This year the ancient town of Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey celebrates the 800th anniversary of its earliest-surviving charter — granted to the town by King John in 1208.
Although 21st century traffic thunders around its confusing one-way system, much of the town’s medieval layout can still be discovered in the busy shopping streets that radiate from its historic market square, where ancient buildings jostle with Victorian and modern additions.
Situated to the southwest of London, Kingston is sandwiched between two of the capital’s greatest amenities: the Thames and Richmond Park. This, plus an easy 30-minute commute by train to Waterloo, excellent schools and a good choice of family houses, has made Kingston a draw for families, and it is not as pricey as Wimbledon and Richmond, where houses cost at least 20 per cent more.
As many as seven Saxon kings may have been crowned there on the famous coronation stone, which still stands outside the Guildhall, hence the name “town of kings”. Surrey County Council is one of the town’s major employers, a legacy from the days - before the formation of the GLC in 1964 - when Kingston was the county town of Surrey. Although the town has its own KT postcode, many residents still use Surrey in their postal address. River users always refer to the south bank as the Surrey side.
With the exception of the City of London, the borough of Kingston, which includes Surbiton, New Malden, Tolworth and Chessington, is London’s smallest borough, with a population of less than 150,000. It is the safest of all the 32 London boroughs, having the lowest level of burglaries and car crime, and after Richmond-on-Thames it is the second-least deprived.
'Kingston is famous for shopping, and has the seventh-largest retail centre in the UK'
These days, Kingston is famous for its shopping. There is a market in the main square, and with more than 3.5 million square feet of retail space, it is the seventh-largest retail centre in the UK. There is a wide selection of high-street names and independent retailers. There are two big department stores, John Lewis and Bentalls, the latter housed in a covered mall of 75 shops, known as The Bentall Centre.
Charter Quay is a new mixed-used development hidden away between the market square and the river. The new flats overlook a riverside piazza with bars and cafés, where, on a sunny day, shoppers relax in the sunshine while watching the swans and ducks on the river.
The development also houses Kingston’s new Rose Theatre. Modelled on the Elizabethan Rose theatre in Southwark, it opened in January with a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya directed by Sir Peter Hall, who has a close association with the theatre and is bringing a number of productions to the venue this autumn.
Kingston has plenty of top-performing schools that are highly rated by Ofsted. Primary schools include St Luke’s CofE in Acre Road; Latchmere Junior in Latchmere Road; St Agatha’s RC in St Agatha’s Drive; and Coombe Hill Junior in Coombe Lane West, all judged excellent by Ofsted. St John’s CofE in Portland Road is rated good with outstanding features; Fern Hill in Richmond Road is very good; and St Paul’s C of E in Princes Road is rated good.
Kingston council has two grammar schools, Tiffin and Tiffin Girls’ School, both of which come top or near the top of London’s state-school league tables. Private schools include Kingston Grammar, which takes boys and girls, King’s College School in Wimbledon for boys and Wimbledon High for girls. Rokeby is a popular prep school and Marymount is a private Catholic girls’ school where pupils sit the International Baccalaureate. Both are on the Coombe estate.
'Large Victorian houses are between 20 and 25 per cent cheaper than similar houses in Wimbledon village'
Clive Moon of estate agents Savills specialises in selling large houses on the Coombe estate and in and around the Liverpool Road conservation area close to Richmond Park. He says: “The large five- and six-bedroom Victorian houses in Liverpool Road, Crescent Road and Queens Road are now selling for between £1.85 million and £2.3 million, which is between 20 and 25 per cent cheaper than similar houses in Wimbledon village. The Coombe estate has spacious houses sitting on large plots. It is similar to St George’s Hill and the Wentworth estate but closer to London, and it also has the Coombe Wood Golf Club.
“A lot of the smaller houses are now being knocked down and rebuilt, and houses on half-acre plots are selling for between £2 million and £3 million as building plots. The key roads are Coombe Park Road, Warren Road, Warren Cutting, George Road and Stoke Road.”
Neil Gibson of local agents Gibson Lane sells houses in the rest of Kingston. “Flats in new developments such as Charter Quay now start at £325,000 for one with a river view and £240,000 in Royal Quarter,” he says. “Apart from new flats, most of the houses in Kingston are Victorian. South of the high street, two-bedroom cottages in the Fairfield/Knights Park conservation area sell for about £300,000. The houses in the Grove Crescent conservation area are mainly divided into flats; some are let to students at nearby Kingston University, others are bought by first-time buyers who pay about £190,000 for a one- bedroom flat.
“The Richmond Road conservation area straddles the Richmond Road, which runs from the town centre to Richmond. Albany Park Road is one of the best roads in Kingston, with large double-fronted houses selling for about £2.5 million. On the other side of Richmond Road there are attractive gable-fronted detached houses, starting at about £500,000. The council now allows raised roof extensions, which give an extra bedroom and bathroom, and these go for as much as £800,000.
Gibson’s tip is the fast-improving area around Norbiton station. “You can find gable-fronted houses for £480,000 in Cobham, Chesham and Chatham roads, and new shops and restaurants are moving in. Also, the Thirties mock-Tudor houses on the Tudor estate at the northern end of Richmond Road are good value for money, with three-bedroom houses starting at £350,000.”
Local council and education authority: Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames (020 8547 5757). Band D council tax for 2008/09 £1,579.57.
Schools: primary schools highly rated by Ofsted are: St Luke’s CofE in Acre Road; Latchmere Junior in Latchmere Road; St Agatha’s RC in St Agatha’s Drive; Coombe Hill Junior in Coombe Lane West; St John’s CofE in Portland Road; Fern Hill in Richmond Road; and St Paul’s CofE in Princes Road. Kingston council has two grammar schools, Tiffin and Tiffin Girls’ School. Private schools include Kingston Grammar, which is mixed; in nearby Wimbledon there are King’s College School for boys and Wimbledon High for girls; in nearby Hampton, there are Lady Eleanor Holles for girls and Hampton School for boys.
Leisure centres: Kingfisher Leisure Centre (020 8546 1042) and David Lloyd (020 8974 7440) at the Rotunda both have swimming pools and there is an all-year-round lido at Hampton (020 8255 1116).
Theatre: Rose Theatre (0871 230 1552).
Art gallery: Stanley Picker Gallery (020 8547 8074) on Kingston University’s Knights Park campus.
Cinema: The Rotunda has a 14-screen Odeon cinema (0871 2244 007).
Museum: Kingston Museum (020 8547 6460) houses the important bequest of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who pioneered moving pictures and was born in Kingston.
Pictures by Barry Phillips