Why should you put a walking tour at the top of your things to do in Kingston Upon Thames? When I was invited to spend a few days in this richly historic area of Greater London, I learned so many fantastic secrets that I missed when exploring on my own. In fact, that’s exactly what happened my first night there.
I started my visit to Kingston at Warren House, a gorgeous Victorian mansion. I enjoyed their afternoon tea and then jumped on a bus to explore the city of Kingston Upon Thames. Since Mr. Sunny couldn’t join me on the trip, I was completely on my own.
For about two hours I wandered around, curious about all the things to do in Kingston Upon Thames. The adventure was a bit light-hearted because I knew the following morning I was scheduled for a 90 minute walking tour.
As an American expat living in London, I did my best to guess and take pictures of things that seemed significant. Without any assistance, it was really just an early evening stroll in the fantastic weather. Time well spent, but I knew the sights would get better with a guide.
At All Saints Church around 11:00am the next morning, I met Mike Seigel, my Kingston Upon Thames walking tour guide from Kingston First. We began with a quick walk through the Church. That is when the fun and secrets of Kingston started to unfold.
Things to Do in Kingston- The Church
The first stop featured seeing the William Shrubsole statue, which is in honour of the very influential Shrubsole family.
However, what I found super interesting was the 14th Century picture of Blaise, the patron saint of wall makers. Without any indication, this unassuming art could be missed by a strolling solo traveller like myself the day prior. It’s a dedication to Blaise, however, there is nothing on the wall to acknowledge the Saint.
Things to Do in Kingston- Walking Tour, The Architecture
Next, we walked over to Jack Wills. While the building appears very historic, it actually is only 100 years old. American friends, in England that is just a splash in ye olde bucket of history. The building features important pictures of Kingston and the two kings that were crowned here.
However, the building next to it, which currently features The White Company, is centuries old.
And, if you turn just around the corner and look up in a small alleyway, you can see some of the original Tudor windows. Again, finding this happens when you have a walking tour guide to help you.
Things to Do in Kingston- Walking Tour, The History
Kingston is important not only because of its rich historical connection to the River Thames, but also because it is possible seven kings may have been crowned here. Also, King Edward III gave the town its actual name, Kingston Upon Thames. It’s one of only five royal burroughs. The amount of information stretching back to 1066, when England was first united as a country, could occupy a full day of things to do in Kingston, if that was of interest.
Things to Do in Kingston- Walking Tour, The Market
The Market Place was very lively when I went through on my own the sunny Sunday evening. Even though I knew I was standing among great history, it wasn’t until the tour that I really learned its powerful significance. Are you ready for this…
On the tour, Mike explained this is one of England’s oldest market places, at nearly 800 years as a market.
In the Middle Ages, this was the place of punishment in Kingston. It was common for people to be placed in the centre and have things thrown at them. Take a look at this picture to see how we’ve changed in our amusement preferences for the area…
Much better, don’t you think?
Did you notice the very, very gold statue on the building? My walking tour guide explained that if you stopped most locals in the street, they’d probably have no idea who the statue actually depicts. Most would likely guess Queen Victoria. However, it’s actually Queen Anne. She lived at Hampton Court Palace a lot of the time, which is just nearby.
The statue is from 1706 and was refinished three years ago for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Do you think this statue may have too much of a Midas touch now? 😉
King Charles I (the only English King that was beheaded) gave Kingston a true monopoly in this market. During his reign he forbid any town within seven miles to have any markets.
Kingston was also the first staging post. This means Central London stage coaches had to stop in Kingston on their way to Portsmouth. These stops would be for people to refresh themselves, their horses, or both. In the height of the era, they might have 50 coaches going through a day.
The Druids Head is the only Inn that still survives from this time period in the market area, albeit a different name now.
This was also a very lively place to be up until fairly recently. On Shrove Tuesdays there used to be futbol matches between two teams, ‘fondly’ called the Saxons and the Danes in honour of English history. However, these matches had to be stopped after the crowds became too drunk and unruly through the years.
Finally, there’s also another statue connected to the Shrubsole family. It is a memorial to them and also served as a water fountain at one time, representing the Kingston Upon Thames strong ties to the river.
Things to Do in Kingston- Walking Tour, The Bridges
While I may have ventured across this bridge during my solo cruise around town, I really got ‘an earful’ from my tour guide about it. Its name is Clattering Bridge.
During Medieval Times, women could be punished for talking too much. They would be brought to this area and dipped in to the river for excessive ‘clatter’. Hmmm. don’t get any ideas, Mr. Sunny!
And, here’s one of the most fascinating things you will learn on the tour. Any guesses what this is… (look at the area in the foreground of the picture, not the buildings or River Thames)
This is the area where the first bridge to cross the River Thames (aside from London Bridge) stood. It also remained so for 500 years. Parts of it were rediscovered in the 1990’s when a John Lewis department store was being built in Kingston. In fact, Mike walked me over to what seemed to be a desolate building and indicated it was only open one weekend a year. As I peered closely through the window, I could see parts of this historic bridge, and I was able to capture an image for you too!
On the left, you can see the old bridge still somewhat together underground. On the right is the reflection from the current Kingston Bridge, which was located just behind me as I took the picture. I love that my tour guide’s silhouette is centered between the two images! I am giving this picture the title ‘Metaphoric and Literal Bridges.’
Finally, I learned that this bridge previously involved people paying a toll to cross. During the Winter, many would try to travel across the ice of the River to avoid paying the fee.
Things to Do in Kingston- Walking Tour, Hidden Artifacts
We passed a few raised gazebos on the edge of the River Thames that certainly aren’t hidden. However, the reason they’re placed there could be mysterious to those not with a tour guide. Mike informed me they were built for a Japanese Prince when he planned a visit to Kingston Upon Thames. The purpose for them was to give the Prince and his entourage somewhere wonderful to sit and enjoy the views of the River Thames. Sadly, he never made his visit.
While the Coronation Stone isn’t ‘hidden’, it is certainly not something that is a focal point of Kingston. In fact, it seems randomly placed on an unassuming street.
The stone has been in various places in Kingston. Each of the spears around the stone represents one of the seven Saxon kings which ruled England before it was united in 1066.
One of the suggestions people currently have is to move the stone to the courtyard area of the Church (featured below), where it may be more easily found. I definitely think that’s a great idea! Picture it here…
With my tour guide’s help, I also saw many other Kingston Upon Thames artifacts that I literally walked right by the evening before. These include: a mural in Shrubsole Passage which illustrates the major historic events in Kingston Upon Thames and symbols on buildings.
The Town Hall has numerous water symbols that might go unnoticed to a solo traveller eye. Notice the three fish in various places on the building below? This is the symbol used to represent Kingston Upon Thames.
Things to Do in Kingston: Final Thoughts
Sunny friends, I openly admit that history has never been my strength. Therefore, when I visit new areas, I tend to focus on shopping, food and other pop-culture events. Beaches, naturally as a Florida girl, attract my attention too. This walking tour made the city come alive for me in so many ways.
While this city in Greater London is known as a great shopping location because of its popular stores like Reiss, Karen Millen and Bentalls Department Store, I highly recommend taking a walking tour as one of the top things to do in Kingston Upon Thames.
And, of course, you should finish your tour on a sunny day with lunch at one of the numerous eateries along the River Thames. There are tons of options, including English pubs and chains like Comptoir Libanaias, where I enjoyed a spectacular Grilled Halloumi and Lamb Kofta.
Things to Do in Kingston: Book a Walking Tour
To inquire about booking your walking tour in Kingston, you can visit this website. Kingston Town Centre tours start from the Church Gates in the Ancient Market Place and cost £5.
Summer Walking Tours are from April 1st to the end of September and begin at 11am every Sunday morning. Winter Tours are October-March and at 11am the 1st Sunday of the month only.
For more information about all the area has to offer, give KingstonFirst a good look too.
Many thanks to my fabulous city tour guide, Mike Seigel! Although he didn’t dress up for the day of my tour, just take a look at Mike from a previous tour when he proudly adorned a costume representing King Athelstan!
If you aren’t sure of who King Athelstan is, Sunny friends, then you have one more reason to take this fantastic walking tour!
When you do visit Kingston Upon Thames, please let me know how much fun you have. As always, any suggestions you have for people visiting are appreciated in the comments below.
And don’t forget to read my review of Warren House Afternoon Tea with Beautiful English Gardens. There’s also a Warren House Afternoon Tea YouTube video of my experience too!