25 August 2012

I called to Kingston and found the ‘Bishop out of Residence’

The ‘Bishop out of Residence’ on the banks of the Thames at Kingston upon Thames (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2102)

Patrick Comerford

I had dinner last night with friends who live in Kingston upon Thames, in south-west London, about 10 miles from Charing Cross.

Kingston was once the place where the Saxon kings of Kent and Wessex were crowned by the Archbishops of Canterbury. Until 1965, Kingston was part of Surrey, and the administrative headquarters of Surrey County Council are still here. Today it is part of suburban London, but it retains many of its historical sites, and before dinner I had a walk around the town centre to look at some of them.

Kingston was occupied by the Romans and later it was either a royal residence or demesne. Kingston was built at the first crossing point of the Thames upstream from London Bridge and a bridge still stands on the same site.

The ruins of Saint Mary’s Chapel, said to have been the site of the coronation of the Anglo-Saxon kings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The name means “the king’s manor or estate,” and this place was first mentioned in 838 as the site of a meeting between King Egbert of Wessex and Archbishop Ceolnoth of Canterbury.

In the tenth century, several Anglo-Saxon kings were crowned in Kingston, including Æthelstan (925) and Eadred (946). Other kings who may have been crowned there include Edward the Elder (902), Edmund (939), Eadwig (956), Edgar (ca 960) and Saint Edward the Martyr (975). Finally, and Æthelred the Unready (979) was crowned here by Bishop Oswald of Worcester in 978. Local historians claim these coronations took place in the chapel of Saint Mary.

All Saints’ Church is the only Grade I listed building in Kingston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We began our walking tour of Kingston at All Saints’ Church, the town’s 12th century parish church, set between the ancient Market Place and the main shopping centre. It is the only Grade I listed building in Kingston.

The present church, which was begun in 1120, is a cruciform church with a central tower and a four-bay nave, with perpendicular clerestory, choir, north and south aisles, transepts and chapels. The exterior is of flint with stone dressings and a parapet of stone battlements.

Inside, the church has a 14th-century wall painting of Saint Blaise, a 17th-century marble font attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, 12 bells and an 18th-century carillon and several notable monuments.

The original high wooden spire on top of the tower was struck by lightning in 1445 and was rebuilt in 1505. The tower was taken down to the level of the nave and was rebuilt in 1708.

Outside the south door of the church are some outlines marked by stones – all that remains of the Saxon church and chapel of Saint Mary, where the Saxon kings had been crowned. Saint Mary’s Chapel, which also contained royal effigies collapsed in 1730, burying the sexton, who was digging a grave.

The ‘Coronation Stone’ was moved to the market place and railed off in 1850 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

A large stone was recovered from the ruins and has been pointed to as the Coronation Stone. In 1850, it was moved to the market place and railed off.

The statue of Queen Anne appears to preside over the Market Square in Kingston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Nearby, in the square in front of the old Market Hall, stands a fine gold-coloured statue of a later monarch, Queen Anne, who appears to be presiding benignly over the shoppers, the stall-holders and the coffee drinkers.

The Clattern Bridge over the Hogsmill River (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The Clattern Bridge over the Hogsmill River is mentioned in 1293 as “Clateryngbrugge.” From there we walked through the streets, admiring some of the older Tudor buildings and the remaining coaching houses, including the Druid’s Head, which claims to be the first place where the dessert syllabub was made in the 18th century. It was here too that Jerome K Jerome began his novel Three Men in a Boat.

Late evening by the Thames looking across at the grounds of Hampton Court Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We then strolled along the south banks of the Thames, with its lively river frontage of bars and restaurants. On the other side, a tree-lined river bank fronts the expanse of the park at Hampton Court, built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1520.

But the building with the most amusing name is a bar called Bishop out of Residence. The name refers to the Bishop’s Palace, built here by the river here for William de Wykeham (1376-1404), Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England. He was born a peasant and died one of the wealthiest men in England, but seems to have spent little time at his palace in Kingston – and so a new pub is a reminder of old times.

And the it was back to dinner with good friends before returning through Richmond, Ham and Kew to Ealing Abbey.

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