Visit Kingston upon Thames today and you’ll find a busy university town, with shops to rival central London and a fabulous range of bars and restaurants, many with stunning riverside locations.
But look deeper into the history of this ancient town, and you’ll meet Saxon kings, Tudor martyrs, aviation innovators and even a very famous dog.
Read on for our complete guide to historic Kingston upon Thames.
A place of Saxon kings
The history of Kingston is central to the history of England. The first surviving record of the town dates from AD 838 when it hosted the meeting between King Egbert of Wessex and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ceolnoth. At that time Kingston was on the boundary of two ancient kingdoms; Wessex and Mercia, which were united in the tenth century by King Athelstan to create England.
Visit Kingston’s Guildhall, now the home of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames council, and you’ll find an ancient stone displayed in the grounds. Several tenth century Saxon kings were crowned in Kingston, including Egbert, Edward and Edmund and Athelston and it is believed this coronation stone was used in the ceremonies.
Kingston was also the site of various meetings and councils held by the Saxon kings and these regal connections gave the town its name. Kingston on Thames was originally called Cyninges Tun, which can be translated as the King’s estate.
Kingston’s royal connections waned after the Battle of Hastings – William the Conqueror was crowned in Westminster Abbey. However, the Doomsday Book records the town as belonging to William, along with assets including a church, five mills, 40 acres of meadow, and a woodland that was worth six hogs.
A prime location
With the river a significant form of transport, Kingston’s location on the Thames ensured its growth and by the 13th century it had a population of 1,500. It was an agricultural hub, where watermills ground grains into flour, crops were grown, and sheep were sheared. Salmon was fished in the Thames in those days too.
A bridge over the Thames at Kingston may have existed as far back as Anglo-Saxon times. The town was the first crossing point upstream of London Bridge until Putney Bridge was constructed in the 18th century. Trade blossomed, and Kingston was the site of weekly farmers’ markets and twice-yearly fairs.
Kingston is also home to the oldest surviving bridge in London. The 12th Century Clattern Bridge with its beautiful stone arches crosses the Thames tributary, the Hogsmill at the heart of the town’s busy High Street.
The Hampton Court effect
The town gained prominence in Tudor times when nearby Hampton Court Palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1520. The palace would become a residence of King Henry VIII – all of his six wives came here. Staffed in huge numbers, the palace boosted trade in the town significantly. Today Hampton Court is one of London’s unmissable historic monuments with stunning gardens, which include its 300-year-old maze.
During this period Kingston gained a grammar school and became a centre for industry, with the leather tanning, malting and brewing, and timber trades all thriving. More darkly, it was also the site of the burning of a Lollard; an early protestant martyr.
Plague, war and rebirth
The 17th century brought plague – decimating the population and trade alike – and war. In 1642, Kingston was caught in the grip of the English Civil War; the bloody conflict between crown and parliament that divided communities. Initially, Kingston was claimed by parliamentary forces, who withdrew after the Battle of Edgehill, leaving royalists to plunder the town.
By 1800 the population had grown to 8,000 and trade was flourishing. Once brewing was no more, other new concerns rose up in its place, including brick-making and the fledgling aircraft industry. For most of the 20th century, Kingston would be a major military aircraft manufacturing centre specialising in fighter planes. Many examples, including the Sopwith Camel and the Hawker Fury, were built in the town – you can see surviving aircraft in Surrey’s Brooklands Museum,
Famous sons and daughters
Kingston has its share of literary connections, featuring in the works of writers including DH Lawrence and Jane Austen. Notable Kingston residents include the novelist, John Galsworthy – author of the Forsythe Saga. More recently, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, the best-selling children’s writer and creator of Tracey Beaker, grew up in the town and attended Coombe Girls School, New Malden. Photographer and pioneer of early film Eadweard Muybridge was also born in Kingston. Meanwhile notable alumni of Kingston University include author Nick Hornby and rock legend Eric Clapton.
Kingston is the final resting place of Nipper the dog – the terrier which inspired the painting ‘His Master’s Voice’, used in the HMV logo. There is a plaque to Nipper in the Lloyds TSB bank on Clarence Street.
Find out more
Today Kingston is the local hub for some desirable residential areas; Coombe, for example, where you can find stunning and secluded properties within easy reach of the town centre. Search our full range of property for sale or contact us to find out more.