The ancient market town of Kingston in south-west London has been subject to the vagaries of local government boundary changes. A London borough for over 50 years, it was for many years the county town of Surrey. To this day county hall remains in the town, where it is one of the largest employers.
Kingston is a major London retail hub and with the planned redevelopment of the Eden Walk shopping centre, now home to branches of M&S, Sainsbury’s and Heal’s, it is about to get even bigger.
The plan is to triple Eden Walk’s retail space, add a cinema, a new dining terrace and 385 flats. Joint developers British Land and pension fund managers USS expect to start building next year.
Estate agent Peter Knowles, of the local branch of Hamptons, says Kingston’s other main attractions are its riverside location, proximity to lovely Richmond Park, and its schools.
The recently renovated Market Place has new street food kiosks watched over by a gilded statue of Queen Anne who looks down from her perch above the entrance of the early Victorian listed Market House, so loved by locals that last year they petitioned to stop it being turned into a pizza restaurant.
The town’s other big employer is Kingston University London, based south of the town centre in Penrhyn Road.
Work starts this month on its new Town House development, which the university describes as its “new front door” — with the added bonus of providing the town with a new landscaped garden and an event space for 300 people.
Kingston still remembers its ancient history, as the place where at least three 10th-century Saxon kings were crowned, while the famous Coronation Stone, said to have been rescued from St Mary’s Church when it collapsed in 1730, now sits in the grounds of the Guildhall. More recent history saw Kingston as the centre of British aviation.
For much of the 20th century, iconic aircraft from the Sopwith Camel to the Hawker Hurricane to the Harrier Jump Jet were designed and built in the town.
Aviation enthusiast and historian Bill Downey who, with his colleague David Hassard ran a Heritage Lottery-funded oral history project at the university, says one of the few reminders are the Hurricane propellers embedded in the fencing around Sopwith House, a block of flats in Sigrist Square, built on the site of the Hawker Siddeley factory in Canbury Park Road.
The history is now being recorded on the Kingston Aviation website, while plaques are being erected at key sites and in September there will be an event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the plant in Richmond Road that churned out thousands of planes during the First and Second World Wars.
Kingston is 12 miles south-west of central London with Ham to the north, Coombe and New Malden to the east, Surbiton to the south and Hampton to the west.
Hamptons’ Peter Knowles says it is the quality of schools that brings families to the area. “We have a lot of ‘outstanding’ primary schools and our new comprehensive school, The Kingston Academy, looks to be heading in the same direction.”
The property scene
Kingston has a good supply of Victorian houses with everything from two to six bedrooms and the most popular area is North Kingston.
A particular feature is Victorian semi-detached cottages with the door at the side rather than the front and an internal layout with the staircase in the middle of house rather than at the side.
There are also pockets of Victorian villas and houses in the Fairfield/Knight’s Park and Grove Crescent conservation areas south of the town centre.
Many new riverside flats have been built over the last 15 years, most notably Charter Quay, off Market Place, Kingston Riverside and Royal Quarter.
The Coombe area off Kingston Hill and Coombe Lane West has some of London’s most expensive homes, including large detached houses in big plots. In recent years many of the original smaller houses have been demolished and new gated mansions built with gyms, indoor pools or home cinemas.
The most expensive house now for sale is a new six-bedroom property in Coombe Ridings, at £8.9 million.
A two-bedroom converted stables by George Devey, a notable Victorian architect who built homes in Coombe, is for sale for £835,000.
Queenshurst, on the site of the former gasworks in Sury Basin, is a Berkeley development of 328 homes with a residents’ gym, cinema, a linear park and central garden square.
The second of three phases has just launched, with one-bedroom flats from £470,000 and two-bedroom flats from £630,000, for completion towards the end of next year. Call 020 3675 4488.
In Ashdown Road, St George has planning permission for Royal Exchange, a development on the former post office and telephone exchange site with a mix of offices, shops and 319 studios, one- and two-bedroom flats.
Off-plan sales start in the autumn but the whole scheme won’t be finished until 2022. Call 020 3811 2559.
There are 55 shared-ownership homes at Queenshurst although the housing association handling the sale has not yet been announced. There will be 53 affordable units in Royal Exchange, 28 of which will be for discounted market sale to local first-time buyers.
Rental manager Victoria Chambers, at Hamptons, says two North Kingston primary schools — Latchmere and Fern Hill — are a big draw for families, although young professional commuters put more store by proximity to the station and by flats with a river view, such as those at Charter Quay, Kingston Riverside and Elder House.
Hamptons estate agent Peter Knowles believes the new comprehensive school, The Kingston Academy, will keep more families in Kingston itself. “Many families have historically moved to Hinchley Wood when it comes to making the transfer to secondary school.”
Kingston has two postcodes — KT1, which also covers Hampton Wick, and KT2 which covers desirable North Kingston and westwards into Coombe.
Tree-lined Albany Park Road has fine detached double-fronted Edwardian houses; Lower Ham Road has houses and flats overlooking the river.
Closer to Richmond Park, the area around Queens Road and Liverpool Road has a mix of large and small Victorian houses, many with big gardens.
Up and coming
Peter Knowles tips any of the roads close to the new Kingston Academy in Richmond Road. Nearby Norbiton has a mix of Victorian, Edwardian and Twenties houses, a local shopping street and the advantage of being in Zone 5, one travel Zone closer to London than Kingston.
Kingston is on the A3 and offers easy access to the M3 and the M25. Kingston station has trains to Waterloo that take about half an hour, although some commuters change at Clapham Junction or Vauxhall. The station is in Travel Zone 6 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £2,364.
The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is Conservative controlled. Band D council tax for 2017/2018 is £1,756.77.
Shops and restaurants
Kingston is the third ranking shopping centre in London outside the West End and Westfield. It has two department stores — John Lewis, with a Waitrose on the ground floor, and Bentalls, now owned by Fenwick.
In the early Nineties, Bentalls was hollowed out to create Bentall Centre Kingston, a shopping centre which also houses a smaller Bentalls department store.
Kingston’s attractive town centre has two churches – All Saints and Everyday Church - surrounded by green spaces, and a renowned food market in Ancient Market Place, overlooked by Market House, the Victorian Italianate former town hall.
All the major chains are in town including some more niche brands such as Jo Malone, Whistles and Space NK. Furniture is well represented with branches of Heal’s, Bo Concept and Camerich.
The town is well served by chain restaurants with branches of Carluccio’s, Byron, Jamie’s Italian, Wagamama, Zizzi, Las Iguanas, and Wildwood, among others. The Terrace Eatery in Apple Market is a popular oak-beamed café with a pavement terrace offering deli-sandwiches, cakes and salads.
The riverside is one of Kingston’s strongest attractions and there are plans to build a new boardwalk. Richmond Park is not far away.
Canbury Gardens, north of the town centre between the towpath and Lower Ham Road, is a Green Flag park with a playground, tennis courts, café and bandstand.
Leisure and the arts
The Rose Theatre is modelled on the Elizabethan Rose theatre which once stood on the South Bank; it describes itself as “the largest producing theatre in south-west London”.
The Rotunda Kingston leisure park has an Odeon multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, a David Lloyd gym and various chain restaurants such as PizzaExpress, Prezzo and Five Guys all under one roof.
Kingston’s state primary schools are all rated “good” or better by Ofsted. Rated “outstanding” are: St Luke’s CofE in Acre Road; Alexandra in Alexandra Road; Fern Hill in Richmond Road; Latchmere in Latchmere Road; St Paul’s CofE in Kingston Hill and Coombe Hill Juniors (ages seven to 11) in Coombe Lane West. Kingston Community School, a Free School in Acre Road, opened in 2015 and has not yet been inspected by Ofsted.
Comprehensive and grammar
Tiffin School (boys, ages 11 to 18) in Queen Elizabeth Road and The Tiffin Girls’ School (ages 11 to 18) in Richmond Road — are highly selective state grammar schools. Their intake is from all over south-west London, and living close to the school doesn’t in itself secure admission. This is one reason why the new comprehensive, The Kingston Academy (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Richmond Road, has been so welcomed.
Kingston College (co-ed, ages 16-plus) in Kingston Hall Road is the local Further Education college and is judged “good”.
The private infants, primary and preparatory schools are: Educare Small School (co-ed, ages three to 11) in Cowleaze Road; Park Hill (co-ed, ages two to seven) in Queens Road; Holy Cross (girls, ages four to 11) a Catholic school in George Road, and Rokeby (boys, ages four to 13) in George Road.
The private secondary schools are: Kingston Grammar (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in London Road; Canbury School (co-ed, ages 11 to 16) in Kingston Hill, and Marymount International (girls, ages 11 to 18), a Catholic day and boarding school in George Road.
Surbiton High (boys, ages four to 11; girls, four to 18) in Surbiton Crescent is a private all-through school.
Nearby Hampton has two popular private schools, both in Hanworth Road: Hampton (boys, ages two to 18) and Lady Eleanor Holles (girls, ages seven to 18).