In this Insider Guide, we’ll take a journey through time to uncover the historical gems and captivating stories that make Kingston upon Thames a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and travellers alike, and explore how you can celebrate Kingston’s Heritage Festival in September.
All Saints Church
Although the All Saints Church we see today was built in 1120, there is evidence to suggest that a church existed in Saxon times on the same site where King Egbert of Wessex held his Royal Council in 838 AD. It is believed that this is the site that held as many as seven royal coronations, including King Athelstan in 925 AD.
The Church is full of relics and artefacts from throughout the years, so stop by and learn a bit more about All Saints Church and Kingston’s history!
Clattern Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in London, built around 1175 during the Norman era, and replacing an earlier Saxon bridge. The name ‘Clattern’ derives from the clattering of horses’ hooves crossing the cobbles of the bridge.
The bridge was also featured in the annual game of football on Shrove Tuesday, a tradition which allegedly began in the 8th century. The townspeople would compete to get the ball in one of the two goals – these goals were Clattern Bridge and Kingston Bridge. However, in the 1800s, this game was moved to a local playing field.
Ancient Market Place
Kingston has been a market town since the Saxon period, and in the late 12th century, the Ancient Market Place was laid out to the south of All Saints Church. The Market House was built in 1840 in the Italianate style and served as the town hall until 1935. The Market House is characterised by the gilded statue of Queen Anne, often mistaken for Queen Victoria, and sculpted by Francis Bird who has previously sculpted statues and monuments including another Queen Anne tribute, originally in St Paul’s Cathedral.
While you’re wandering the Ancient Market Place, take a look at the beautiful historic buildings dotted around – Anthropologie, on the North side, has a mock-Tudor facade which was added to the existing Edwardian building in the twentieth century. Right next door is one of the oldest buildings in Kingston, dating back to the 1500s and is now home to The White Company. Also in the Market Place is The Druid’s Head, Kingston’s oldest pub which dates back to the early 16th century, and is a Grade II listed building.
The Coronation Stone was originally south of the Ancient Market Place but was moved to the Guildhall in 1935. It is an ancient Sarsen stone block (the same stone used for building Stonehenge), which is believed to have been the site of the coronation of seven Anglo-Saxon Kings including Athelstan in 925, Eadred in 946, and Ethelred the Unready in 979.
Kingston Bridge was first built in stone in 1825 and widened twice in 1914 and 1998. If you follow the path 100 feet downstream, behind John Lewis, you can see the location (marked in cobbles) of the original wooden bridge of the 12th century, which until the 18th Century was the only crossing over the Thames apart from London Bridge. The bridge is a Grade II Listed Structure.
The first stone was laid by the Earl of Liverpool at a ceremony on 7 November 1825 and the bridge was opened by the Duchess of Clarence (the future Queen Adelaide) on 17 July 1828 – the main shopping road, Clarence Street, is named in her honour.
You may recognise Nipper from HMV’s logo, or the famous painting ‘His Master’s Voice’ by Francis Barraud – but did you know that Nipper is buried in Kingston?
Nipper lived in Kingston until his death in 1895, and in 2010, a road near his resting site was named in his honour.
Eadweard Muybridge was a pioneering photographer born in Kingston upon Thames, and Kingston Museum is fortunate to hold Eadweard Muybridge’s personal collection, which he generously donated to the museum in 1904.
The Muybridge Collection consists of around 2,500 glass lantern slides, 67 unique glass zoopraxiscope discs, a rare panorama of San Francisco taken in 1878, over 150 collotype prints, and equipment used by Muybridge during lectures he gave while touring the United States and Europe in the 1880s and 1890s. His collection is a must-see for visitors, especially those with an interest in art, science, or entertainment!
KINGSTON’S HERITAGE FESTIVAL
ESEA Festival: Get ready to embark on an exhilarating journey through East and South East Asian culture! The stage is set as the Korean British Culture Exchange presents the first East and South East Asian Festival in Kingston. On the 15th of September, at the Ancient Market Place, brace yourself for an epic Random Dance Challenge at 5 pm. It’s a showdown of moves and grooves, a battle of rhythm and finesse that will leave you awestruck. Then, on the 16th of September, we dive headfirst into the Autumn Moon Festival – an entire day of music, dance, delicious street food, authentic craft stalls, and martial arts demonstrations. Starting at 2 pm, the stage will come alive with a fusion of alternative pop, featuring incredibly talented performers hailing from Nepal, the Philippines, Korea, and Thailand. All under the mesmerising direction of the brilliant rap artist, PianWoo. This is not just a festival; it’s a cultural extravaganza that promises to ignite your senses and leave you with unforgettable memories. For all the juicy details, be sure to check out their website.
FUSEBOX: FUSEBOX is more than just a venue; it’s a dynamic, multi-arts space designed to inspire creativity for young minds. Created and operated by the team at Creative Youth, a local youth arts charity, FUSEBOX is the place where young talents will flourish, innovative ideas will spark to life, and imaginations will run wild. But that’s not all—FUSEBOX is not just an arts haven; it’s a living piece of Kingston’s heritage. Beneath the space are the ancient remnants of Kingston Bridge’s Saxon foundations and the Undercroft. From the 15th to the 17th of September 2023, between 11am-5pm, immerse yourself in the heritage displays that tell the compelling story of our town’s past. Discover the wonders that lie within.
Dorich House Museum: The once-private studio of renowned sculptor Dora Gordine and the Hon. Richard Hare is open to the public every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout September for free! You’re invited to venture the corridors of this artistic haven and soak in the beauty of the house and its lush gardens at your own pace, or take a guided tour for some historical tales. If you need a breather, take a pitstop at the Studio Cafe for a cup of tea and cake! Book on the Open House website here.
Guildhall & History Centre: Built in the Georgian style, the Guildhall brought together Kingston’s administrative functions. Purpose-built Magistrates Courts were included in the building, part of which are now home to Kingston History Centre. Due to the special character of the courts, the conversion of the space was to be accomplished through a careful restoration project guided by Historic England. Kingston History Centre opened in October 2015. To find out more, book a tour on the website here!
Kingston Museum: Adjoining Grade II listed Carnegie-funded library, museum and art gallery. Museum holdings range from ceramics to topographical drawings, including the collection left by Eadweard Muybridge, a native of Kingston and photographic pioneer. Book your exciting tour here!
Guided Tours & Talks
Kingston Tour Guides: Embark on an enchanting journey through the rich tapestry of Kingston with this captivating guided walk on September 16th and 17th. Meet beneath the regal Golden Queen statue at 11am in the Ancient Market Place, and your adventure begins! Discover hidden gems and unravel fascinating stories – for more information, click here!
Museum Curator’s Talk & Tour of Kingston Museum: On the vibrant canvas of Kingston Festival and Open House weekend, don’t miss your chance to step into the captivating world of Kingston Museum. Join the insightful Curator, Stephanie Chapman, for an immersive journey through time and architecture on Saturday, September 16th. There are two exciting sessions to choose from: one at 11 am and the other at 2 pm, and guess what? No reservations needed—just drop in and let the adventure unfold. Delve into the museum’s rich history and marvel at its architectural wonders, purposefully designed back in 1904. As you explore, keep an eye out for hidden treasures like an ancient coal post, seventeenth-century stained glass, and a truly unique portrayal of the Queen of May. It’s a discovery you won’t want to miss!
Global Threads: Calling all culture enthusiasts and fabric aficionados! From the 13th to 30th September, the Rose Theatre is hosting Global Threads, an extraordinary exhibition delves deep into textile heritage, showcasing the colourful and inspiring traditions of its diverse communities. Prepare to uncover the secrets of block-printed borders, knots that transform into buttons, and the intricate meanings woven into motifs and symbols that define these timeless textile traditions. This is a free event, running between 10am – 6pm.
Bowie & Beyond: Step back in time and witness the electrifying transformation of David Bowie into the iconic Ziggy Stardust, all while uncovering his ties to Kingston’s vibrant music scene. The adventure begins with the pivotal moment when Bowie unleashed Ziggy at Tolworth’s legendary Toby Jug in February 1972, and delves into the magic of his triumphant return for a gig at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University) in May 1972. Bowie, in his Ziggy persona, becomes a living embodiment of the ever-evolving trends in Kingston’s art, music, and pop fashion scene during this era. Get yourself to the Museum quickly, as Bowie & Beyond is only on until the 16th September!
Creative Flow: Running from September 29th to April 13th 2024, this mesmerising exhibition showcases the river as a source of inspiration for art throughout the years, even inspiring Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. With a captivating exploration of Kingston Museum’s rich collection of river views and an array of contemporary artists’ masterpieces, this exhibition explores artistic fascination with being ‘upon Thames’ and mirrors the ever-evolving character of Kingston’s riverside. Dive into the creative currents at Kingston Museum this Heritage Month – find out more on the website here.
From its Saxon origins and medieval market town status to its royal connections and contributions to modern transportation, Kingston upon Thames is a place where history comes alive at every turn. As you stroll through its picturesque streets, you’ll uncover a tapestry of stories that paint a vivid picture of this charming town’s rich history. So, whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply seeking a delightful destination with a deep historical heritage, Kingston upon Thames is sure to leave you captivated and inspired.