Saturday, April 21st 2012
Kingston, or Kingston-upon-Thames, to give it its full title, once lay in the county of Surrey but is today a London borough. In ancient times, a strategic importance attached to it because the river was then fordable at this point, hence the town’s previous name of Moreford, meaning “Great Ford”. Kingston has the further distinction of being the oldest royal borough, a status conferred on it in 1200 by King John. The name became Cyningestun, meaning “Royal Estate”, and this in time evolved into the modern Kingston.
The easiest and quickest way to get to Kingston from Central London is to take the suburban train service from Waterloo. There are trains every 15 minutes (half that on Sundays) and on a good day, the journey takes 28 minutes. Having arrived at our destination, we set out to perform a circuit of the town. We did not have a specific route in mind but more or less “followed our noses”, recording whatever interested us along the way.
Not far from the station is the massive complex called the Rotunda. Described as a leisure centre, it provides both shopping and entertainment, including a 14-screen Odeon cinema.
In contrast the the control-tower design of the front of the building, the rear, incorporating the old Bentall’s furniture depository, has a more Art Deco look to it – as well it might, dating as it does from the middle 1930s – albeit with some rather strange symbolism, such a this head wearing a crown or helmet with a padlock under his chin.
As is common in most towns, the name of the town is incorporated into the names of many shops and other businesses. An example occurs in this Edwardian pub (bearing the date 1910) whose name is a pun on both the name and the meaning of “Kingston”. In modern parlance, a tun is a barrel or the amount of liquid contained in one, but here it can also allude to “tun”, the Anglo-Saxon word for a farm or estate. So the name can be both taken at its face value as “The King’s tun (barrel”) or as the archaic name of the town. A bit laboured perhaps, though not altogether unamusing.
In a street called Old London Road we come across this famous installation consisting of a dozen telephone kiosks tipped over like a row of tumbling dominoes. It is very striking and is the work of artist David Mach. To tell from his Web site, this is probably the least weird of all his works and has a touch of humour to it. It was unveiled in 1989 and renovated in 2001.
Old London Road obviously belongs to the older part of town but I know no more about it than that. The police station, dating from 1864 (Grade II listed), resides here, though is no longer used as such but instead offers “design quality offices”, according to its own publicity.
There is an antiques market “with over 90 traders” and a “Polish Cafe”. Interesting as this may be to antiques lovers and bargain hunters, the real gem is a few doors further along.
I refer to Cleave’s Almshouses, built in the 17th century by philanthropist William Cleave and still providing accommodation for the elderly. The plaque placed centrally above the door carries the following explanatory text:
Anno Salutis 1668 being the Gift of
WILLIAM CLEAVE Alderman of
London for Six Poor Men and Six Poor
Women of this Town for whose
Maintenance for Ever He hath given
A Competent Revenue.
And also Caused these Buildings to be
Erected at his own Expense for the Habitation
and Convenience of the said People.
I will admit to being fascinated by almshouses, especially those that still provide accommodation as their founders intended. These certainly seemed well kept though we were not able to see what they are like within. You will find a short history of them on The Cleave’s Almshouses Web site.
Our next port of call was the Kingston Museum and Art Gallery. It was worth a visit but I cannot show you any photos. When we asked whether photography was allowed, the counter clerk had to phone someone who then came down to see us. We were told we could take photos “for our own use” but not post them on a blog or on Facebook. You know my opinion of this nonsense, so I won’t go through it all again.
The Museum shares the building with the Public Library. The building, which imitates late 17th century Renaissance style, was founded by Andrew Carnegie and was built in 1903. It is listed Grade II but I am sure you already guessed that!
Now for today’s nature spot. We found this small being taking the sun on one of the plants in front of the library.
I realize that not everyone is as fascinated by small animals as I am and many would turn their noses up at this species in particular whose common name is “flesh fly”, because they feed on rotting meat and give birth to larvae (not eggs) on it to give them a good start in life. On the other hand, they are very useful as they help tidy up the environment. But just consider the degree of miniaturization that goes into making this tiny body. We boast about our ever smaller electronic devices yet we are nowhere near making a “product” as tiny and yet as functional as this. What we swat without a second thought is an incredible marvel. The fly must have sensed that we meant no harm as we were able to come quite close to take our photos.
There are many possible routes through Kingston and each will reveal different points of interest. In the past we have tended to stay close by the Thames but today went on a big circular walk of discovery. (I don’t know the name of the artist who made the above work. There may be a an information plate but I didn’t feel like braving the traffic when there might not have been anything there.)
We discovered the Crown Court, which is rigidly modern, though with something of a Classical look to it, and then the Victorian Surrey County Hall.
As we approached the impressive County Hall, I thought the blue crane on the right was performing repairs or cleaning but it turned out to be carrying lights for a film company who were filming on the premises. Large vans were drawn up in front of the building, masking the ground floor. I made do with this corner shot and the next photo, showing the upper part of the clock tower.
County Hall is, as you might imagine, a listed building. The description tells us that it was built between 1892 and 1893. and this date is set above the door. It is certainly a proud and striking building, a fitting administrative centre for a rich county. I am told that it is as splendid inside as outside. The political position of County Hall is somewhat anomalous. Kingston upon Thames is now a (Royal) London borough and no longer part of the county of Surrey. County Hall is therefore sited in “foreign territory”, as it were, not in the county of Surrey where it should be. I understand that attempts have been made to relocate the county council and find alternative uses for the County Hall but so far these have not succeeded.
For lunch we went to a vegetarian restaurant we had spotted earlier, Riverside Vegetaria. It is beside the river and we could have had a table outside but the weather wasn’t really suitable as it was cold and threatening rain. We had masala dosai which was quite filling though Tigger encountered an unexpected “hot spot” in hers that caused some discomfort. When we first arrived, the background “music” was a sound track of (I suppose) monks chanting endlessly on only two notes. After some time, this began to irritate me considerably though later the volume was turned down, which made it easier to bear. The management should realize that just because one is vegetarian does not mean that one is Buddhist or even religious or that one will find monkish chanting a suitable accompaniment to a meal. There was a good selection of food available from snacks and side dishes to main courses. To judge from the number of customers, it is quite popular, despite (or because of) being vegetarian.
We went down to the Thames but only briefly. This is a pleasant place to stroll or sit in the sun – when the weather in propitious, unlike today – but we were in a town mood and soon turned back towards the streets again.
Others were making use of the river in their own way, such as these rowers receiving instructions from their trainer. We also noticed another denizen lurking nearby. If you dislike rats, then look away now!
On the way down to the river bank we had caught a glimpse of a rat in the bushes but had assumed that he had run away to hide. As we stood looking at the river, however, he reappeared. Though we could not get close, to him, the rat stayed around and showed interest in what we were doing. This leads me to suspect that he gets fed by people who come down to the bank to eat their lunchtime sandwiches. Rats get bad press – mostly because of misapprehensions about them and deliberate misinformation – but I found this fellow rather appealing, though I had nothing to give him.
A name that is writ large in Kingston, which enthusiastically claims him as its son, is that of Eadweard James MuyBridge, né Muggeridge. A green plaque indicates where he lived as a child. Muybridge, whose somewhat eventful life and achievements are described in this Wikipedia article, was an early adopter of photography for the purpose of studying human and animal movement. His sets of time-lapse photographs have become famous and are displayed both in scientific institutes and in art galleries, often using superposition techniques to turn the stills into virtual film sequences. His work gained popularity, being sold in phenakistoscopic devices (in which a series of images is displayed one by one through a hole or slit, creating the illusion of movement). Muybridge naturally features in Kingston Museum.
I am not sure whether or not I like the Guildhall building. On one hand it has a pleasant round shape and is certainly large and imposing, but on the other, it somehow looks inflated as though it’s about to burst its breeches. The foundation stone was laid in 1934 and the complex serves both Kingston Council and the Magistrates Court. It took over its role in 1935 from the old Guildhall, now called the Market House. In the courtyard lies a feature which is another source of pride to Kingston – you can just see it at bottom right in the above photo.
It now resides (having been moved many times) in a special enclosure where it is both protected and visible to the public. The enclosure is of an unusual heptagonal shape, for which there is, of course, a good reason.
“It” is of course the Kingston Coronation Stone upon which it is believed that seven 10th-century Anglo-Saxon kings were crowned. The stone has been moved several times, being used as a mounting block at one point, but has finally come to rest here where it receives the dignified attention due to an historical relic. For a potted history, involving inter alia collapsing chapels and female sextons, I can do no better than refer you to the account on the Royal Kingston Web site.
Past here runs Kingston’s second river, the Hogsmill, passing under this side of the Guildhall courtyard. I am told there are pleasant walk along the river as it runs into the countryside – something to explore on another day, perhaps.
Despite running through a town, the river is very much alive, as evidenced by the sighting of large fish – which I take to be trout – calmly lurking in the flow. The road crosses the river by an ancient (though modified) bridge, today known as the Clattern Bridge. A reference in an old document to what was then called the “Clateryngebrugge” suggests that the name is onomatopoeic, deriving from the clattering noise made by the hooves of horses crossing the bridge.
The Victorian Head Post Office (built 1875) is no longer used as such. It stands on a huge site, some of which is now used as a car park. At the far end is another smaller building bearing on its guttering the date 1907. Developers are no doubt itching to get their hands on the site but the above building is protected by a Grade II listing. The Edwardian building, however, may not survive as the listing describes it as being “of little interest”.
We passed by the old Bentall’s store, now part of the Bentall Centre shopping complex, which boasts that it contains over 80 shops and attracts over 14 million visitors a year. Our main interest now, however, was to round off our day by exploring Kingston’s famous market.
In many towns, markets are dying on their feet but today, Kingston Market presented a lively enough scene with crowds of shoppers and stalls offering all sorts of goods. In fact, there are two markets, this, the Ancient market, and another, the Monday Market. A market has existed here since time immemorial but this one was given its charter in 1628 by Charles I. This included an unusually advantageous clause banning the existence of any other market within a distance of 7 miles.
Because the Market Place was also where celebrations were held and important announcements made, it was appropriate that the Guildhall should be here, in the centre of things. Used as the Guildhall until 1935, when it was superseded by the new one (see above), it is now known as the Market House and accommodates the tourist information office. It was built between 1838 and 1840 and is now listed (Grade II).
Over the main entrance is a lead statue which could do with a bit of a clean. The date on the pedestal beneath the lady’s feet is MDCCVI (1706), revealing this to be one of our shortest reigning monarchs, Queen Anne. The statue originally stood on the previous Guildhall which Queen Anne extended.
Queen Anne may seem to be looking thoughtfully across at this Victorian drinking fountain, complete with its jug-bearing maiden. It was erected in 1882 in memory of one of Kingston’s more prominent citizens the story of whose service to his town came to an unusual and abrupt end. Let the dedicatory panel tell the tale:
Erected By Public Subscription
in memory of
HENRY SHRUBSOLE ESQ JP
Three times elected Mayor of this
Borough in 1877,1878 and 1879,
who died suddenly in the third year
of his office whilst presiding on an
occasion of Public Charity
18th January 1880.
“An Honourable Counsellor” St Mark XV.43
Dedicated to public use by
HRH The Duke of Cambridge K.C.
1st May 1882.