunshine” (Hampshire Independent). Adjoining the gallery were retiring and dressing rooms for ladies: acknowledgment of the influence of Queen Victoria in making the art of riding essential to fashionable life. A Riding Master, Captain A F Bernatzkey, was brought in from the Brighton Riding School.

The school lasted in its full pomp less than two years. The anticipated clientele failed to materialize. Any pretence of exclusivity ended when the building was fitted up as a circus in May 1849, to host a season of performances by Cooke’s Royal Equestrian Company and Circus Establishment. The school, however, continued in existence until 1860 when, after extensive alterations and refitting, it became the Carlton Assembly Rooms and Music Hall (see clipping below). Later in the 19th century it became the Hampshire Volunteers Drill Hall. In 1981 it was taken over by Southampton University for their Officer Training Corps headquarters, a purpose for which it is still used. It is Grade II listed

Riding School

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An advert for Thomas Pratt of Bedford Mews which shows the exterior of the Riding School. From the Post Office Directory of Southampton, 1853

Riding School

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Interior of the Riding School by Philip Brannon, c.1850

Newspaper clipping:

Further reading:

‘Southampton Riding School’, by Richard Preston (Southampton Occasional Papers no. 2)
Southampton Occasional Notes, 2nd Series by ‘Townsman’, p40. (HS/h)
More Stories of Southampton Streets, by A. G. K. Leonard, p29. (HS/h)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p26, 55. (HS/h)


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