12 HOURS IN AND AROUND KINGSTON UPON THAMES
WORDS BY MAHRUKH MCDONALD
More than 1,000 years ago, Kingston was where England began. Seven Anglo-Saxon kings, including the first King of England, were crowned here from the years 900 to 978. Today, Kingston upon Thames is the main town in the Royal Borough of Kingston in south west London. It’s just 10 miles from the centre of London (a 25-minute train ride from Waterloo) and next door to one of the best palaces in England – Hampton Court.
When you exit Kingston station, cross the road and turn left. Within a few minutes you’ll reach Old London Road, where you cannot miss the modern art installation called “Out Of Order” by David Mach. It consists of 12 tumbling full size red telephone boxes, the first one upright with the rest tilted to various degrees until the final one is almost flat on the ground – like dominoes. This is where your tour of Kingston will begin.
A few yards beyond the telephone boxes is Kingston Antiques on Old London Road. It is a treasure trove packed full of antique clothing, jewellery, furniture, and just about anything anyone can imagine. If you haven’t had breakfast, stop off at the little Polish Café on the upper level that serves a selection of food from sandwiches, salads, full English breakfast to Polish dishes like Pieroggi (Polish ravioli with meat or sauerkraut and mushrooms or potato and cheese).
Just around the corner from the Out Of Order art is an interesting bit of history about a dog called Nipper. A Kingston artist painted the famous HMV logo on which his dog, Nipper, appears. He was named Nipper because he would "nip" the backs of people’s legs! The celebrity dog is buried in a narrow street that has been renamed Nipper Alley in commemoration. You can easily miss it, because the only sign is up on the wall at the start of the alley. Look out for the Kings Tun, a Wetherspoons pub, and you’ll find Nipper Alley adjacent to it.
Clarence Street is the main shopping precinct and is a pedestrian-only street. Often, especially on weekends, you can enjoy fabulous street performances ranging from music, magic, and acrobats. The Bentalls Centre is a landmark shopping centre that was founded in 1867. Between 1935 and 1976, it was UK’s largest department store outside of London. It is now home to many high street shops like Gap, Monsoon, Boots etc. tastefully set out on a number of floors. Bentalls still exists at the far end, and the façade has been retained and is heritage listed.
After exiting the Bentalls Centre, walk down Church Street to All Saints Church which has beautiful stained-glass windows and a café inside the church. If you’re lucky, you could be enjoying tea and cake during a cello and piano recital. This was the site of the coronation of the very first king of England. When the church was built the Coronation Stone was moved to behind the Guildhall building.
The heart of Kingston is its bustling market square, which dates back to 1242. From 1603, livestock was sold in the market square on Saturdays, but it was moved to another location in 1625 after the local chemist complained about unwanted visitors – sheep! – entering his shop.
The Market Square, with the brilliant gold statue of Queen Anne atop the Market House building and beautiful Tudor architecture, is home to a variety of shops and several market stalls, including the artisan Oliver’s Bakery (don’t miss the “Naughty Chocolate Brownie”) and many food stalls offering authentic, inexpensive foods from around the world.
There are often a long queue at the famous Phoreal Vietnamese food stall. The menu is limited, but everything on it is delicious. The Pho is particularly good, as is the roast pork. Namu is another favourite offering shoppers authentic Japanese gyozo, katsu, tempura, and curries, or perhaps the enticing spicy aromas may attract you to the Exotic Tangine that serves authentic Moroccan dishes. The food at the stalls represent excellent value for the quality and is very popular with hungry shoppers and day trippers.
On a hot afternoon, stop off for a welcome drink at the Druid’s Head pub in the square. Located in a beautiful 16th century building, it offers traditional pub food and a wide range of beers and other drinks.
Just a five-minute stroll from the market square, busy cafés line the Thames along the Riverside Walk. Outside dining is popular in good weather with restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisines, including English (Bill’s), Thai (Busaba Eathai), Argentinian (CAU Steak Restaurant), Italian (Al Forno Restaurant) or the Riverside Vegetaria for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes.
Even if you have already filled your stomach with street food in Market Square, the Riverside Walk is a wonderful place to while away your time in a stunning location, watching ducks and swans float by and rowers competing against each other while enjoying a desert, drink, or ice cream at one of the Riverside restaurants.
Walk under the arch of the bridge to the huge department store building of John Lewis and by the mosaic outside you will come across one of Kingston’s hidden gems. Look through the large glass window panes to see a 650-year-old chalk and flint-barrel vaulted cellar of the old Rose and Crown Inn that stood at this spot. Right next to it are the remains of two stone pillars that supported a flimsy wooden bridge built in 1219, only one of two bridges across the River Thames until 1729 when Putney Bridge was built. The bridge fell victim to destruction during the War of the Roses in the 1400s.
Another 5-minute walk along the river, you come to Turks Pier where you can take a leisurely paddle boat river cruise between Richmond, Kingston, and Hampton Court, taking in the beautiful scenery along the way. You can also stop off and see Hampton Court. However, Hampton Court is massive and really requires a separate visit to see it properly.
After docking back at Turks Pier, walk towards Kingston Bridge (also called Horse Fair) down Riverside Walk till you get to Charter Quay. Just a short walk along this inlet till you come to the historic Clattern Bridge, the oldest surviving bridge in London built around 1175.
Opposite Clattern Bridge is a semi-circular building, the Guildhall. To the right of this building you will see the Coronation Stone, an ancient stone block believed to have been the site of the coronation of the first kings of England. It rests on a plinth with the names of seven kings inscribed around it. When the All Saints Church was built in 1120, the stone was moved to its current location but there are plans to move the stone back to its original place in or next to the All Saints Church.
Right next to Clattern Bridge is the famous Rose Theatre where you can catch a show. Shows usually start at 7.30 p.m. giving you time to enjoy a light refreshment at the theatre before the show.
There are many eateries right next to the Rose Theatre or you can choose to enjoy a meal at one of the Riverside restaurants. Kingston has many other excellent restaurants and pubs, some of which have live music. If you are not ready to return home yet, you can go clubbing at the Pryzm on Clarence Street, the Hippodrome on St. James Road, or the Bacchus Late Bar.
All photographs by Mahrukh McDonald except feature photograph copyright gb27photo - stock.adobe.com