Saturday, January 23rd 2016
This is our second visit to the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, our first being nearly 4 years ago (see A walk around Kingston). Kingston is the most ancient of the eight Royal Boroughs (see Britain’s Royal Boroughs for more information), being awarded its regal status by King Athelsen in AD 925. Seven West Saxon kings were crowned on the coronation stone that is still to be seen beside the Guildhall. (For their names and dates, see below.)
The Thames, though useful for transport by water also forms a barrier to land travel, especially in ancient times when bridges were few and far between. By an accident of geography, the river was fordable here and the town that sprang up around the crossing was called Moreford, meaning ‘Great Ford’. The Saxons renamed it Cyningestun, meaning ‘King’s Estate’ and it is not hard to see how that name, after several twists and turns, became the modern one. Kingston’s coat of arms includes three salmon, a reminder that the Domesday Book mentions three salmon fisheries here. (See this page for description and explanation of symbols.)
We took the train to Kingston, arriving at the red brick station. This is the second station, built in 1935 and replacing that of 1863, but it, too, has recently been modified.
We were meeting a friend in the cafe at John Lewis’s and made our way thither, passing the impressive former Bentalls Department Store. Completed in 1935, it is today a Grade II listed building. Unfortunately, it looks better than it is because the interior was remodelled in the 1990s and the whole is now part of a large shopping complex. Still, I suppose preserving the exterior is better than nothing.
We took the exit from John Lewis’s that leads to the river bank and here had a good view of Kingston Bridge. There was already a bridge here by at least Anglo-Saxon times, and a wooden one survived, though in an increasingly parlous condition, until it partially collapsed in 1814. Parliament granted permission for a new bridge to be built and a competition was launched to obtain designs. The winning design was of an iron bridge but this plan was abandoned on grounds of cost and replaced by the one in stone which we see today and was formally opened in 1828.
We rambled for a while in a downstream direction along the river. The weather was overcast and threatening rain and the scene was therefore not as colourful as it might have been in brighter weather. The bridge you can see in the above photo is the Kingston Railway Bridge, opened in 1907, replacing the first bridge of 1863.
Our stroll took us as far as this structure, Kingston Town End Pier. Because a principal occupant of the premises is Turk’s Launches Ltd., it is also called Turk’s Pier. To judge from the fact that the design includes a clock tower (just visible in the photo), I think this must have been an important and comely building in its day but I have not been able to discover its age or anything else about it.
Just as I took the photo, someone entered the frame. As we turned back at this point, I didn’t have time to wait for another clear shot so I edited out the intruder later. See whether you can spot where this person entered the scene (and was removed). If you can, tell me in a comment, giving your reasons, and I will either confirm or deny, as appropriate. There are no prizes for the correct answer, however!
We turned back, now walking upstream, and passed under the Kingston Bridge. Some way beyond it we came to the Hogsmill river which runs through the town and discharges its waters into the Thames. Looking along it, we can see a tower which we will encounter again later.
At various points along the Thames barges are moored. These might once have carried merchandise along the river but today most have been transformed into houseboats. Some are decorated in weird and wonderful ways. This one had a miniature garden on board, including model garden furniture, a toy inflatable bathing pool and several animal figures, among them a penguin.
We saw several teams of rowers in training, their progress monitored by trainers in powered launches shouting instructions through megaphones. I imagine that the source of this colourful activity was the Kingston Rowing Club.
Our friend had wanted to show us the Roman Catholic Church of St Raphael but we found it closed and could look at it only from outside. Designed by Charles Parker and completed in 1848, it is a Grade II* listed building and is probably worth exploring. Perhaps we shall get a chance to see inside on another occasion.
A second friend was supposed to join us but he been delayed. We went to the Rose Theatre to wait and give him an easy place in which to find us. The theatre opened in 2008 and is designed with a thrust stage, as it is called. That is, a stage that projects into the audience.
We didn’t see anything of this, though, as we spent our time comfortably seated in the theatre cafe, drinking tea and conversing.
The first friend had to leave us and with the second we made a foray into town. We visited the Guildhall, whose square tower you can see in the view looking along the Hogsmill. The Guildhall is situated beside that river and was completed in 1935. Despite its relatively young age it has secured a Grade II listing which describes it as a ‘Neo Georgian red brick building with Portland stone dressings and tiled roof. Semi-circular plan.’
Though in a general view the building seems fairly plain in design, this photo of a doorway shows intricate decoration and attention to detail in carving and modelling.
I mentioned above the coronation stone on which seven West Saxon kings are said to have been crowned. The stone is now a Grade I listed building and the listing text tells us something of its history:
The stone on which the West Saxon Kings are traditionally said to have been crowned during the C10. The stone is not mentioned by Leland or Camden, but is traditionally said to have been preserved in the chapel of St Mary which fell down in 1730. It was then placed outside the Town Hall (on the site of the present Market House in the Market Place) and used as a mounting block until 1850 when it was moved to its present position.
Let’s hope that the Grade I listing will ensure that it is treated henceforth with the dignity that it deserves. Around it are recorded the names and coronation dates of the seven kings who were crowned upon it: Edward the Elder (AD 900), Athelsen (AD 925), Edmund (AD 939), Eadred (AD 946), Eadwig (AD 956), Edward the Martyr (AD 975) and Ethelred the Unready (AD 979).
The seven West Saxon kings were not unfamiliar with war but could not have imagined the degree of destruction that would visit their land and the whole of the UK in two great wars less than a millennium after their time. Kingston’s war memorial, its allegorical figure sculpted by Richard Reginald Goulden, was unveiled in 1923 in memory of the horrors of the First World War but needed to be altered only a couple of decades later to remember another conflagration.
We drifted, as I think you inevitably do in Kingston, towards the market square. In front of All Saints Church is an impressive set of iron gates. In the church there is a chapel dedicated to the East Surrey Regiment and the gates form part of the memorial to those members of the regiment who fell in both world wars. The gates were installed following the 1914-18 war and dedicated on Armistice Day (November 11th), 1924.
Nearby by is this rather splendid piece of architecture. On the ground floor there is now a shopfront, added in the 19th century but I imagine that the building was originally a house. It was built in the 15th century but inevitably suffered some alterations later, particularly in the 18th century. The façade sports some fine mouldings on historical themes. The building is Grade II listed.
And so into the market, albeit for for just a short visit. There is so much to see in this area that I think it would merit a visit just for itself alone. The lively market is dominated by a large and handsome building called Market House. This Grade II* listed building was completed in 1840 to be the Guildhall, which purpose it served until 1935 when the new Guildhall (mentioned above) replaced it.
Over the main entrance stands a statue of Queen Anne. The original Guildhall was built on this site in 1505 and was constructed of wood. It lasted reasonably well, being restored during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, until the early 18th century when a costly refurbishment was carried out. I don’t know whether Queen Anne contributed in some way but on completion of the work, Francis Bird was commissioned to sculpt a large likeness of her to be displayed outside the building. The statue is made of lead and gilded. Its present bright appearance is owing to regilding that took place in 2012. When the old Guildhall was finally replaced in 1840, Queen Anne was given a prominent place in front of the new one.
Directly within Queen Anne’s field of vision, were she able to see, would be the drinking fountain. I photographed it this time and on my last visit and thus noticed an unfortunate change.
Installed in 1882 in honour of Henry Shrubsole Esq. JP, it was, when I saw it in 2012, intact with the lady holding the vessel on her shoulder with a good left arm.
And this is how she appears today, having lost part of her arm. Whether this was the result of collision with a large vehicle or owing to decay with age, I do not know. I hope she can be restored and will check on her on my next visit.
Thus our visit to Kingston ended on a slightly sad note but this charming place still has many treasures entire and we shall no doubt return another time.