A town guide to Kingston Upon Thames

Out of Order by David Mach was refrubished last year. Image: Jody_Kingzett

Out of Order by David Mach was refrubished last year. Image: Jody_Kingzett - Credit: Archant

One of the south east’s premier shopping destinations, Kingston upon Thames is a hugely popular destination to get into the festive spirit but it is a beautiful town to explore too.

Kingston's iconic Ancient Market Place. Image: Jody_Kingzett

Kingston's iconic Ancient Market Place. Image: Jody_Kingzett - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of thousands of people normally flock to the shopper’s paradise of Kingston upon Thames to fill their stockings and enjoy a mulled wine or two at the annual Christmas Market during the festive season.

At the time of writing, the shape of this year’s celebrations due to tightening government restrictions, looks a little different to normal but what remains certain is that Kingston is a beautiful town to visit at any time of the year.

Dating back to 1828 and replacing ancient crossings that had long provided an important link across the River Thames, the iconic Kingston Bridge and its magnificent arches are the centrepiece to the town’s riverside location.

Here you can while away hours in the modern waterside bars or restaurants watching stand-up paddleboarders, leisure cruisers and wildlife float by.

Boating on The Thames at Kingstin. Image: Jody_Kingzett

Boating on The Thames at Kingstin. Image: Jody_Kingzett - Credit: Archant

There are wonderful walks in either direction too, with Petersham and Richmond Park to the north and Surbiton and Hampton Court Palace providing much to enjoy in the other direction.

A town of strategic historical importance, Kingston is built on medieval roots and one of only five royal boroughs in England and Wales. It even derives its name from its royal heritage, with Kinges Tun meaning a royal farm or estate.

If you head into the town centre these days, you will find the Coronation Stone in the grounds of the Guildhall, near the 12th century Clattern Bridge. It is the spot where seven Saxon kings are thought to have been crowned.

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Blending ‘city’ life with a countryside feel, Kingston is a bustling town centre surrounded by pristine countryside, with the likes of Bushy Park, Hampton Court Palace and Richmond Park all on the doorstep.

Bentalls has been at the heart of Kingston for over 150 years. Image: Jody_Kingzett

Bentalls has been at the heart of Kingston for over 150 years. Image: Jody_Kingzett - Credit: Archant

Such inspiring scenes have meant that Kingston has always been a vibrant town with a colourful arts and music history.

The Rose Theatre, for instance, has punched well above its weight since opening in 2008, often drawing all-star casts and audiences and when it has been allowed to open in recent months, has pressed ahead with shows such as Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved Stick Man.

The independent record shop, Banquet Records, also regularly achieves national headlines with its ambitious events (Stormzy at the Rose Theatre in January, for instance) and community spirit. These are tough times for all in the arts, and fingers will be crossed for a return to normal business in 2021.

The town’s cultural history even blends into its town centre shops these days with Kingston Canvas, a collaboration between Kingston First and Kingston School of Art, adding a splash of colour to empty retail units.

READ MORE: Reasons to visit Limpsfield.

Public art is nothing new in Kingston, of course, and you will have probably visited or seen pictures of the town’s famous tumbling telephone box sculpture, Out of Order by David Mach, in Old London Road. Refurbished last year, the sculpture is more than 30 years old now and marks the start of an area famous for its independent shops.

To complete your art fix, look into visiting Kingston University’s Stanley Picker Gallery, which is open to the public and dedicated to innovative art, design and architecture.

Suffice to say, inspiration is found around every corner in Kingston and enterprising folk will be looking to find creative ways to keep spirits high through the festive season whatever challenges they may face.

A striking feature of the town in its own right, The Bentall Centre opened its doors in 1992 but it grew from a department store established in 1867. Its arched atrium stands taller than the dome at St Paul’s Cathedral and its eye-catching façade was designed by Maurice Webb in 1935 and inspired by Wren’s design for Hampton Court Palace.

Elsewhere, shoppers can explore the likes of John Lewis, Eden Walk and, of course, the Ancient Market Place with its selection of fresh fruit and veg, international cuisine, jewellery and crafts stalls as well as a sprinkle of festive wonder this December.

As for wining and dining, Kingston is a melting pot of international cuisine. Whether you’re looking for a riverside haven at The Boaters Inn, an independent traditional pub at The Wych Elm, something for the beer lovers at The Albion, vegetarian paradise at Riverside Vegetaria, a caffeine fix at Beanberry Coffee Company, afternoon tea at Warren House, Turkish delights at Cappadocia… well, you get the idea. There are also a whole host of great independents in neighbouring Surbiton, including Surrey restaurant royalty in the form of The French Table.

If you’re looking to enjoy the fresh air, you can’t go wrong checking out the Kingston Heritage Trails from Kingston University and Kingston Museum (find them at kingstontrails.com/trails). They showcase the town’s history, heritage, famous landmarks and beauty spots perfectly.

Whatever rules and regulations may be in place this Christmas, Kingston is a magical destination for a shopping trip or a wrapped-up winter walk.

Secret Surrey

After some 127 years based in County Hall in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey County Council is moving its headquarters firmly into Surrey heartland near Reigate in January. That, of course, was no secret at all, although many were surprised that Guildford or Woking were not the chosen destination. The grade II-listed building is set to be redeveloped. The striking building has made regular film and TV appearances over the years, featuring in the likes of Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Silk, Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. As an aside, the County Hall architect, Charles Henry Howell, also designed Brookwood and Cane Hill lunatic asylums in Surrey

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