diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 11, 2010

Random borough (25): Kingston (part 1)

That's the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, to give it its full name (although there's not much Thames, and the royalty's long gone). London's southwesternmost borough is a long tongue of suburban hinterland poking into Surrey, to which it traditionally belongs. But it's not packed with fascinating tourist-worthy locations, which made exploring its leafy acres a tad challenging. I think I found enough to write about...

Somewhere historic: Kingston Museum
Opened in 1904, Kingston's museum sits on the ring road near the bus station. It's not a busy place - I was the only visitor there - although being attached to the library must help lure in folk from time to time. And yet it has a fascinating history to tell, because Kingston is one of only a handful of places in England to have hosted a coronation. Reputedly seven coronations, in fact, all Anglo-Saxon kings of whom the most famous was Ethelred the Unready. Westminster Abbey took over from Harold onwards, but back in the 10th century this Mercia/Wessex border town ruled. Amazingly Kingston's coronation stone still exists, despite having spent most of the 18th century used as a mounting block for horsemen in the Market Place. In 1935 it was reinstalled with due reverence outside the Guildhall, right next to the Mayor's parking space, where it's now fenced off and generally overlooked. [photo] [photo]

Kingston's coronations provide an amazing heritage for a London suburb, but don't expect to hear much about them in the borough museum where the 'Kings' bit is glossed over in two cases flat. Instead there's the usual whistlestop selection of flint axes and Roman hoards before the timeline screeches headlong into the second millennium. Kingston's riverside past is celebrated (watermen, swan upping, logboats), as is the Sopwith aircraft factory that developed to churn out Hawker Siddeley bombers in WW2. A separate gallery remembers pioneering Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge (ooh, early moving images) (mmm, panoramas of pre-quake San Francisco). But most of the central display could represent life in any major town around the country - all the usual museum stuff that appeals to schools on field trips. Everything feels a bit ordinary, a bit understated, and most definitely not packed with interactive flashy things for maximum modern appeal. And hurrah for that. If you're ever passing and you like your museums old school, enjoy the contents within. But don't rush.
by train: Kingston

Somewhere retail: Kingston
They're not really keen on tourists in Kingston. There used to be a well-stocked Visitor Information Centre in the old Town Hall in the Market Place [photo], but this shut down at the end of February. Now only a handful of non-useful leaflets remain in the foyer, and would-be tourists are directed instead to reception desks in far-flung hard-to-locate shops and offices. Never mind, I'm sure this has cut the council tax by a penny or two, so who's to complain? Kingston's visitor website is no better, praising the area as "one of the liveliest Royal London Boroughs" (there are only two). It thinks it knows what visitors want, and that's cash tills and steaming coffee. If you only have one hour to enjoy in Kingston, it advises, "....go shopping". So I did.

Kingston's shops are very popular (in London, second only to those in the West End). Some of them are enormous. There's a giant modern John Lewis which disfigures the view from Kingston Bridge, as well as the granddaddy of all things retail hereabouts - Bentalls. This department store's been serving Surrey since 1867, and its cliff-like frontage spans the length of an entire street. An equally-long glass-roofed shopping mall has been carved out behind [photo], its sparkly atrium higher than the nave of Westminster Abbey (Kingston may have lost its coronations, but they've won the war). Less gorgeous is the Eden Walk Shopping Centre, whose underwhelming architecture you can probably imagine once you know it was opened in the late 1970s. Move on - the surrounding pedestrianised streets are far more alluring.

On Saturday morning a throng of Conservative activists had descended onto Clarence Street, thrusting NHS leaflets and beaming Camerons into the hands of passing shoppers. Many of them sported navy blue "I back Zak" jackets in support of the multi-millionnaire banker's offspring who's currently trying to get himself elected around here. You might have assumed that Kingston would be prime Tory territory but no, the entire borough's currently a Lib Dem stronghold. Zak's pack were attracting decidedly less interest than the band of fresh-faced musicians busking in the precinct outside HSBC, but more interest than the bloke trying to flog helium balloons up the street.

Meanwhile one of Kingston's most famous attractions went almost ignored, except by me and my camera. A stream of shoppers walked straight past the famous set of tumbling red phone boxes in Old London Road, presumably because they've been there since 1989 and everybody local's got over the novelty shock value by now. The sculpture's called Out of Order, and would make a fantastic assault course scramble for big kids if only there weren't signs attached saying "No Climbing". Instead it merely acts as an artistic windbreak between a branch of Wilkinson and an Italian restaurant. Let's hope that Kingston's occasional tourists manage to stumble across it without directions. [photo] [photo]
by train: Kingston

Historic Kingston - guided walks (every Sunday, 2:30pm, £3)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream